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“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

“Church And State”: Mike Huckabee’s Christian Sharia Law

Mike Huckabee is known as a former governor, an author, a onetime Fox News host, and as a possible contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. And now we have a new way to describe Huckabee: Christian Wahhabist.

For those unaware, Wahhabism is a sect of Islam, primarily practiced in Saudi Arabia, which follows a very conservative interpretation of the faith. Wahhabis demand that their religious principles be imposed as the law of their country. And Huckabee, in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN, made it clear that on certain social issues, he too believes that his religious beliefs should be the basis for the laws of the state.

But before we get to that issue, let me start with the reason Huckabee’s interview came to my attention. Huckabee stated that his continued opposition to same-sex marriage is based on the Bible, and that he can’t “evolve” on the issue “unless I get a new version of the scriptures.” He then added that it would be comparable to “asking a Muslim to serve up something that is offensive to him or to have dogs in his backyard.”

Being a Muslim who has offered many times before to be people’s “Muslim friend,” and to answer their questions the best I could about the faith, Huckabee’s dog comment immediately caused some friends to reach out on social media. “Are Muslims religiously prohibited from owning dogs?” they asked.

The simple answer: no. Nowhere in the Quran does such a prohibition appear. However, there are mentions of dogs in the Hadith, which are the sayings and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims view the Hadith as second only to the Koran in terms of being authoritative. But it should be noted that not all Muslims follow the Hadith and there are questions about the veracity of some of its passages.

In any event, there are passages in the Hadith that suggest dogs are “unclean”—but scholars note that was meant literally because it referred to dogs in the desert some 1,400 years ago. Consequently, some Muslims avoid dogs. But other passages of the Hadith say that Muslims can own working dogs, such as for hunting, farming, etc. And yet another passage notes that the Prophet Muhammad stated that God had forgiven a prostitute of her sins after she offered water to a dog in need of drink on a hot summer day. So, clearly, dogs are described in different ways in Islamic texts.

Bottom line: Many Muslims I know, including my own family, own dogs as pets. There was even a “Good Muslims Love Dogs” day in Canada few years back to counter bigots who urged people to taunt Muslims with dogs.

And regarding Huckabee’s remark that Muslims should not be required to serve food they find objectionable, my father was a cook and prepared pork for people daily. This was not a problem. In fact, there would only be a problem if the pork jumped off the plate and jammed itself into his mouth.

So Huckabee was wrong, but it’s not a big deal because he was clearly not trying to demonize Muslims as dog haters. But what is a big deal is his ludicrous argument that Muslims being asked to serve pork is the same as his desire to impose laws that bar gay Americans from getting married because it violates his religious beliefs.

Marriage, as our courts have found many times in the past, is a “fundamental right.” And there’s absolutely no comparison between that important right and the serving or not serving of pork.

Huckabee then gave us another baffling comment during his CNN interview. While complaining about courts striking laws that banned gay marriage, he stated, that “we don’t change laws because some people in a black robe just decide” an issue.

Well, actually, that’s exactly what we do. Our nation’s Founding Fathers set up our system of government so that we have a separation of powers and the judicial branch would interpret the law. And if a law were found to be unconstitutional by the courts, it would be struck down. This is all pretty basic stuff.

Still not done, Huckabee then defended the prohibition on gay marriage in certain states by noting that sometimes 70 or 80 “percent of the state’s population have affirmed natural law marriage.” Translation: If a majority of people support discrimination, then the court should defer to the will of the people.

Well, in 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws that made it a crime to enter into an interracial marriage in the seminal case of Loving v. Virginia, 73 percent of Americans supported such laws. In fact, it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that a majority of Americans finally approved of interracial marriage. So, if we followed Huckabee’s logic to its end point, then interracial married couples, like President Obama’s parents, should have been criminally prosecuted through the 1990s.

To be honest, Huckabee’s Wahhabist tendencies are nothing new. When he last ran for president in 2008, he argued that we “should amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards.

What would be the reaction if a Muslim candidate for president (or even dog catcher for that matter) argued that we should amend our Constitution to agree with the Quran? The right wing in this country would explode. It would be all the Breitbart.coms of the world would talk about. But many of those same right-wing people who fabricate the claim that Muslims in America want to impose Islamic law have no problem when a Christian politician tells us point blank he wants to impose what is, in essence, Christian Sharia law.

The good news: Our First Amendment prohibits the establishment of any religion in our country, be it Christianity or Islam or anything else. That doesn’t mean people like Huckabee—just like Wahhabists in Saudi Arabia—won’t continue to advocate for their religious beliefs to be the law of the land. But in the United States at least, our laws must be based on public policy considerations and the Constitution, not passages of religious text.

And thank God for that.


By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, February 1, 2015

February 3, 2015 Posted by | Church and State, Mike Huckabee, Muslims | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Activating And Motivating The Base”: Racism Plays A Big Part In Our Politics, Period

If you haven’t read it, Ta-Nehisi Coates has a fantastic essay on Barack Obama’s relationship to race and racism in the latest issue of The Atlantic. There’s too much to quote, but this paragraph captures the thesis:

In a democracy, so the saying goes, the people get the government they deserve. Part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites. Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed. This need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offense, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration indeed, revealing a country so infantile that it can countenance white acceptance of blacks only when they meet an Al Roker standard.

The power and symbolism of Obama’s election is compromised by the extent to which his presidency has been shaped by white expectations and white racism. Obama can’t show anger, he can’t propose policies tailored to African Americans and he can’t talk about race. In other words, he can’t remind white Americans that their president is a black man as much as anything else.

At the risk of sounding cynical, I expect that Coates will inspire howls of unfairness from the right. It’s almost forbidden to discuss the role racism has played in shaping opposition to Obama. Conservatives dismiss such concerns as “playing the race card”—and use it as an opportunity to accuse liberals of racism—while more neutral commentators note that Bill Clinton also faced a rabid conservative opposition. But as Coates points out, no one called Clinton a “food stamp president” or attacked his health care plan as “reparations.” Local lawmakers didn’t circulate racist jokes about the former Arkansas governor, and right-wing provocateurs didn’t accuse Clinton of fomenting an anti-white race war.

Of course, race isn’t the reason conservatives oppose Obama, but it shapes the nature of their opposition. The right wing would have exploded against Hillary Clinton as well. But they wouldn’t have waged a three-year campaign to discredit her citizenship.

With that said, I’m honestly amazed that—for many people—it’s beyond the pale to accuse a political party of exploiting racism for political gain. We’re only 47 years removed from the official end of Jim Crow and the routine assassination of black political leaders. This year’s college graduates are the children of men and women who remember—or experienced—the race riots of the late 1960s and 70s. The baby boomers—including the large majority of our lawmakers—were children when Emmett Till was murdered, teenagers when George Wallace promised to defend segregation in perpetuity, and adults when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed for his belief in the humanity of black people.

Five and a half million Americans are 85 or older. In the years they were born—assuming the oldest is 110 (several thousand Americans fit that bill)—1,413 African Americans were lynched. And that’s a rough estimate; the number is almost certainly higher. For nearly a third of our country’s history, this was a common occurence:



Interracial marriage was illegal in large swaths of the country when Barack Obama Sr. married Ann Dunham.

Mitt Romney was 31 when the Church of Latter Day Saints allowed African American priests, and repudiated early leader Brigham Young’s pronouncement that “The Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood.”

Nancy Pelosi grew up in segregated Baltimore.

Mitch McConnell was sixteen when his high school admitted its first black students.

Of course there are politicians and political parties that capitalize on racism. Why wouldn’t they? The end of our state-sanctioned racial caste system is a recent event in our history; more recent than Medicare or Medicaid, more recent than the advent of computers, more recent than the interstate highway system, and more recent than Social Security. Taken in the broad terms of a nation’s life, we’re only a few weeks removed from the widespread acceptance of white supremacy.

Race remains a potent way to activate voters and motivate them to the polls—see Mitt Romney’s current campaign against Obama’s fictional attack on welfare. To believe otherwise—and to see this country as a place that’s moved past its history—is absurd.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, August 23, 2012

August 27, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Inconvenient Biblical Truths” And Traditional Marriage: One Man, Many Women, Some Girls, Some Slaves

Well, it’s been quite a whirlwind week for same-sex marriage, from North Carolina to Obama to Colorado—and, of course, to the many outraged conservatives concerned with preserving traditional marriage, i.e., the time-honored sacred bond between one man and one woman. Why, just last week, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said that marriage has meant just that for over five thousand years.


Time to break out your Bible, Mr. Perkins! Abraham had two wives, Sarah and her handmaiden Hagar. King Solomon had 700 wives, plus 300 concubines and slaves. Jacob, the patriarch who gives Israel its name, had two wives and two concubines. In a humanist vein, Exodus 21:10 warns that when men take additional wives, they must still provide for their previous one. (Exodus 21:16 adds that if a man seduces a virgin and has sex with her, he has to marry her, too.)

But that’s not all. In biblical society, when you conquered another city, tribe, or nation, the victorious men would “win” their defeated foes’ wives as part of the spoils. It also commanded levirate marriage, the system wherein, if a man died, his younger brother would have to marry his widow and produce heirs with her who would be considered the older brother’s descendants. Now that’s traditional marriage!

Later Islamic and Jewish sources, unclear on these parameters (the prophet Muhammad, of course, had several wives), debated whether it is permissible for a man to marry a three- or four-year-old girl. St. Paul, meanwhile, said that marriage was a compromise between the ideal of celibacy and the unfortunate fact that people like to have sex. Fortunately, we pluralists can appreciate both those religious traditions which advise men to marry little girls and those which tell them not to marry anyone at all.

And of course, even until the present day, traditional marriage has meant arranged marriage. The notion that two adults would enter into a marriage on their own volition is a radical innovation in the institution of marriage, at most two hundred years old.

Oh, and let’s not forget that in Europe and North America, marriage was considered a commercial proposition first and foremost—not a romantic one. Princes married princesses not because of fairy tales, but because their parents had political alliances to consider. Further down the economic ladder, people married for a variety of biological, commercial, and genealogical reasons—but rarely for love. (See Stephanie Coontz’s excellent Marriage: A History for more.)

Oh, and that’s right, I almost forgot about interracial marriage, which in some parts of America was seen as a crime against nature and God up until the 1960s. (Of course, Moses himself was in an interracial marriage, but the anti-miscegenation crowd overlooked that inconvenient fact.) It’s easy today for the likes of Tony Perkins to say that this change was a minor one; but let’s remember that a century ago, African Americans were not considered fully human by religious conservatives. Interracial marriage—as much as it’s disgusting to even say so today—was seen as an unnatural marriage between different species.

Oh, wait a minute, I forgot the most laughable part of this whole ludicrous spectacle: that it’s the Mormon Mitt Romney who’s insisting that marriage has “always” been between one man and one woman. Right—except that Romney’s own great-grandfather had five wives, before the LDS church, under massive pressure and persecution, reversed its doctrine on polygamy.

So, let’s see if I can total all this up. Traditional marriage is one man with multiple wives, multiple concubines, wives conquered in war and wives acquired in levirate marriage, possibly including girls under the age of ten, but definitely not including anyone of a different ethnic group, in an arranged marriage with disposition of property as its purpose. That seems very different from “one man, one woman,” does it not?

Of course, it’s easy to say that marriage as an institution evolves—but then, if we admit that, we have to admit that sanctioning loving, same-sex unions is just another step in that evolution. Perhaps this is why the Tony Perkinses of the world simply ignore the Bible when it doesn’t suit their purposes, instead preferring to make pseudo-scientific (and wholly unsupported) claims about what’s best for children and society. The Bible’s truths are just too inconvenient.


By: Jay Michaelson, Religion Dispatches, May 16, 2012

May 17, 2012 Posted by | Marriage | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Turning Back The Clock”: What The South’s Scary Republican Electorate Says About The GOP

There has been a lot written about the make-up of the Republican primary electorate in 2012. By now, it has become clear how very conservative they are, how many of them are evangelicals, how social issues motivate many of them, and how truly angry they are at President Obama.

As I have written before, this is not your mother’s Republican Party.

But the latest polls by the reputable and respected Public Policy Polling group in Tuesday’s primary states of Alabama and Mississippi tell a pretty disturbing story. They surveyed 656 likely Republican voters in Mississippi and 600 in Alabama this past week.

In Alabama, 45 percent described themselves as “very conservative” and 36 percent as “somewhat conservative”; in Mississippi, those numbers were 44 percent and 34 percent respectively. Not a huge shock there.

In Alabama, 68 percent describe themselves as “Evangelical Christian.” In Mississippi, that percentage was 70 percent. Again, not that surprising in the deep South.

But here comes the more disturbing news: In Alabama, 60 percent do not believe in evolution. In Mississippi, the figure is 66 percent.

When it comes to interracial marriage, 29 percent of Republican primary voters in Mississippi believe it should be illegal. In Alabama, 21 percent think it should be illegal.

Now, both of those last two answers would really mean turning back the clock!

And on Barack Obama’s religion, in response to the straightforward question, “Do you think Barack Obama is a Christian or a Muslim or are you not sure?” the answers are scary. In Alabama, 14 percent say Christian, 45 percent say Muslim, 41 percent are not sure. In Mississippi, 12 percent say Christian, 52 percent say Muslim, and 36 percent are not sure.

Several years ago we saw disturbing numbers on the Muslim question, but there has been enough publicity, enough coverage, enough debunking of the false accusations, that one would think that people would have moved on. Not so.

Why do the most engaged voters in Republican primaries seem to hold views that are outright false? Is the hatred of Obama so visceral that they will believe anything that comes across the Internet? Are their views reinforced by friends and neighbors? Do they simply not believe any facts when they are presented?

The truly scary thing is that though these numbers are from two states, this is looking less like an aberration. The Republican primary voters over the last few decades have become increasing more radically conservative, the delegates to the conventions more far right, the Republican Party more rigid. It was impossible for Sen. John McCain to nominate a Tom Ridge or a Joe Lieberman as vice president—too pro-choice. The platform at each convention has become more conservative, especially on social issues. The no-tax pledge has become a needless straight-jacket, yet signed by virtually all Republicans in Congress.

But, these two polls show a remarkable closed-mindedness when it comes to issues of race and religion that many thought were settled with open-mindedness. Apparently not.


By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, March 14, 2012

March 15, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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