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“An Unholy Trinity For Discrimination”: Far-Right Justices Warn Of ‘An Ominous Sign’

The state of Washington has a law that requires pharmacies to dispense medications, even if individual pharmacists have religious objections. One family-owned pharmacy challenged the law in court, saying it shouldn’t be required to sell emergency contraception, which the pharmacy’s owners consider immoral.

An appeals court sided with the state, and the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yesterday, the justices announced they would not hear the case, which has the effect of leaving the lower court’s ruling intact.

And while that would ordinarily be the end of the dispute, yesterday offered a bit of a twist. The Supreme Court said it wouldn’t hear the appeal out of Washington, but at the same time, Justices Samuel Alito, John Roberts, and Clarence Thomas released an angry rebuttal, saying they not only wanted to hear this case, they also consider the majority’s disinterest in the matter to be “an ominous sign.”

MSNBC’s Irin Carmon highlighted yesterday’s “unusual” statement.

“This case is an ominous sign,” Alito wrote in an unusual, 15-page response to the court refusing to hear Stormans v. Wiesman…. “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead,” Alito continued, sounding a lot like a man who foresees a bleak future for his side, “those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.”

No, actually, they almost certainly don’t.

As is always the case, especially in Supreme Court disputes, the details matter. In Washington, state law still allows individual pharmacists to raise religious objections to helping a customer, so long as some other employee can step in and provide the prescribed medication. The plaintiffs in Stormans v. Wiesman, however, wanted to go much further – refusing to stock Plan B altogether, regardless of public needs.

The state’s policy is based on the entirely reasonable idea that consumers should have access to medications that are safe and legal, and pharmacies shouldn’t have the authority to simply turn people away. The far-right trio on the high court obviously disagree, and Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern explained the broader implications of their dissent.

…Alito, Thomas, and Roberts seem to believe that, under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, states are proscribed from requiring for-profit religious businesses to treat all customers equally. If this unholy trinity ever managed to rewrite the First Amendment this way, they could effectively bar states from protecting women, gays, and other minorities from religious-based discrimination. […]

Neither [Alito], Roberts, nor Thomas thinks refusal of service is a big deal when patients can hop back in their cars (presuming they have them) and drive to the nearest pharmacy that will deign to provide them with the proper medication. (Live in rural Washington? Hope you can find another pharmacy before the Plan B window closes!)

This cavalier dismissal of women’s interest in nondiscrimination flies in the face of precedent. The court used to say that when a religious accommodation burdens other people’s rights, the accommodation itself violates the separation of church and state. Now Alito wants to push that rule through the looking glass, arguing that there’s a possibility states must give religious employers the right to burden others – a burden that will fall disproportionately on women and gays.

Keep in mind, if four justices agree to hear a case, the Supreme Court takes the case. Were it not for Antonin Scalia’s passing, it’s very likely Stormans v. Wiesman would be on its way towards oral arguments.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 29, 2016

June 29, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, Religious Liberty, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cruz Brings GOP Nomination Into The Toilet”: The Religious Liberty Issue Is Just A Stalking Horse

Now that Ted Cruz’s last hope for stopping Donald Trump rests on ginning up panic and outrage over transgender women using the ladies room, we can officially say that the Republican nominating process is in the toilet.

Cruz is stoking fear about transgender sexual predators stalking women’s rooms, asserting at a rally last week that Trump (as well as Hillary Clinton) would let “grown men use the little girls’ restroom.” He trotted out his two admittedly adorable daughters in matching pink dresses to make sure that no one misses his point that the country’s little girls are in clear and present danger.

His comments follow Trump’s shrug-off of the transgender restroom controversy following North Carolina’s passage of a law that says people must use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate. Trump said that allowing transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choice hadn’t caused any problems to date and that people should “use the bathroom they feel is appropriate.”

But beyond Cruz’s craven politicizing of the issue, the transgender bathroom controversy demonstrates what’s really at stake in the larger “religious liberty” debate.

Despite the fact that the only way this could genuinely be said to be a religious liberty issue is if individuals were being prevented from worshipping freely in restrooms, many religious conservatives clearly now see the bathroom debate as a matter of religious freedom, illustrating the relentless creep of the issue.

The North Carolina measure was included in a broader religious liberty bill, while in Pennsylvania conservative groups like the Pennsylvania Family Council are opposing a proposed bill that would provide anti-discrimination protections to LGBT people, including in public restrooms, calling it “one of the most significant threats to religious liberty and privacy rights in the history of the Commonwealth.”

What’s at stake, however, isn’t religious liberty but the right of one group, people who hew to conservative, “traditional” views of marriage and sexuality, to impose a form of socioreligious privilege on society at large. Cruz gave it away when he said that he had no problem with a man who “wishes to dress as a woman and use her home bathroom.” However, he said, “people do not have the right to impose their lifestyles on others.”

Social conservatives are offended by seeing transgender people in restrooms because it undermines their traditional, religiously-based view of gender as binary and fixed. Therefore, to protect their religious beliefs, transgender people must be marginalized and the bathroom issue is, to borrow Fred Clarkson’s term, religified.

The issue has taken on special potency regarding school restrooms, with several parents challenging schools who let transgender children use the restroom of their choice, because they don’t want to have to explain to their kids why Brenda is now Johnnie. This upsets the whole applecart about fixed gender identities as well as traditional male and female sexual and culture roles.

It’s not hard to understand how the more public emergence of transgender people is upsetting to more traditionally minded people, especially in areas without a lot of cultural diversity. Until recently, the social marginalization of LGBT people as a way to maintain rules about gender and sexuality was largely unquestioned. As R.R. Reno charges in First Things, these rules about “gender roles and other foundational categories” were what “ordinary people use to orient themselves and make sense out of their lives,” but now the “transgender revolution” is dismantling these rules as part of an effort to “efface the social authority of the male-female difference.”

But this discomfort, no matter how acutely felt or culturally disorienting, does not equal an affront to religious freedom. It’s easy to see, however, how people make the leap. As one Cruz supporter told New York Times, “The Bible says he created them male and female, so therefore that’s what it’s supposed to be.”

And it’s because the religious liberty issue is just a stalking horse for a broad counter-cultural protest about increasingly liberal attitudes about sexuality and gender identity that the Supreme Court’s effort to find a compromise in the Little Sisters of the Poor case is doomed to failure.

What the conservative justices don’t get (besides how health insurance works or how women access contraception) is that the case has been about asserting socioreligious privilege all along, not about finding the right form for the nuns to sign. The Catholic bishops and their allies on the religious right long for the day when shunning transgender people or shaming sexual active single women was OK because, at the end of the day, the maintenance of their paradigm of sexual morality requires that someone, somewhere isn’t allowed to pee in peace.

 

By: Patricia Miller, Religion Dispatches, May 2, 2016

May 3, 2016 Posted by | North Carolina Bathroom Bill, Religious Liberty, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Religious Liberty Is For One People Only”: How Ted Cruz Made A Mockery Of Republicans’ Religious Freedom Arguments

The Republican Party, which has accused “liberal elites” of waging a “war on religion,” last week dispatched its leading lights to the rhetorical battlefields in a religious war of its own making.

On March 22, Americans awoke to the news of the horrific terrorist attacks in Brussels, which should have prompted calls for solidarity coupled with rational and effective law enforcement. But for Ted Cruz — who has made religious liberty a central focus of his campaign — it was instead an opportunity to propose an unconstitutional and dangerous program for targeting American Muslims.

The two Republican presidential frontrunners are engaged in a sordid one-upmanship of who can more blatantly scapegoat American Muslims. For Donald Trump and Cruz, it’s an essential part of the gladiator politics that have come to define the GOP primary. Trump has said “Islam hates us” and notoriously proposed banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. Cruz has called for all Syrian Muslims to be banned from the entering the U.S., but for Syrian Christians to be allowed in.

So after the Brussels attack last week, Cruz said, “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Uncharacteristically agreeable, Trump called the unconstitutional proposal a “good idea.”

Somehow this was only one half of Republicans’ very mixed-up week on religious freedom.

A day after Cruz thumbed his nose at the Constitution, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that even the nation’s staunchest religious freedom advocates have called into question. At issue is whether the government violates the religious freedom of faith-based non-profits by requiring them to fill out a form to opt out of providing contraception coverage in their health care plans, as required under the Affordable Care Act.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Cruz has singled out the most sympathetic of the religious non-profits, an order of Catholic nuns called the Little Sisters of the Poor, as exhibit A in President Obama’s alleged war on religion. He has accused Obama as having “the audacity to sue the Little Sisters of the Poor,” when in fact the order of nuns sued the administration.

After the Supreme Court hearing last week, Cruz renewed his full-throated cries for religious liberty. He released recommendations on Thursday from his Religious Liberty Advisory Council, which include a pledge to “direct the Department of Health and Human Services to exempt all employers who object for moral and religious reasons from any contraception mandate.”

“Whether Hobby Lobby or the Little Sisters of the Poor, people of faith should not be made to bow down at the altar of political correctness,” Cruz said.

If “political correctness” sounds familiar, it’s because he wields it constantly to portray religious pluralism as the enemy of Christianity. In fact, he invoked it days earlier when calling for a “people of faith,” Muslims, to be subjected to increased government surveillance. “In the wake of the Brussels attacks, I called for vigorously guarding against the political correctness that has plagued Europe,” he wrote in a New York Daily News op-ed.

This is par for the course for Cruz. Throughout his campaign, he has portrayed the conscience rights of conservative Christian non-profits (and business owners) as being under mortal threat, but he has seemed oblivious to the perils to the constitutional rights of religious minorities, like Muslims he believes should be targeted by law enforcement for their religion and nothing more.

As always for Cruz, religious liberty is for one people only: Christians.

 

By: Susan Posner, The Week, March 30, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Christians, Religious Liberty, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Kind Of White-Identity Interest”: The Republican Candidates Chose Nativism Over Christian Rhetoric

Where did God come up in Wednesday night’s GOP debate? In two key places: the discussion of religious liberty (vis-a-vis Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who recently made headlines by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples) and a brief consideration of Planned Parenthood, which came under fire earlier this summer thanks to a series of videotapes that purported to show Planned Parenthood officials selling fetal tissue for profit.

What was interesting about the candidates’ treatment of these issues and the others that followed was how limited their discussion of Christianity really was, especially compared to their focus on the transcendent values of America itself, more nativist than Christianist. While Christian reasoning likely underpinned much of the reasoning aired on stage—for instance, the unanimous anti-abortion sentiment and distress over religious liberty when it comes to contraception and gay marriage—direct appeals to Jesus and the Bible were rare and muted. In his statements on Planned Parenthood, Jeb Bush said he believed “life is a gift from God”; the remainder of the candidates explored their plans to defund the organization based not on clearly articulated religious objections to its practices, but rather on its impact on, as Carly Florina put it, “the character of the nation.”

Appeals to the strength and identity of the United States rather than specific religious interests also issued from other candidates. When asked about his position on a flat tax based on Biblical tithing procedures, Carson replied: “It’s all about America.” The Biblical reason he had formerly proposed for flat taxation disappeared.

Mike Huckabee, who flew to Kentucky in the wake of Kim Davis’ jailing to offer her support, made relatively little of his excursion. In fact, during his arguments for strengthened religious liberty protections, Huckabee cited the accommodations made for Muslim prisoners as evidence that Christian workers like Davis deserved the same treatment. When prompted to describe his litmus test for a Supreme Court judge, Huckabee said he would demand an appointee recognize fetal life as human, but then listed a series of amendments he would also require an appointee to value, among them the second and tenth. For a candidate who built his entire career on the Evangelical ascendancy of the 1980s, he said remarkably little about, say, the country’s failure to please God.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki stood out in his argument that Kim Davis and other individuals who refuse to carry out their work on religious grounds should be fired, based on a respect for the rule of law. Pataki, who is a Roman Catholic, received applause from the audience when he said he would have fired Davis for her refusal.

The most rousing rhetoric of the night centered around the character of the United States and the preservation thereof: as in, for example, Pataki’s suggestion that allowing Davis and workers like her to refuse to perform their jobs on religious grounds would be tantamount to an Iranian-style theocracy. Given the debate’s setting, there were numerous invocations of former President Ronald Reagan, who seemed to stand in for an age of American greatness which Donald Trump, among others, seem eager to recover. But the description of the nation as specifically Christian as opposed to just great was notably muted.

Even John Kasich, who, in the run-up to the GOP debates was vocally invested in his Christian faith, seemed to pipe down on the Christian rhetoric. “Jewish and Christian principles force us to live a life bigger than us,” he noted at one point, when explaining a position on foreign military policy.

The majority of the debates were spent discussing immigration, the Iran nuclear deal, and economic policy with regard to flat versus progressive taxation schemes. But the Christian issues of yesteryear—the scourge of pornography, the presence of creationism in schools, the nature of the country as a specifically Christian nation—were ignored. Of the original issues that stirred evangelicals during Reagan’s reign, only abortion remained as a prominent issue, and it has mostly zeroed down to a debate about how to deal with Planned Parenthood in light of a specific scandal. In the place of those specifically Christian concerns is the nativist nationalism Trump introduced into the race early on, which his fellow candidates must now echo to compete with him for the support of their base. Nativism is almost never friendly to Christianity as anything more than a kind of white-identity interest, and even then, the international nature of the religion and its roots in the Middle East tend to put the most ardent white nationalists off. While no GOP candidates currently exhibit that level of nativist sentiment, there certainly appears to be a choice of focuses: either hardcore nativism, or Christianity itself. In this debate at least, it’s clear which decision the candidates made.

 

By: Elizabeth Bruenig, The New Republic, September 17, 2015

September 21, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Nativism, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Conservatives Wrapping Noxious Notions In Code”: ‘Religious Liberty’ Looks A Lot Like Intolerance From Here

To me,” she said in a statement, “this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s word. It is a matter of religious liberty.”

It’s telling that Kim Davis chose those words to defend herself last week. Davis, the clerk of Rowan County, a rural, impoverished, and previously obscure patch of northeastern Kentucky, made international headlines for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She had, should it need saying, not a legal leg to stand on, the Supreme Court having ruled in June that states may not bar such couples from marrying. On Thursday, Davis was jailed for contempt. The thrice-divorced clerk had said she was acting upon “God’s authority” and fighting for “religious liberty.”

The political right has long had a genius for wrapping noxious notions in code that sounds benign and even noble. The “Patriot Act,” “family values,” and “right to work.” are fruits of that genius. “Religious liberty” is poised to become their latest masterpiece, the “states’ rights” of the battle for a more homophobic America.

A few months ago, you will recall, “religious liberty” was claimed as the rationale for failed laws in Indiana and Arkansas that would have empowered businesses to refuse service to gay people. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Georgia lawmakers will introduce a new “religious liberty” bill there next year. Last week, Mike Huckabee praised Davis for “standing strong for religious liberty.” Chris Christie, while conceding the need to obey the law, spoke of the need to “protect religious liberty,” as if religious liberty were seriously in danger in one of the most religiously tolerant nations on Earth.

Of course, like all good code, this one hides its true meaning in the banality of its words. Most of us would likely support the right of Native Americans to ingest peyote in their religious rituals, or Jewish or Muslim inmates to grow beards. Some of us even believe no religious order can be required to ordain a woman, admit a congregant of a proscribed race or, yes, perform a same-sex marriage. We understand a core American principle that, within certain broad parameters, one’s right to practice one’s faith as one pleases is inviolable.

But “religious liberty” as defined by Davis and her supporters is about what happens in the wide world beyond those parameters, about whether there exists a right to deny ordinary, customary service and claim a religious basis for doing so. And there does not.

Davis is wrong for the same reasons Muslim cabbies in Minneapolis-St. Paul were wrong some years ago when they claimed a right to not carry passengers who had alcohol on them and Christian pharmacists were wrong when they claimed a right not to fill birth control prescriptions. You have a right to your religious conscience. You do not have a right to impose your conscience upon other people.

And if conscience impinges that heavily upon your business or your job, the solution is simple: Sell the business or quit the job. Otherwise, serve your customers and keep your conscience out of their affairs.

Taken to its logical conclusion, it is not just gay men and lesbians who are threatened by the “religious liberty” movement, but all of us. Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that most of us probably run afoul of somebody’s reading of their religion in some way or another? Who would welcome a future where you couldn’t just enter a place and expect service but, rather, must read the signs to determine if it caters to people of your sexual orientation, marital status, religion or race?

We tried something like that once. It didn’t work.

Sadly, if people like Kim Davis have their way, we may be required to try it again. They call it “religious liberty.”

It looks like intolerance from here.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, September 7, 2015

 

September 8, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Kim Davis, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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