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“Using Faith To Discriminate”: Religious Freedom Gives Me The Constitutional Right To Violate Your Constitutional Rights. Right?

Conservatives just love the Constitution. Or at least they say they do. The thing is, they don’t seem to have any idea how it works. At least that’s a more charitable explanation than saying they don’t care how the Constitution works and merely use it as a fig leaf while they undermine the rights it guarantees. And I’m a charitable kind of guy, so I won’t say that.

When the Supreme Court recognizes that marriage equality is a constitutionally guaranteed right, one part of the battle will be over. But conservatives have already begun to fight on another front, namely how to implement (or not) that right. Republican state legislators in Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, and both Carolinas (South Carolina was first!) have this year proposed various bills that would give government officials who perform civil marriage ceremonies and/or issue marriage licenses and other related documents the ability to refuse same-sex couples if it would violate a “sincerely held religious belief.”

Additionally, Oklahoma State Rep. Todd Russ proposed to take civil officials out of the marriage business altogether and force prospective couples to be married by “an ordained or authorized preacher or minister of the Gospel, priest or other ecclesiastical dignitary of any denomination who has been duly ordained or authorized by the church to which he or she belongs to preach the Gospel, or a rabbi.” Not a Christian or a Jew? Out of luck, apparently, although Rep. Russ says anyone else who wants to get married can “fil[e] an affidavit of common law marriage with the court clerk.” Small problem: the state of Oklahoma doesn’t recognize common law marriages, although courts have recognized some on a case-by-case basis. I’m sure Hindu and atheist couples will be just fine with that.

Even if they were adopted, such laws almost certainly would be struck down as unconstitutional. Nevertheless, they are instructive because of what they say about the conservative concept of religious freedom. John J. Kallam is a Baptist minister in North Carolina. He also served for 12 years as a magistrate judge in Rockingham County, in which capacity he officiated at numerous civil marriage ceremonies. Last October he quit after he was told he could not “opt out” of performing same-sex marriages.

“I felt, and still feel, that that is stepping on my right of religious freedom,” said Kallam. He brought up the matter of a Sikh soldier in the U.S. Army who successfully argued that religious freedom gave him the right to wear a turban and grow a beard, as mandated by his faith. Kallam asked why he should not have the freedom to act on the basis of his faith as well.

Let’s take Kallam’s argument seriously for a moment, in order to demonstrate why it is wrong to conflate these two examples as being equally deserving of legal protection under the framework of religious freedom. First, the Sikh-American soldier’s turban and beard are an act of expression that affects only himself, whereas a North Carolina magistrate judge refusing to perform a marriage directly affects other people, specifically by denying them a right that, as of last October 10, they possessed as citizens of that state. The soldier’s turban and beard do not violate anyone else’s rights, therefore they merit protection.

Religious freedom means that Kallam has every right to believe that marriage ought to be restricted to a man and a woman, or, for all I care, three men and a baby (whatever happened to Steve Guttenberg, anyway?). But Kallam cannot act on those beliefs–especially not as an officer of the state–if doing so would deny others their constitutional rights.

And this rejection of the clear distinction between expressing one’s faith and acting on it to discriminate against others is at the heart of the conservative concept of religious freedom. Last October, Gordon Klingenschmitt celebrated John Kallam for having stood up to “tyranny.” Klingenschmidt, by the way, also expressed the belief that LGBT activists “want you to disobey God so that you go to hell with them,” and added that the judges who declared bans against same sex marriage to be unconstitutional are “demonic judges who are imposing the devil’s law upon the people.”

Who is Gordon Klingenschmitt? A few weeks after making those statements on his “Pray in Jesus Name” television program, he won election and became a brand-new Republican state representative in Colorado. It’s a struggle between freedom and tyranny, folks.

In addition to pushing laws that would allow government officials to discriminate in the name of religious freedom, conservatives are also pushing laws that would allow private businesses to do the same thing, mostly in response to bakers, florists, and photographers who refused to provide services to customers putting on a same-sex marriage. According to Jim Campbell of the Alliance Defending Freedom, this is about “religious liberty.” He added, “we believe the Constitution protects the right of all citizens including business owners to live in a way consistent with their faith.” (Judges in Colorado, New Mexico, and Washington have already ruled against business owners in such cases. The business owner in the New Mexico case appealed to the Supreme Court, which declined to intervene.)

Along lines similar to Campbell and Kallam, South Carolina Republican State Sen. Lee Bright argued that laws allowing this kind of discrimination are not only right but constitutional because “we have similar language for folks that work in health care that don’t want to participate in abortions” due to their religious beliefs. At first glance, this might seem a potent argument. However, it’s little more than sleight of hand. Medical professionals are not allowed to say: “I perform abortions, but only for heterosexuals.” That would be discrimination, and that’s exactly what florists, bakers, and county magistrates would be doing if they provided their services to some, but not others.

Here’s the one I’d like to run by conservatives who talk about religious freedom in these terms: Think about someone whose religious beliefs state that women must not work outside the home. Now imagine that person having authority over hiring decisions at his job. Do his religious beliefs allow him to discriminate against a female candidate for a position? Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of both religion and sex. I’d like to see a conservative argue that religious freedom gives the man in this scenario the right to reject, out of hand, all women candidates seeking employment.

This is not about religious freedom. All Americans are guaranteed the right to their religious beliefs, the right to worship (or not) any deity they choose in the manner in which they choose. That is a bedrock principle of this country and progressives would fight tooth and nail to preserve it, should it ever be endangered. The thing is, it’s not in danger, other than from conservatives themselves, from people like Bryan Fischer, who last September said that all immigrants should be forced to convert to Christianity. Fischer remains connected to the American Family Association, an organization closely allied to the Republican National Committee.

It’s real simple. Conservatives think religious freedom gives them the right to discriminate on the basis of their religious beliefs. They’re wrong, because, to paraphrase Zechariah Chafee, their right to practice their religion ends where my nose begins.


By: Ian Reifowitz, The Blog, The Huffington Post, February 2, 2015

February 6, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Discrimination, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Company You Keep”: Bobby Jindal Wants To Fistfight Your God

“Our God wins!” Who do you think made this statement on Saturday in the hopes of rallying a group of religious fundamentalists? A. The leader of ISIS; B. A Yemeni militant commander; C. A radical Islamic cleric; or D. Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal.

The correct answer is Jindal. He made the “our God wins” statement as the keynote speaker at an event sponsored by the conservative Christian organization, the American Family Association. (AFA.) Now, Jindal’s “our God wins” is a more impressive boast than you might first realize. Jindal, who is now a Christian, was raised a Hindu, a faith that features literally millions of Gods. So for Jindal’s new God to win, he is surely fully aware that it has to beat throngs of Hindu Gods. That would likely entail a massive, NCAA March madness-type bracket system pitting God versus God for years of battles.

In any event, the God Jindal and the AFA members worship has apparently been working out and is ready to kick some deity ass. And the way the crowd cheered Jindal’s notion that “my God can beat up your God” tells you a great deal about the AFA.

Now for those unfamiliar with the AFA, here’s a primer. They are a hate group. It’s really that simple. And that’s not just my opinion, but the view of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which named the AFA a hate group for its vicious anti-gay statements over the years.

As the SPLC’s Mark Potok has noted, in recent years the AFA also added Muslim bashing to its repertoire of hate. Apparently if you ask the leaders of the AFA, “What would Jesus do?” they would respond: demonize gays and Muslims.

The AFA, however, can’t simply be ignored. It’s indisputably a powerful conservative Christian organization. Based in Tupelo, Mississippi, it boasts 500,000-plus members and employs more than 100 people. It also operates its own popular radio network featuring Bryan Fischer, a man who is hateful as he is compelling to listen to on the radio.

Republican candidates for president have long visited Fischer’s show and teamed up with AFA in the hopes of attracting its followers. And not just the likes of Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry, but also more moderate candidates like former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty who went on Fischer’s radio program during his failed 2012 bid for president.

Obviously political candidates can seek the support of any group they want. But as we saw recently with Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La), appearing before hate groups such as the white supremacist group he spoke before in 2002, could, and should, come back to haunt you.

So here’s a sample of the AFA’s views so you can understand what they are all about.

Gays are to blame for The Holocaust: “Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.” –May 27, 2010, Fischer’s blog.

God will use ISIS to punish America for gay rights: “God will use the pagan armies of Allah to discipline the United States for our debauchery.” August 22, 2014, Fischer’s radio show.

Freedom of religion is for Christians only: “I have contended for years that the First Amendment, as given by the Founders, provides religious liberty protections for Christianity only. August 1, 2014 article by Fischer.

The Charlie Hebdo attack was God’s punishment for the magazine’s blasphemy: “They made a career out of taking the name of God, the God of the Bible, the father of the Lord Jesus” which was in violation of the commandment “you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” January 9, 2015, Fischer radio show.

Bar gays from serving in public office: “I believe being an active homosexual should disqualify you from public office because it’s a form of sexual perversion.” January 8, 2015, Fischer radio show.

Immigrants to the United States must convert to Christianity: Our immigration policy should be, “convert to Christianity, fully assimilate (become an authentic American, not a hyphenated American), and support yourself. If you commit to those things, you are welcome here.”  April 9, 2011, Fischer Blog.

And the list goes on and on.  Yet Jindal and other Republicans have no problem being the keynote speakers at their event and appearing on the AFA radio program.

Why would a guy like Jindal, an Ivy Leaguer and a seemingly mainstream governor, team up with the likes of AFA? Well, many would say it’s out of political expediency. After all, in the 2012 presidential race, white Evangelical voters accounted for 50 percent of the voters in the early GOP primary contests.

Others would say Jindal is simply desperate. The RCP average of polls shows Jindal in eleventh place out of 12 GOP candidates with only 2.8 percent of support. Jindal is literally running behind the poll’s margin of error.

But then again, maybe we are wrong. Maybe people like Jindal, Perry, Huckabee, and the like align with the AFA because they actually agree with their views. Perhaps they too believe that gays are to blame for the Holocaust, that Muslims and Jews don’t deserve First Amendment rights, and that all immigrants need to convert to Christianity?

Sure, these views sound outlandish, but shouldn’t we assume that the politicians agree with the hateful positions of the groups they team up with unless we hear the candidate publicly denounce each one?

If Republican candidates want the support of groups like the AFA, both the general public and the AFA’s followers deserve to know which issues they agree upon and which ones they don’t.  Isn’t it time that the media started asking those questions?


By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, January 27, 2015

January 28, 2015 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, Christian Right, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP’s Big Weekend”: So Much Extremism, So Little Time

If you want to know the current state of the Republican Party, look no further than the activities that the party’s leading presidential hopefuls have planned for this weekend. With two such extreme choices, how does a candidate pick just one?

Several top GOP contenders — including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry — will be spending Saturday in Iowa at a conference organized by the party’s most vocal anti-immigrant extremist, Rep. Steve King, and featuring King’s favorite birther ally, Donald Trump.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, meanwhile, has a different strategy. He’ll be spending this weekend with radical Christian nationalists and anti-gay extremists to pray for the day when they gain total political control of the country.

How do you choose?

Each candidate seems to want to find just the right right-wing niche to launch his candidacy.

Republican leaders sometimes like to make a show of distancing themselves from Steve King — John Boehner memorably called him an “asshole” after he described DREAM Act beneficiaries as drug mules with “calves the size of cantaloupes” — but that hasn’t stopped them from allowing him to have plenty of influence over immigration policy. Last summer, the House GOP handed over its immigration policy to King, passing a bill repealing deportation relief for DREAMers that King gushed was like he “ordered off the menu.” And his influence is anything but fading.

The fact that potential Republican presidential candidates are flocking to King’s “Iowa Freedom Summit” is telling enough. The fact that it is cohosted by Citizens United — an organization now synonymous with the defense of big money in politics — and features Donald Trump — a man who has dedicated himself over the past few years to proving that President Obama was born in Kenya — is just icing on the cake. Anti-immigrant hatred, racist birther theories, and legalized corruption all in one conference — truly tempting!

One person was evidently able to resist: Bobby Jindal, who already had plans to cater to another set of extremists the same weekend.

Jindal has apparently decided that if he’s going to run for president, his role model will be Rick Perry.

In 2011, as Perry was zeroing in on a presidential run, he decided to solidify his base in the religious right by holding “The Response,” a massive “prayer rally” in Texas organized by the wildly anti-gay American Family Association (AFA) and their Christian nationalist allies at the “International House of Prayer” (yes, IHOP), featuring an impressive collection of right-wing extremists. Although one participant reported that the prayer rally cured Texas of a curse left by Native American cannibals, it failed to launch Perry into the presidency.

But Jindal seems to be confident that the second time will be the charm. Jindal has signed on with the AFA to host “The Response: Baton Rouge” on the campus of Louisiana State University, which he says will cause the nation to “turn back to God” and “put these United States of America back in the right path.” Also helping to organize the rally is David Lane, a quietly influential Christian-right activist who has built strong alliances within the Republican Party in his effort to establish a U.S. government that reflects his theocratic worldview.

Jindal was already working hard, if somewhat more quietly, to solidify his ties with the religious right — for instance, by pouring millions of dollars in taxpayer money into religious schools that teach junk science and revisionist history. But what Jindal doesn’t appear to have counted on is that when you partner with extremists to host a massive public rally, it’s hard to hide the fact that you’re partnering with extremists to host a massive public rally. The AFA, which is footing most of the bill for the event, is most notorious for the bigoted ranting of its chief spokesperson, Bryan Fischer, who, from his perch at the organization’s radio network, manages to regularly insult and demean LGBT people, Muslim Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, women, and even Medal of Honor recipients. He also frequently declares that the First Amendment is meant to protect only Christians, a category in which he does not include Mormons, and calls Hinduism — the faith of Jindal’s parents — a “doctrine of demons.”

And that’s just one person! The AFA is the kind of group that boycotts Home Depot for participating in gay pride parades, dabbles in anti-Obama conspiracy theories, and is leading the charge against the “War on Christmas.”

Lane, for his part, has predicted that car bombings in major American cities will soon be part of God’s “mercy” on the country for such sins as letting an openly gay poet read at a presidential inauguration, and hopes for the day when the Bible is used as the “principle textbook” in American schools.

On top of all of this, Jindal has found it somewhat hard to back away from a “prayer guide” distributed by organizers of his rally that blamed Hurricane Katrina on gay people getting married, a claim that the AFA cheerfully stood behind even after it started to get Jindal in trouble.

Not that it’s unusual for Jindal to partner with these people. The AFA is a top sponsor of the annual Values Voter Summit, which always draws a who’s who of Republican leaders. And Lane has partnered with Perry, Huckabee, Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Pence and the Republican National Committee.

As the presidential primary approaches, the GOP’s candidates are scrambling to win the support of theocrats, bigots and anti-immigrant extremists. What they don’t seem to realize is that that will make it much harder for them to win the respect of the rest of us.


By: Michael Keegan, President, People For the American Way; The Blog, The Huffington Post, January 22, 2015

January 23, 2015 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, GOP Presidential Candidates, Religious Right | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Faithful Are Spinning Out Of Control”: The Bizarre Behavior Of Christian Conservatives This Week

If Christianity had its own PR flack, he would be slamming his fist on the desk right about now, as the faithful are spinning out of control.

A Tennessee man, Ronnie Monday, and his friends thought they were doing the “Lord’s work,” by raising money to erect a massive billboard in the town of Portland that called homosexuality an abomination. It quotes Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman. It is an abomination.” To the right of the verse the billboard says, “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.” Yet what Monday didn’t address is that a few verses later in Leviticus, homosexuals are condemned to death. So much for loving the sinner.

The United States Air Force entered the religious battle this week when it said it would not let a veteran airman reenlist unless he swore an oath unto God. The airman, who has remained unnamed, signed the oath document, but crossed out the words “so help me God.” Bryan Fischer of the ultra-conservative American Family Association said that atheists should not even be allowed to serve in the armed forces. “There is no place in the United States military for those who do not believe in the Creator,” he said. “A man who doesn’t believe in the Creator … most certainly should not wear the uniform.”

How quickly Fischer dismisses the lives of those like Pat Tillman, an open atheist who lost his life not long after he walked away from his professional football career to fight Al Qaeda after 9/11. The American Humanist Association and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation quickly took action against the Air Force, which strongly defended the wording of the oath. Eventually, the organizations wore the Air Force down, and it dropped its religious enlistment requirement.

After the Air Force’s decision to drop the requirement, the 700 Club’s Pat Robertson went on an anti-Semitic tirade: “There’s a left-wing radical named Mikey Weinstein [president of MRFF] who has got a group about people against religion or whatever he calls it, and he has just terrorized the armed forces.” He continued, “You think you’re supposed to be tough, you’re supposed to defend us, and you got one little Jewish radical who is scaring the pants off of you.”

On the subject of the military, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee declared in front of a crowd that the US should not fear a war with the Islamic militant group ISIS because Huckabee has read the Bible, and it contains a prophecy. “I got good news for all the dispirited and disquieted Christians in America who somehow are afraid that the Sons of Ishmael who are challenging us now in the Middle East will overwhelm the Sons of Isaac,” Huckabee said. “Let me assure you, I have read the end of the book! My dear friend, we win!”

For those who have not read the Bible, there is a massive lack of information about how to deal with ISIS, but that did not stop Huckabee, who even appeared on Fox News endorsing greater military action, saying dropping bombs is not enough to “eradicate ISIS.”

And last, if you are not familiar with Jesus’ famous sermon on the mount, Jesus blessed the poor and the hungry. But now he’s blessing the gun nuts? Pat Robertson, who can’t stay out of the news, has added a new verse: “Blessed are the fully armed because theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

Robertson was referring to earlier fear-mongering comments in which he claimed, “Violent attacks and even deaths on church property occur far more often than people realize.” But Robertson had good news for his viewers, saying, “The good news: You can protect yourself. What are you going to do, are you going to give church members AK-47s at the door to let them blow away those intruders?”

I don’t think Jesus meant handguns when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”


By: Dan Arel, AlterNet, September 18, 2014

September 22, 2014 Posted by | Atheism, Christian Conservatives, Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Nothing Personal, Just Policy”: Let Me Guess, Mitt Romney Has Gay Friends

George W. Bush has gay friends. So does Sarah Palin. Amazingly, so does Rick Santorum. And let me guess: soon Mitt Romney will, too.

Every Republican politician seems to have at least one gay friend these days. That’s not too difficult: even if you tried, it would be hard to live and work in America without meeting at least one openly gay person you can get along with. But for a right-wing politician having gay friends, shall we say, has benefits. These unnamed, unseen gay friends send a message that an anti-gay politician isn’t a hater. I mean, how can you hate your friends? It’s just policy, nothing personal.

Of course, the problem is that it is personal. Having gay friends doesn’t absolve one of anti-gay prejudice any more than loving one’s wife and daughters absolves one of defunding Planned Parenthood. Even if you’d be happy to have gay people over to dinner, that doesn’t give you a pass to deny them fundamental rights.

The “gay friends” defense is weak, but popular. And Mitt Romney, scrambling to clarify his position on equal rights after President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality, must be considering it right about now.

Romney has always been careful to stipulate that his various and elusive anti-gay policies have nothing to do with any personal anti-gay animus. This strategy was clear in a 2006 speech to the right-wing Family Research Council, recently unearthed by PFAW’s Right Wing Watch. In it, taking homophobia to a whole new level, the candidate declares that “the price of same-sex marriage is paid by the children” and amazingly asserts that marriage equality is the result of “spreading secular religion and its substitute values.” He then offers a spoon full a sugar with a call for an “outpouring of respect and tolerance for all people” and laughably encourages his listeners to “vigorously protest discrimination and bigotry.”

When President Obama announced last week that he supports marriage equality, Romney responded by repeating his opposition to not only marriage equality but also to civil unions. He then insisted that same-sex couples have the “right” to “have a loving relationship, or even to adopt a child.” The next day, he changed his mind about the adoption part. The day after that, he delivered a commencement address to Liberty University, which bans openly gay students and is allied with some of the most vile anti-gay rhetoric in the Religious Right today.

But none of this wavering matches Romney’s recent, brief hiring of an openly gay staffer, foreign policy spokesman Richard Grenell. A Republican adviser told the New York Times after Grenell was forced out of Romney’s campaign, “It’s not that the campaign cared whether Ric Grenell was gay. They believed this was a nonissue. But they didn’t want to confront the religious right.” Increasingly, when it comes to choosing between basic dignity and futile attempts to appease the far right, the mainstream GOP has been choosing the far right.

Unfortunately for Romney, the Religious Right, the object of his caving, isn’t buying his frantic attempts to pander. The most outspoken critic of Romney’s decision to hire Grenell quickly, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, became the most outspoken critic of the decision to fire him. “How is he going to stand up to North Korea if he can be pushed around by a yokel like me?” Fischer demanded.

It has to give at least some Republicans pause that the far right has become so extreme, and Republican leaders have become so subservient to their demands, that it is now not even possible to have any gay people work for a GOP campaign.

But soon Mitt Romney will tell us that he has gay friends.


By: MIchael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post, may 15, 2012

May 16, 2012 Posted by | Civil Rights | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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