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“The Origins Of The Religious Right”: Still Insisting That Religious Freedom Is A Justification For Discrimination

It is often assumed that the origins of the religious right’s political awakening (known back then as the so-called “moral majority”) was in response to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs Wade decision. But in an article a friend recently pointed out to me from 2014, Randall Balmer locates it’s origins in another court case: Green vs Connally. It has interesting relevance for some of the issues we are hearing about today.

Balmer first points out that immediately before and after Roe vs Wade, evangelical leaders didn’t see a problem with abortion. He provides several quotes, including this one:

When the Roe decision was handed down, W. A. Criswell, the Southern Baptist Convention’s former president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas—also one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century—was pleased: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

Meanwhile, Paul Weyrich was looking around for an issue that would galvanize evangelical support for Republicans. He found it in an edict from President Nixon’s Treasury Department that the provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act precluded a tax-exempt status for private schools that discriminated against African Americans. Schools like Bob Jones University and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University responded.

Although Bob Jones Jr., the school’s founder, argued that racial segregation was mandated by the Bible, Falwell and Weyrich quickly sought to shift the grounds of the debate, framing their opposition in terms of religious freedom rather than in defense of racial segregation.

In other words, “religious freedom” was used as the justification for discrimination. Sound familiar? That was the issue at stake in Green vs Connally.

It was on the heels of that argument that these religious leaders then turned to theologian Francis Schaeffer and surgeon C. Everett Koop (who later became Reagan’s Surgeon General) to stir up objections to abortion. They did that with the film Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

In the early months of 1979, Schaeffer and Koop, targeting an evangelical audience, toured the country with these films, which depicted the scourge of abortion in graphic terms—most memorably with a scene of plastic baby dolls strewn along the shores of the Dead Sea.

It is hard to avoid seeing a parallel with the doctored videos produced by The Center for Medical Progress that have raised evangelicals in opposition to Planned Parenthood.

All of that laid the groundwork for the involvement of the religious right in the 1980 presidential race between Carter and Reagan, although their positions on these issues were not as well-defined as we have been led to believe.

By 1980, even though Carter had sought, both as governor of Georgia and as president, to reduce the incidence of abortion, his refusal to seek a constitutional amendment outlawing it was viewed by politically conservative evangelicals as an unpardonable sin. Never mind the fact that his Republican opponent that year, Ronald Reagan, had signed into law, as governor of California in 1967, the most liberal abortion bill in the country. When Reagan addressed a rally of 10,000 evangelicals at Reunion Arena in Dallas in August 1980, he excoriated the “unconstitutional regulatory agenda” directed by the IRS “against independent schools,” but he made no mention of abortion. Nevertheless, leaders of the religious right hammered away at the issue, persuading many evangelicals to make support for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion a litmus test for their votes.

More than 35 years later, the religious right is still insisting that religious freedom is a justification for discrimination and using deceptive videos to ignite opposition to women’s reproductive health. As the saying goes…”everything old is new again.”

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 28, 2016

April 29, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, Religious Freedom, Religious Right | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“New Religious Freedom Bills Legitimize Discrimination”: Using The Bible As A Prop For Prejudice

You’d think history might serve as a guide for the politicians and preachers — good Christians all, of course — who have chosen to use the Bible to bolster their bigotry against people they’ve placed outside the magic circle. We’ve seen this before, and it didn’t turn out well for those who claimed a mantle of righteousness. Yet onward they march.

Mississippi recently passed a “religious freedom” law designed to provide legal cover for those who wish to discriminate against gays and lesbians. The law is quite specific, allowing government clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and protecting businesses that refuse to serve them.

Does this ring any bells? Do any of these people remember Jim Crow, a system of legalized oppression that stunted Mississippi for generations and whose legacy the state is still struggling to overcome?

They can’t have forgotten — not all of them.

Gov. Phil Bryant, who signed the odious bill, is certainly old enough to remember. He’d remember, too, that, during his childhood, many of the leading church folk declared that God was on the side of discrimination.

And history should have taught the governor about Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who dared to marry in 1958. The Virginia judge who sentenced them to prison for their crime wrote: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Indeed, this practice of using the Bible as a prop for prejudice has a long and ignominious tradition, spanning centuries and continents. In the United States, slave owners conveniently saw in the Bible a heaven-sent sanction for their brutal greed. Throughout the 19th century, preachers delivered sermons claiming that “the Old Testament did sanction slavery,” as the Rev. Richard Fuller put it in 1847. Others saw a validation of white supremacy in a Bible verse about the descendants of Ham.

Proponents of “religious freedom” statutes point to the First Amendment, which enshrines as a central value the protection of religious views, even those that are outside the mainstream. Congress reiterated its fidelity to that founding principle as recently as 1993, when a bipartisan majority passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It was designed for such cases as the Sikh firefighter who wants to keep his beard, or the Orthodox Jew who needs an exemption from a Sabbath work requirement.

But the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage set off a spate of proposals that serve no purpose except bigotry — laws that prop up prejudice with Scripture. The giveaway in several of those bills is this: They allow for-profit businesses to claim to have religious beliefs and to refuse service on that basis.

(The Supreme Court opened the door for that with its unfortunate 2014 ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, which assigned religious beliefs to corporations. That involved a company’s “religious freedom” to refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives.)

Churches, by the way, don’t need any extra legal protections. The First Amendment has always given religious institutions wide latitude to practice their beliefs as they see fit, even if that means making invidious distinctions. Catholic priests have long reserved the right to refuse to marry those who are divorced; many conservative churches refuse to ordain women. So clerics may decline to perform the marriage rite for same-sex couples without fear of legal sanctions.

Given that, there is no need for laws that legitimize discrimination, and some states, either through revision or veto, have stepped back from such mean-spirited laws. North Carolina, however, has forged ahead with its “bathroom bill,” passed to nullify a Charlotte law that would have allowed transgendered individuals to use public restrooms of their choosing. And other state legislators are still debating proposals meant to show their disapproval of same-sex marriage.

Onward they march — toward their heterosexual heaven.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner For commentary in 2007; The National Memo, April 9, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, LGBT, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Old Songs With New Refrains”: ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws Are About Freedom To Discriminate

Across the land, heroic male legislators are rising up to protect the lives and virtue of women and girls from sexual predators.

They are not, as one might hope, enacting laws that would prevent men convicted of domestic violence from owning firearms, even though that would surely save precious female lives.

Nor are they working with colleges and universities to ensure fair investigations of campus sexual assault, even though this would greatly help many a female coed.

And, alas, they aren’t doing anything to help or prod police agencies to process the backlogs of rape kits, even though this would surely put many more violent sex offenders behind bars.

No, the state legislators — instigated mostly by Republican members — are obsessed with women and girls’ use of the bathroom. They’re freaked out that someone who was born male but who now identifies as female could wind up in the neighboring stall.

North Carolina is the latest state to mount this little charade of chivalry. In a special session Wednesday, with mere minutes for members to read and digest the bill’s language, the legislature decreed that municipalities could not pass antidiscrimination laws protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In other words: People in the state must use the bathroom designated by the gender on their birth certificate.

The move is part of a broad backlash against the American public’s growing acceptance that sexual orientation and gender identity are privacy issues that deserve respect and civil rights protection. It flared up in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling clearing legal obstacles to gay marriage.

When it comes to bathrooms, legislators express concern about sexual predators using more open bathroom access to attack vulnerable women and girls. Yet there is no trend of such attacks. A more honest conversation with transgender people would make that point. But honest dialogue isn’t how this is playing out — although it did play a decisive role in convincing South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard to veto his state legislature’s bathroom bill.

What proponents can’t get over is that national attitudes have shifted rapidly in regard to lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people. People have by and large given LGBT people a fair hearing and have decided they deserve fair treatment. Much of what remains of the opposition is draped with the cloak of religion. Hence the plethora of so-called religious freedom laws and amendments, whose real aims are such things as keeping homosexuals from becoming foster parents or barring transgender people from using the restroom they choose — in other words, keeping them from being accepted in society. Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas are a few of the states where such bills have been passed, executive orders have been issued, or where such measures are under consideration.

Corporate and sporting entities see the danger. The NFL has warned Georgia that it could lose the opportunity to host the Super Bowl. The NCAA has made its intolerance for legalized discrimination known to Missouri and Indiana. And companies as diverse as Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Disney and MasterCard have also asserted their distaste for doing future business where these proposals may pass into law.

The companies get it. They know that “open to the public” means all of the public. No one is saying that anyone’s church must marry gay people.

Here is what proponents of the bills do not tell you: Sexual orientation and gender identity are not universally protected in America. In many cities and states, you can be fired, denied a house or an apartment simply because the boss or seller or landlord believes that you are gay.

The lack of legal protection for the LGBT people is what these disingenuous legislators are using as a basis for further deceiving constituents. They want the right to discriminate, enshrined and in many cases codified as a religious right, even when they are operating in a public square.

That’s what is most offensive — invoking God as a pretext.

Those who stood for slavery and against civil rights tried that ploy. Proponents of the anti-LGBT measures don’t like the comparison, but the shoe fits.

Ratcheting up fears in response to social change and then claiming that it’s your religious right to discriminate is an old trick. Alongside housing covenants, bank red-lining, scare tactics about crime, including sexual assault by black men, these arguments were shamefully hypocritical. These are old songs, with new refrains.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, March 25, 2016

March 26, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, Religious Freedom, State Legislatures | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tea Party Turns On ‘Megalomaniac Strongman’ Donald Trump”: A Bridge Too Far For Tea Party Members In Congress

The Tea Party’s infatuation with Donald Trump may be over.

Now, “may” is the operative word, since rumors of Trump’s demise, as you might have noticed, have been a touch overstated. But the Republican presidential frontrunner’s recent call for a moratorium on Muslim immigration has put him at odds with some of the most conservative people on the right—including congressional Tea Party darlings.

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Tea Party favorite who won support from Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz in his Republican primary campaign in Nebraska, took to the Senate floor Tuesday to criticize the mogul.

“Monday night was a flood,” Sasse said, referring to Trump’s bombastic campaign-rally speech about Muslim immigration. “Neither are what our people need or really what they, at their best, want.”

Though the senator didn’t mention Trump by name, the allusion was clear as day.

Sasse then proceeded to characterize the mogul in extraordinarily harsh terms while blaming President Obama and other Washington insiders for Trump’s support.

“The people who are supposed to be laser-focused on defending the American people—that is us—mouth silly platitudes that show we’re either too weak or too confused to keep our people safe,” he said. “Then a megalomaniac strongman steps forward, and he starts screaming about travel bans and deportation, and offering promises to keep all of us safe, which to some and I think actually to many more than those of us in this body seem to understand, to some will sound much better than not being protected at all.”

Rep. Dave Brat, a Virginia Republican who defeated then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a shocking primary upset due in large part to his tough-on-undocumented-immigration stance, also criticized Trump’s approach.

“You gotta be very careful on lines of thought when you’re conveying these lines to the media,” Brat said. “The right way to go is just to talk about overseas threats, and quantifying those based on what’s in the best interests of American citizens.”

Rep. Randy Hultgren, an Illinois Republican who won his seat in the 2010 Tea Party wave, shared those concerns in a press release that criticized the mogul’s stance as a religious freedom problem.

“Singling out any faith community for the actions of extremists is not conservative, it is hostile to our founding,” Hultgren said.

Off the Hill, other movement conservative firebrands were distressed by Trump’s call for a religious test.

“I think that calling for a religious test is contrary to our founding principles and that our Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves right now,” said Penny Nance, who heads Concerned Women for America.

She added that Trump’s decision to single out Muslims for extra scrutiny undermines the principles of religious freedom that protect other religious minorities—a category that includes, in her opinion, evangelical Christians.

“I think in our society that evangelical Christians are viewed less and less favorably, and we should be very concerned,” Nance said. “It begins a slippery slope that eventually ensnares all of us.”

In the wake of Kim Davis’s arrest and legal targeting of conservative Christian bakers and florists who refused to serve gay couples’ weddings, evangelical Christians—including Nance—have increasingly focused on religious freedom issues. She wasn’t the only conservative to argue that singling out Muslims could result in similar discriminatory treatment of Christians.

Taylor Budowich, executive director of the Tea Party Express, also said the real estate baron’s stance is incompatible with the Constitution.

“A religious qualification is unfitting,” he said. “It kind of flies in the face of the founding principles of the government.”

“Our public policy focus should be on ensuring security and preventing those wanting to do us harm from entering our country, not just haphazardly creating religious barriers,” he added.

That said, it remains to be seen if Trump supporters will share Tea Party leaders’ views of their idol.

Billie Tucker, who co-founded the First Coast Tea Party in Florida, said Trump’s foes shouldn’t hold their breath.

“People are very excited to hear somebody speaking out—things that they’ve been thinking and no one will say,” she said. “He is saying a lot of stuff that people think.”

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, December 9, 2015

December 10, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Evangelicals, Religious Freedom, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“And Why Does It Matter?: Why Are We So Obsessed With The Race And Religion Of Mass Killers?

For a few hours on Twitter and cable news on Wednesday night, there was a restless anticipation, as if everybody with a chyron or two thumbs was waiting at some imaginary line on a virtual track, waiting for the starting pistol.

A few hours earlier, everybody knew, two or three heavily armed people had shot up a center that helps disabled children in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people and wounding 17 before escaping. The updates started trickling in: Police had surrounded a bullet-ridden black SUV; one person from the car was on the ground, motionless; one male and female suspect wearing “assault-style clothing” were dead, and a third possible suspect had been arrested after fleeing from the scene of the massacre. Politicians were tweeting out calls for gun control (Democrats) and “thoughts and prayers” for the victims (Republicans, mostly).

People were worried about the victims. Were they children with disabilities? Social workers dedicated to helping them live meaningful lives? People from the Department of Public Health trying to enjoy a holiday party at the facility?

But the real question on everyone’s mind was this: Were the killers white people, Muslims, or something else? Lots of talking heads were tiptoeing around that question, but Bill O’Reilly just laid it out.

“We have to be careful here,” O’Reilly told counterterrorism expert Aaron Cohen, a guest on Wednesday’s show. “Very, very careful. If it is a terrorist attack, generated by fanatical Muslims, it becomes an international Paris-type story, with implications for the president of the United States on down. So we don’t want to speculate.” That didn’t deter Cohen, who immediately responded: “My sources have also said that an Islamic name has been released. That is compounded by the fact that the attackers went to a specific place with tactical gear that would allow them to create maximum damage. I believe this is strongly linked to Islamic-motivated international terror.”

The obvious inference is that if the shooting turned out to be “just a local beef in San Bernardino,” as O’Reilly put it, it’s just another mass shooting in America. We play this game every time there is a mass shooting in America: If the assailant has a Muslim-sounding name, we react one way, and if he (it’s almost always a he) is white, we react another way.

Just think about that for a second. As you are undoubtedly aware, mass shootings are nothing new in the United States — there has been, on average, more than one a day this year, and Wednesday was no exception, with one person killed and three wounded in a mass shooting in Georgia. In 2015 alone, mass shootings — defined as four or more people shot — have left 462 people dead and 1,314 wounded.

Yet America’s foreign and domestic policy hinges to an insane degree on a killer’s name and religion.

If the murderer of 20 grade schoolers and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, had been a Muslim from Nigeria, for example, do you doubt there would be thundering calls for eradicating Boko Haram? Instead, since he was a young white male, the U.S. essentially did nothing.

We don’t yet know what prompted Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, to allegedly murder 14 people, and unless they left a note or manifesto, we may never be sure. Law enforcement hasn’t ruled out terrorism, and maybe it will turn out they were radicalized at some mosque or on Twitter and wanted to become jihadis. But if somebody named, say, Robert Dear had crashed his own office Christmas party wearing “assault-style clothing” and murdered 14 of his colleagues or their guests, you can bet your pundit card nobody would be talking about international terrorism.

Motive does matter if we are serious about trying to address the cause and prevent future mass murders. But if it’s a Muslim terrorist, “we” seem to think that lets “us” off the hook. Mostly, we appear interested in which Twitter/TV battle we are supposed to engage in: Is this a “foreigner” problem we can fix with bombing other countries and sealing America’s borders, or a domestic problem we can tackle by enacting new gun legislation? If you disagree with either of those propositions, you can argue the other side.

More serious than this idiocy is the fact that one or two sociopaths can push America into foreign entanglements, if they have one specific type of last name and creed. Freedom of religion is a cornerstone of America’s social contract, as is presumption of innocence. We betray both with this Pavlovian grief bifurcation.

Soon after Wednesday’s shooting, BBC News reporter James Cook described the murder of 14 people in San Bernardino as “just another day in the United States of America. Another day of gunfire, panic, and fear.” That stings. But given America’s evolving reaction to the killings, we probably deserve worse.

 

By: Peter Weber, The Week, December 3, 2015

December 5, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Race and Ethnicity, Religious Freedom, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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