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“The Antithesis Of Religious Liberty”: Why The GOP Has The First Amendment Upside Down

One entertaining aspect of recent dramatic Supreme Court rulings was learning that the court’s high-minded intellectuals can be just as thin skinned and spiteful as everybody else. Apparently, Justice Antonin Scalia was a law-school whiz kid about 50 years and 50,000 cocktails ago, and finds it hard to accept that lesser minds are not obliged to agree with him.

For his part, Chief Justice John Roberts turned political prognosticator in his dissent to Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision legitimizing gay marriage. “Stealing this issue from the people,” he wrote, “will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.”

Granted, if all you had to go by was the sky-is-falling rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates and their theological allies, you might think that Roberts had a point. But he doesn’t, partly because the Supreme Court ruling won’t bring about dramatic social change at all. It merely affirms social changes that have already happened.

But hold that thought, because political handicappers at the New York Times argue that same-sex unions could be the best thing that ever happened to the GOP. Not because millions of outraged religious conservatives will stampede to the ballot boxes, but because… well, here’s the headline: “As Left Wins Culture Battles, GOP Gains Opportunity to Pivot for 2016.”

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum believes that the gay marriage fight is over. “Every once in a while,” he told reporter Jonathan Martin, “we bring down the curtain on the politics of a prior era. The stage is now cleared for the next generation of issues. And Republicans can say, ‘Whether you’re gay, black, or a recent migrant to our country, we are going to welcome you as a fully cherished member of our coalition.’”

Sure, Republicans could say that. If Republicans were in the habit of dealing with reality, that is. Frum, a Canadian Jew who became a U.S. citizen in 2007, may be forgiven a bit of wishful thinking. Ever since getting pushed out of the American Enterprise Institute for saying Republicans were foolish not to negotiate with the White House on Obamacare, he’s been trying to persuade Republicans to act more like British Tories.

But that’s not how today’s GOP rolls. On the party’s evangelical right, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was breathing smoke and fire. A Baptist preacher, Huckabee indulged in a bit of ecclesiastical word play, denying that the Supreme Court could do “something only the Supreme Being can do — redefine marriage.” He denounced the ruling as a “blow to religious liberty, which is the heart of the First Amendment,” and vowed to defy it.

In this, Huckabee echoed Rev. Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who even before the Supreme Court ruling had vowed that “as a minister of the Gospel, I will not officiate over any same-sex unions or same-sex marriage ceremonies. I completely refuse.”

Isn’t that brave of him?

However, do you really suppose it’s possible that Floyd, Huckabee, and the rest of the hyperventilating GOP candidates fail to understand that all churches have an absolute First Amendment right to their own beliefs and practices? They’re bravely refusing to perform ceremonies that nothing in this nor any imaginable Supreme Court decision would require of them.

If your church refuses to sanctify same-sex marriages (as mine certainly does), that’s its unquestioned right. For that matter, the Catholic Church also refuses to marry previously divorced couples, or even admit them to communion — an absurdity to me, but not a political issue.

Nothing in the Supreme Court ruling changes those things. It’s about marriage as a secular legal institution: two Americans entering into a contract with each other. Period.

That’s why Bloomberg View‘s Jonathan Bernstein is right and Justice Roberts is wrong about same-sex marriage causing long-lasting social resentment. Marriage, he writes, is “a done deal,” and the issue will soon be relegated to “history books alongside questions of whether women should vote or alcohol should be prohibited.”

Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 decision invalidating miscegenation laws, was accepted almost immediately. Bernstein points out that in states such as Massachusetts and Iowa, where same-sex unions have been legal for years, they’re no longer controversial.

Because it’s really none of your business, is it, who loves whom? And it has zero effect on you personally. So grow up and get over it.

In time, as Bernstein says, most people will.

In the near term, however, millions of aggrieved GOP voters appear to have gotten the First Amendment upside down. They won’t easily be dissuaded. Feeling besieged by the mainstream culture, they’re encouraged by the Huckabees, Cruzes, and Santorums of the world to believe that they’re being persecuted because they can’t make everybody else march to their drumbeat.

The Republicans’ problem is that to most Americans, that’s the antithesis of religious liberty, and a surefire political loser.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 1, 2015

July 2, 2015 Posted by | 1st Amendment, GOP, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , | 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

“The Anarchy Of ‘Religious Liberty'”: We Reserve The Right To Refuse Service To Anyone Not Like Us

It’s a good thing Americans have no serious problems, because the time and energy we expend fighting over symbolic issues could become a problem. Sure, symbols can be important. The swastika is a symbol, also the U.S. flag. But this week’s farcical casus belli involves a couple of spectacularly ill-conceived “religious freedom” statutes in Indiana and Arkansas.

As originally written, these laws would give every private business in both states — every butcher, baker, and wedding cake maker — powers and privileges equivalent to the Pope of Rome. But is that what their authors actually intended? Moreover, even if the laws stand, which looks unlikely at this writing, would anything important really change in actual practice?

As a longtime Arkansas resident, I very much doubt it. Political posturing aside, person to person, are people here really so self-righteous and mean-spirited as to treat their LGBT neighbors like lepers? Or, more to the point, like blacks in the bad old days before the civil rights revolution of the 1960s? Would we revert to open discrimination in broad daylight?

No, no, and no. Those days are gone forever. Nobody really wants them back. What’s happened here is that the Chicken Little right has worked itself into yet another existential panic over the U.S. Supreme Court’s expected ruling legalizing gay marriage, badly overplayed its hand, and set itself up for yet another humiliating defeat.

Anyway, here’s what I meant about the Pope of Rome. A while back, I got myself into hot water with old friends by failing to express indignation about a Catholic girls’ school in Little Rock firing a lesbian teacher who announced her marriage to her longtime companion.

My view was simple: as a lifelong Catholic, the teacher knew the Church’s position, and she ought to have known what would happen. It’s an authoritarian institution, the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church. By all accounts a terrific teacher — she landed another job immediately — the newlywed had somehow persuaded herself that as her homosexuality had long been an open secret, openly defying Church doctrine wouldn’t be a problem.

Wrong.

Now, you’d think the Catholic Church’s own appalling failures would have rendered it mute on questions of sexual morality for, oh, a century or so. But that’s not how they see it. When and if the doctrine changes, it won’t start in the Mount Saint Mary’s Academy faculty lounge. Damn shame, but there it is.

Was I being smug because I’ve never faced such difficult choices? Could be. But here’s the thing: No American has to be a Roman Catholic; it’s strictly voluntary.

But the United States isn’t supposed to be an authoritarian country. And that’s precisely what’s so potentially insidious about both the Indiana and Arkansas statutes as written, and why they cannot be permitted to stand. Under the guise of “religious liberty” they would give zealous individuals and private businesses near-dictatorial powers with no legal recourse.

Under Arkansas HB1228, aka the “Conscience Protection Act,” it’s every person his own religious dogma — “person” being broadly defined as any “association, partnership, corporation, church, religious institution, estate, trust, foundation, or other legal entity.”

Dogma would trump civil rights at every turn. What it could mean in practice is that if your landlord’s God objected to your being gay, he could evict you. Should your employer’s religious scruples cause him to object to your marrying another woman, he could fire you.

And there wouldn’t be a thing you could do about it.

Advertised as preventing “government” from forcing conscience-stricken wedding photographers to document Bob and Bill’s nuptials, the Arkansas law would also make it nearly impossible for private citizens to file lawsuits against “persons” professing religious motives.

“Persons,” remember, including corporations, estates and trusts. You could end up losing your job because some dead person’s will stipulated “no faggots.” Or no Muslims, Catholics, or redheads, I suppose.

But what such laws really threaten isn’t so much tyranny, University of Arkansas-Little Rock law professor John DiPippa points out, as anarchy. “With HB 1228,” he writes “county clerks could seek exemptions from issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, or for interracial couples, or divorced couples. Teachers could refuse to teach the required curriculum.”

All this because certain literal-minded religionists can’t get it through their heads that marriage can be two things: both a legal contract between consenting adults, and a religious ceremony. If your church chooses not to sanction certain kinds of marriages, nobody says it must. But as a legal matter, other people’s intimate arrangements are really none of your business.

Why is that so hard to understand?

So no, these laws are not going to stand as written. Hardly anybody wants to go back to the 1950s. When Apple, the NCAA, Angie’s List, Walmart, and Charles Barkley are all lined up on the same side of a political controversy, that side is going to win.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, April 1, 2015

April 2, 2015 Posted by | Arkansas, Indiana, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Devil Came Down To Georgia And Paid Off Judas”: Republicans Want Their Own Tidy Little Jim Crow Zone Of Discrimination

In some startling, if preliminary, good news from Georgia, members of a state House committee, including three Republicans, “gutted” a religious liberty bill by adding language foreswearing any preemption of anti-discrimination laws. Proponents of the bill quickly moved to table it for the session, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Aaron Gould Sheinin:

The stunning move to table Senate Bill 129 came after Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, succeeded in amending it to make clear that the bill would protect against “discrimination on any ground prohibited by federal, state or local law.”

“I take at face value the statements of proponents that they do not intend discrimination with this bill,” Jacobs said. “I also believe that if this is the case, we as the General Assembly should state that expressly in the bill itself.”

Ha ha! Good one!

But “religious liberty” fans are not amused by having their own words quoted back to them. Erick Erickson, who often treats Georgia politics like his own personal dominion, pitched a hissy fit that’s extreme even by his porous standards, focusing on two Republicans who appeared to switch sides by voting with Jacobs, and a third who didn’t vote on the amendment.

Yesterday, I encouraged everyone to call Beth Beskin, Jay Powell, and Wendell Willard to tell them thank you. They had stood with Chick-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby, and people of faith. They fought off attempts to gut the religious liberty legislation in Georgia.

After you had taken the time to call them, Beth Beskin, Jay Powell, and Wendell Willard stabbed you in the back.

A week before we remember the anniversary of Judas selling out our Lord for 30 pieces of silver, Beth Beskin, Jay Powell, and Wendell Willard have sold out people of faith.

The very amendments they stopped that would have gutted the religious liberty bill, they put back in yesterday. They saved RFRA in a subcommittee only to kill it in full committee. And they did it after you had thanked them for sparing the legislation.

This is a serious betrayal. They stabbed you in the back as you were thanking them for defending your faith.

Whoa, Erick, remember you’re supposed to be the fearful, persecuted victim here, not a raging vengeful homophobe. Start tossing around references to Judas and you might find yourself tempted to lead one of those medieval-style Good Friday pogroms if you are not careful (as the AJC pointed out this morning, the prime mover in “gutting” the bill, Mark Jacobs, is Jewish).

What the incident makes clear, of course, is that the whole point of “religious liberty” legislation is to sanction discrimination. These people fully intend to discriminate, and demand the right to do so, because they’ve convinced themselves (by conflating traditional secular culture with Christianity, and then finding a few lifted-out-of-context references in Scripture that seem to back it up) that God wants them to discriminate against gay people as unclean. They want their own tidy little Jim Crow zone of discrimination where they benefit from the laws and policies they approve of but are allowed to disregard the others.

But as Erickson demonstrates, the really hard thing for them is to reconcile the appropriate appearance of Christ-like suffering at their terrible victimization with the fury they clearly feel at losing control of the political and legal system, if only for a moment.

One other reason the Freedom to Discriminate coalition is angry is that it is being “betrayed” not just by RINO legislators, but by the business community, which in Georgia and elsewhere, doesn’t want to sacrifice convention business in order to let people defy anti-discrimination laws.

These in Erick’s analogy are the equivalents to the Jewish priests who paid off Judas to turn over Christ to Roman soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane. But the conspiracy apparently is even wider: Erickson points to Gov. Nathan Deal–a hard-core Christian Right pol–for allegedly being on the brink of appointing the chief betrayer of the faithful, Mark Jacobs, to a judgeship.

Having repeatedly appropriated to himself the right to determine who is and is not a “Christian,” ol’ Erick clearly needs to do some more purging of the Republican ranks to make the GOP safe for people who want to appropriate the right to determine which laws to obey.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 27, 2015

March 28, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Georgia, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Questioning Our Questions”: In Faith As In Science, Finding The Right Answers Inevitably Involves Questioning Our Own Questions

It is a mark of our pluralistic moment that I learned of an old joke among rabbis from the writings of a great Christian scholar, Jaroslav Pelikan.

In his book “Jesus Through the Centuries,” Pelikan tells the story of a rabbi who is challenged by one of his pupils: “Why is it that you rabbis so often put your teaching in the form of a question?” To which the rabbi replies: “So what’s wrong with a question?”

Trying to imagine what will matter in a new year is daunting, but it takes no clairvoyance to see that in 2015, one of the struggles around the globe will be between those who acknowledge that religion is as much about questions as answers and those who have such a profound certainty about their answers that they will kill in the name of the divine.

To cast the matter this way, I know, invites dissent from both believers and nonbelievers. The believer can plausibly argue that you can be utterly certain about the truth without killing anyone. Nonbelievers might note that both halves of my formulation undercut religion. If religion is primarily about questions, what truth can it contain? And if it preaches certainty, where is the space for dissent and dialogue?

Holding on to faith’s middle ground — what my friend Arnie Eisen calls “moderate religion” — is one of the most important tasks in the world now. Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, is not referring to a faith that is weak or tepid. Rather, he thinks that all traditions need to recognize the radically new situation in which they find themselves.

“The job market is global, and so is the thought-and-values market,” Eisen said in a lecture in November in Jerusalem. “It is more difficult for ‘The People of the Book’ to sustain the belief that it is in any meaningful sense ‘The Chosen People’ — or is ‘the’ anything — because an unlimited diversity of claims is literally in our face every time we look at a screen on a laptop or smartphone.”

Admitting this does not produce all the answers, but, as the rabbi in the story might say, it does lead to the right questions.

My hunch is that Pope Francis’s understanding of Eisen’s point has much to do with his worldwide popularity. A recent Pew survey across 43 nations found Francis with a median favorable rating of 60 percent and an unfavorable rating of just 11 percent.

Political consultants would love to have access to the pope’s secret sauce. Some of the ingredients are clearly personal: Francis conveys the reflectiveness of a holy man and the compassion that most hope religious engagement encourages. But he also manages to juggle the imperative of making tough judgments, especially about injustice and poverty, with an awareness that justice without mercy and understanding (“Who am I to judge?”) lacks both humanity and the sense of a God whose most important characteristic is mercy.

By simultaneously conveying a certainty about what his faith teaches him and a confident openness to those who are seeking answers along other paths, Francis gives an intimation of what holiness needs to look like in the 21st century.

One of my favorite political acts at the end of 2014 was the Senate’s confirmation of Rabbi David Saperstein as the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. I admire Saperstein for many reasons, but why I think he is perfect for his new job was illustrated during his 2004 visit to my Religion and Politics class at Georgetown University.

It was around the time that Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was released. Saperstein had been a sharp critic of what he (and many others) saw as anti-Semitic tropes in the movie. But several of my students had appreciated the film. Rather than launch into an attack on Gibson’s work, Saperstein invited them to have their say.

When he finally did express his view, Saperstein began with these words: “If you believe that the birth of Jesus Christ is the most important event in human history, you cannot help but be moved by this movie.” Only then did he offer his critique.

Religious freedom will thrive and religion itself will be a force for good only if religious people can convey this sort of empathetic understanding of the truths that others hold dear. In faith as in science, finding the right answers inevitably involves questioning our own questions.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 31, 2014

January 4, 2015 Posted by | Faith, Pope Francis, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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