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“Change Your Stand, Or Shut Your Mouth”: ‘The Culture War’ — A Battle The GOP Can’t Win

The argument is over and conservatives have lost. Some of them just don’t know it yet.

That’s the takeaway from the remarkable events of last week wherein the states of Indiana and Arkansas executed high-speed U-turns — we’re talking skid marks on the tarmac — on the subject of marriage equality. Legislatures in both states, you will recall, had passed so-called “religious freedom” laws designed to allow businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples. In Indiana, the governor had already signed the bill and was happily dissembling about the discriminatory nature and intent of the new law.

Then reality landed like the Marines at Guadalcanal.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence made a fool of himself on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” five times refusing to answer a simple yes or no question about whether the bill would protect a business that refused to serve gay people. Angie’s List, which is headquartered in the state, delayed a planned expansion. NASCAR, the NCAA, the NFL, the NBA, the WNBA, and a host of businesses condemned the law. Conventions pulled out and some states and cities even banned government-funded travel to Indiana.

Down in Arkansas, where similar legislation awaited his signature, Gov. Asa Hutchinson was no doubt watching with interest as Pence was metaphorically shot full of holes. Then he received a tap on the shoulder from a very heavy hand. Walmart, the largest retailer on Earth, born and headquartered in Arkansas, urged a veto, saying the bill “does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.”

Both governors promptly got, ahem, religion. Hutchinson sent the measure back to legislators for revision. Pence signed a measure to “fix” a law whose glories he had spent so much time touting.

And here, a little context might be instructive. Twenty years ago, you recall, we were essentially arguing over the right of gay people to exist. The debate then was over whether they could serve in the military, adopt children, be fired or denied housing because of their sexuality, Ten years ago, public opinion on most of those issues having swung decisively, we were fighting over whether or not they could get married. Ten years later, that point pretty much conceded, we are arguing over who should bake the cake.

The very parameters of the debate have shifted dramatically to the dreaded left. Positions the GOP took proudly just 20 years ago now seem prehistoric and its motivations for doing so, threadbare. This is not about morality, the constitution or faith. It never was.

No, this is about using the law to validate the primal sense of “ick” that still afflicts some heterosexuals at the thought of boys who like boys and girls who like girls. And the solution to their problem is three words long: Get over it.

Or, get left behind. Consider again what happened last week: Put aside NASCAR, the NBA and Angie’s List: Walmart is, for better and for worse, the very embodiment of Middle-American values. To rephrase what Lyndon Johnson said of Walter Cronkite under vastly different circumstances, if you have lost Walmart, you have lost the country.

On gay rights, conservatives just lost Wal-Mart.

The adults on the right (there are some) understand that they are out of step with the mainstream, which is why they’d just as soon call a truce in the so-called “culture wars.” The fanatical, id-driven children on the right (there are far too many) would rather drive the GOP off a cliff than concede. Somebody needs to sit them down and explain that when you have taken an execrable stand and been repudiated for it as decisively as the right has been, you only have two options: Change your stand, or shut your mouth.

At this point, either one will do.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 8, 2015

April 9, 2015 Posted by | Culture Wars, GOP, Religious Freedom Restoration Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Large Pizza With A Side Of Hate”: The Next Time You Order An Extra-Large Pepperoni, Tell Them To Hold The Hate

The only purpose of the “religious freedom” laws in Indiana and other states is to assert that discrimination against gay people is acceptable. The only way to “fix” such measures is to repeal them.

As events this week have shown, the nation is becoming intolerant of intolerance. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) insisted that the absurdly titled “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” was not meant to enable discrimination. But no sooner had the ink dried on the new law than a local pizzeria announced it was just raring to discriminate.

“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” said Crystal O’Connor, whose family owns and operates Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Ind.

As a practical matter, I’m betting that few couples, gay or straight, would be devastated to go without pizza at their wedding reception. But that’s not the point. O’Connor correctly understood that the law was intended to let her discriminate against gay couples. Her family’s Christian beliefs, she said, lead her to disapprove of same-sex marriage.

It is her right to believe whatever she wants. Religious liberty is guaranteed by the Constitution. But in a pluralistic society, freedom of worship cannot mean a business that serves the general public can discriminate. When I was growing up in the South, there were business owners who believed the Lord didn’t intend for different races to mix, much less marry. Federal civil rights legislation barred these businesses from acting on that belief. The proprietors got over it.

At Pence’s urging, the Indiana legislature quickly came up with a proposal to amend the law to prohibit discrimination based on “race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service.” Pence signed it into law on Thursday. In other words: Never mind the whole thing, and we’re sorry we bothered everyone.

Read that list and contemplate the supreme irony: Indiana has ended up with an anti-discrimination law protecting the LGBT community that is among the toughest in the nation. Apparently, there will be pizza for everyone.

Doubtless with an eye toward Pence’s travails, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) announced that he will not sign the religious-freedom law his legislature just handed him without significant changes, probably along the lines of those done in Indiana.

Pence was a big supporter of the original law, so why the rapid moonwalk in the opposite direction? Because the business community, both locally and nationally, announced its opposition and activists began talking about a boycott of the state. Because the NCAA, which is holding the Final Four tournament in Indianapolis this weekend, announced its urgent concern. Because Apple chief executive Tim Cook, who heads the most valuable company in the universe, wrote a Post op-ed denouncing the Indiana law as discriminatory.

In Arkansas, Hutchinson heard expressions of concern from Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer — which happens to be headquartered in Bentonville, Ark. When Wal-Mart calls, and you’re governor of Arkansas, you pick up the phone.

About 20 states already have these religious-freedom laws on the books, although most are not as far-reaching as Indiana’s. There is no indication that rampant discrimination is taking place — but that’s not the point. The clear target is same-sex marriage, and the intention is to reassure citizens that discrimination against same-sex couples is at least theoretically permissible.

The fact that we don’t hear of these laws actually being used proves a truth about same-sex marriage that should be blindingly obvious: Whether two men or two women decide to marry has not the slightest impact on anyone else.

Just a decade ago, most gay activists considered same-sex marriage a bridge too far. Today, it’s the law in 37 states and the District. The world has not come to an end. “Traditional” marriage has not been threatened. Opponents cannot cite one negative impact on society, unless you count the deprivation felt by citizens who need somebody, anybody, to discriminate against.

With a few exceptions, such as Hobby Lobby, the business community has decided that bigotry is bad for the bottom line. Politicians can fight the likes of Apple, Wal-Mart and the NCAA if they want. It’s just not a high-percentage move.

Which brings me to the wrenching struggle the Republican Party is having with itself over the issue. It’s time for the GOP to get on the right side of history. The next time you order an extra-large pepperoni, tell them to hold the hate.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 2, 2015

April 6, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights, Discrimination, Religious Freedom Restoration Act | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Framers Distrusted The Corporate Form”: Toxic Law; How Corporate Power And ‘Religious Freedom’ Threaten Democracy

Corporations from Apple and Angie’s List to Walmart and Wells Fargo exercised their power last week against laws that give aid and comfort to bigots. But don’t be too quick to praise their actions.

Commendable as these corporate gestures were, they also illustrate how America is morphing from a democratic republic into a state where corporations set the political agenda, thanks to a major mistake by Democrats in Congress. What they did has resulted in Supreme Court decisions that would infuriate the framers of our Constitution.

The framers distrusted the corporate form. And they made plain their concerns about concentrations of economic power and resulting inequality, worrying that this would doom our experiment with self-governance. Surely they would be appalled at the exercise of corporate influence last week. For the companies opposing “religious freedom” laws in Arkansas and Indiana were concerned with human rights only in the context of profit maximization, which is what economic theory says corporations are about.

Where are the corporate actions against police violence? Or unequal enforcement of the tax laws, under which workers get fully taxed and corporations literally profit off the tax laws? Or gender pay discrimination? And when have you heard of corporations objecting to secret settlements in cases adjudicated in the taxpayer-financed courts, especially when those settlements unknowingly put others at risk?

The so-called religious freedom restoration statutes in Arkansas, Indiana and 18 other states reflect a growing misunderstanding of the reasons that American law allows corporations to exist, a misunderstanding that infects a majority on our Supreme Court.

Corporations, which have ancient roots, serve valuable purposes that tend to make all of us better off. We benefit from corporations, but they must be servants, not masters.

Confining corporations to the purposes of limiting liability and creating wealth is central to protecting our liberties, as none other than Adam Smith warned 239 years ago in The Wealth of Nations, the first book to explain market economics and capitalism.

There is no fundamental right to create, own or operate any business entity that is a separate person from its owners and managers. Corporations exist only at the grace of legislators.

But in 21st-century America, corporations are increasingly acquiring the rights of people, which is the product of an unfortunate 1993 law championed by Democrats that now helps bigots assert a Constitutional right to discriminate in the public square.

Concern about corporations and concentrated power that diminishes individual liberties has become increasingly relevant since 2005, when John Glover Roberts Jr. was sworn in as chief justice of the United States.

Roberts and other justices who assert a strong philosophical allegiance to the framers’ views have been expanding corporate power in ways that would shock the consciences of the founders — especially James Madison, the primary author of our Constitution, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could spend unlimited sums influencing elections in the Citizens United decision. Now, as a practical matter, no one can become a Democratic or Republican nominee for president without the support of corporate America.

And, central to the Arkansas and Indiana legislation, the Supreme Court last year imbued privately held corporations with religious rights in the Hobby Lobby case.

The Roberts court invented all of these rights. Principled conservatives should denounce such decisions as “judicial activism,” yet nary a word of such criticism appears in right-wing columns and opinion magazines.

Today’s corporations have their roots in ancient trusts created to protect widows and orphans who inherited property. Hammurabi’s Code provided for an early version of trusts. Later the Romans created proto-corporations to manage public property and the assets of those appointed to oversee the far realms of the empire.

Managers of these early corporations had very limited authority, what the law calls agency, over the assets entrusted to them. Today, corporate managers have vast powers to buy, sell and deploy the assets they manage. They can do anything that is legal and demonstrates reasonable judgment.

Spending money to elect politicians (or pass anti-consumer laws) is perfectly fine under current law if it advances the profit-making interests of the company. Last week, we saw companies denounce bigotry against LGBTQ people, but of course they did so in terms of protecting their profits.

Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, opposed signing the Arkansas bill into law: “Every day in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve.” Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “America’s business community recognized a long time ago that discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business.”

But creating efficient vehicles to create wealth by engaging in business does not require political powers, as none other than Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist noted in a dissent.

Where we have gone furthest astray under the Roberts court is in last year’s Hobby Lobby decision. It imbued privately held corporations with rights under the First Amendment, which says, in part, “Congress shall create no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Based on Hobby Lobby, both the Arkansas and Indiana laws were crafted to provide a defense for bigoted actions by businesses.

Yet laws requiring businesses to serve everyone, without regard to their identity, do not inhibit the free exercise of religion. A law that requires a florist or bakery to serve people in same-sex weddings as well as different-sex weddings may trouble the merchant, but it does not inhibit religious activity.

The corporate power on display in the so-called religious freedom restoration cases stems from a Supreme Court case that upheld the doctrine of laws of general applicability.

In 1990, the Supreme Court held that Oregon jobless benefits were properly denied to two Native Americans who worked at a drug rehab facility and who also, as part of their well-established religious practice, ingested peyote, a controlled substance.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who claims to follow the original intent of the Constitution’s drafters, wrote the opinion. He held that “the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a ‘valid and neutral law of general applicability’” such as denying jobless benefits to drug users.

Scalia cited an 1879 Supreme Court ruling in a test case known as Reynolds in which a Brigham Young associate asserted that federal laws against polygamy interfered with the “free exercise” of the Mormon brand of Christianity.

In that case, as Scalia noted, the high court had rejected the claim that criminal laws against polygamy could not be constitutionally applied to those whose religion commanded the practice. “To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself,” the conservative justice wrote.

Two years later, Congress undid that sound decision with passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a sloppily crafted bill introduced by then-Rep. Chuck Schumer (D- NY), and championed in the Senate by another Democrat, the late Ted Kennedy (D-MA).

It was this law, undoing Scalia’s sound Supreme Court decision, which enabled corporations to exercise their power for a particular cause that is in their interest, namely ending bigotry. Such actions may be laudable, yet still dangerous.

Corporations are valuable and useful vehicles for creating wealth. But they are not and never should be political and religious actors. As artificial “persons,” they should not be imbued with political or religious rights.

We need to keep corporations in their place. Otherwise, next time, their profit maximization may work against your liberties.

 

By: David Cay Johnston, The National Memo, April 4, 2015

April 5, 2015 Posted by | Corporations, Democracy, Religious Freedom Restoration Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Freedom To Discriminate”: We’ve Been Here Before; “No Negroes, No Mexicans, No Dogs Allowed”

In 1942, with the United States newly entered into the Second World War, the Lonestar Restaurant Association in Texas printed flyers for its members to paste on their windows that read: “No Negroes, Mexicans or Dogs Allowed.”That iconic and painful reminder of America’s history of discrimination came to mind in recent days as I listened to Indiana Governor Mike Pence struggle through a mind-numbingly contorted defense of his state’s recently enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Law. Let’s be clear that what Gov. Pence singed into law has little to do with religious liberty and a lot to do with the desire to discriminate against entire sectors of our society but especially gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Americans. We’ve been here before.

In the ’40s and ’50s, as the civil rights movements in Black and Latino communities gathered steam and pushed against the barriers of public and private racism and discrimination, some state governments and businesses responded by claiming that desegregation was an attack on their freedom to choose with whom to share classrooms, bathrooms, restaurants, train stations and the like. In short, they equated their freedom to discriminate with other Americans’ claims to equality. Looking back, we can take great comfort and pride that when faced with this false choice, Americans almost always chose equality.

Yet the battle for equality isn’t over; it never is. This time, the targets of discrimination are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. This time, the discrimination cloaks itself in the mantle of religious liberty and “freedom of conscience.” This time, the forces of discrimination have cast themselves as a persecuted minority, fending off attacks against their most sacred religious values. Nonsense. No law in this country compels a religious person to act against their religious values and ideals. No law compels that churches or mosques celebrate marriages for gays and lesbians. No law compels a rabbi, pastor or imam to give a religious benediction to homosexuality.

What the law does compel, however, is that one not discriminate in business or in government against a person for their appearance, their nationality, their color, their creed, and, yes, their sexual orientation. That’s not an attack against religious liberty; it’s a defense of American values.

For many Latinos across the country, gay and straight, this Indiana law and its companion in Arkansas, are a painful reminder of our own struggle for equality in the United States. When we see what is happening in Indiana and Arkansas and other states across the country, we recognize the discrimination because we have been and are still its targets. We see it today with attempts to pass anti-immigrant laws in Arizona, Alabama, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. And because of these historic and ongoing struggles, we cannot be silent in the face of these deeply un-American acts. We will not be silent.

The defenders of discrimination and bigotry may control many statehouses and governor’s mansions in this country, but they’re on the wrong side of history. Americans of good conscience will always rise up in defense of equality. We know. We’ve been here before.

 

By: Jose Calderon, President of the Hispanic Federation; The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 3, 2015

April 4, 2015 Posted by | American History, Discrimination, Religious Freedom Restoration Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Don’t Wreck Religious Liberty’s Brand”: A New Commandment Now Trumps Some Of The Others; ‘Thou Shalt Not Spoil The Brand’

We are all obsessed with our brands these days, and no one more so than states competing fiercely for jobs and businesses. Some of them are quickly learning that being seen as anti-gay is dangerous to their images.

As controversy engulfed Indiana over its religious liberty law that would give legal recourse to those who discriminate against gays and lesbians, leaders of North Carolina, which has one of the most conservative state governments in the country, were getting cold feet about passing a comparable statute.

“I think we need to show that if we approve this bill, that it will improve North Carolina’s brand,” said Tim Moore, the Republican Speaker of the state House of Representatives. “Anything we do, we have to make sure we don’t harm our brand.”

A new commandment now trumps some of the others: Thou shalt not spoil the brand.

Republican governor Pat McCrory went further the day before on a Charlotte radio show, saying that a religious liberty law “makes no sense.” Meanwhile in Arkansas, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson called on state lawmakers to recall a religious-liberty bill they had passed.

This turn of events is coming as a shock to opponents of gay marriage. They thought that moving the fight to the ground of religious liberty was a politically shrewd fallback position now that courts are ratifying marriage equality. In our rights-oriented country, the best way to push back against one right is to assert a competing one.

Conservatives have a fair claim up to a point — and now they have barreled past it. The legitimate argument is that the country has rapidly changed its mind on gay marriage even as many religious traditions continue to see homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage as sinful.

Most supporters of gay marriage are willing to acknowledge (and should) that the law cannot force religious denominations to participate in activities they regard as deeply wrong. Most marriage equality statutes have thus included broad exemptions. An objecting church, for example, cannot be forced to bless a same-sex union, nor can it be required to let its facilities be used to celebrate one. Those who want their faith communities to change their view of marriage have to work the matter out on the inside and not rely on the coercive power of the state.

But opponents of gay marriage wanted more. Going far beyond what the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act had in mind at the federal level, they want a baker to be able to refuse to confect a cake for the reception after the ceremonies and for a florist to decline to provide the bouquets.

Now, I truly doubt that there are a lot of gay couples who would give their wedding business to vendors who regard what they are doing as an abomination. As a Catholic, I might not be enthusiastic about having an anti-Catholic baker involved in my wedding festivities. Not every battle has to be fought, and I suspect that many same-sex couples will voluntarily turn to bakers and florists who can share in their joy and don’t have to be forced to come kicking and screaming to the party. Supporters of gay marriage are winning, so they should consider the virtue of graciousness toward those who still oppose it. This would be good for social peace.

But consider my example: I do not think the law should give someone who sees the pope as the anti-Christ “religious liberty” grounds to use in justifying discrimination against me. Gays and lesbians are justified in feeling the same way. By taking reasonable religious liberty claims and then pushing and twisting them into a rationale for discrimination, opponents of gay marriage have picked a fight that will weaken religious liberty arguments overall. Where would this end?

Carefully thought-through religious liberty exceptions make good sense. They involve balancing when it is appropriate to exempt religious people from laws of general application and when it doesn’t. But turning religious liberty into a sweeping slogan that can be invoked to resist any social changes that some group of Americans doesn’t like will create a backlash against all efforts at accommodating religion. Forgive me, but this is bad for the brand of religious liberty.

It is, however, entertaining to watch conservative politicians be jostled this way and that between their business constituencies who don’t want this kind of trouble and their supporters among social conservatives who insist upon it. They thought they had found a way around the country’s increasing openness to gay rights. They’re fretting about brands because they now know they were wrong.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; The National Memo, April 2, 2015

April 3, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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