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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

“Recognizing The Human Rights Of All”: Bravo, Bruce: Springsteen’s Stand Against North Carolina Law

When the forces of intolerance and bigotry prevail, as they have lately in Southern states that passed laws institutionalizing discrimination against gay and transgender Americans, it can be tempting to think they are impervious to argument. There is, however, one thing that lawmakers like those in North Carolina do heed – money.

After North Carolina passed a law last month perpetuating discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, PayPal canceled its plans to build a large presence in that state, costing North Carolina 400 jobs at the planned office and countless dollars.

Today, Bruce Springsteen, a champion of social justice in his public and personal life, announced that he was canceling a scheduled concert in Greensboro, N.C., on Sunday and will refund tickets.

“North Carolina has just passed HB2, which the media are referring to as the ‘bathroom’ law,” he said in a statement. The law, he explained, “dictates which bathrooms transgender people are permitted to use. Just as important, the law also attacks the rights of LGBT citizens to sue when their human rights are violated in the workplace. No other group of North Carolinians faces such a burden.”

Mr. Springsteen said the law was “an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress.” He noted that some people and groups in North Carolina were fighting to have the law repealed. “This is a time for me and the band to show solidarity for those freedom fighters,” Mr. Springsteen said, adding: “Some things are more important than a rock show.”

He said that this was “the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band deserve a huge round of applause, as does Charles Barkley, the basketball great, who has urged the National Basketball Association to move its All-Star Game next year away from Charlotte, N.C., unless the law is repealed. The N.B.A. should do that without hesitation.

Remember, the NCAA’s president, Mark Emmert, said he would move the collegiate sports association’s events out of Indiana unless it deleted a similar law, and other business organizations actually did cancel events in Indiana. The law, which was signed by Gov. Mike Pence with great fanfare, was later “fixed” in a foolish and ineffective way, but should simply have been repealed.

In South Carolina, the intervention by big companies like BMW and Bridgestone Tire helped force the hands of racists in the state government who had resisted removing the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the state Capitol.

Mr. Springsteen is taking to heart the adage that all it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to remain silent. What are others who do business in and with North Carolina waiting for?

 

By: Andrew Rosenthal, Taking Note, The Editorial Page Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, April 8, 2016

April 9, 2016 Posted by | Bigotry, Bruce Springsteen, Discrimination, LGBT | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Does Sanders Have A Lock On The Youth Vote?”: It’s Still A Little Early For All Of The Assumptions

The huge story coming out of the Iowa caucuses is that young people voted for Bernie Sanders 84/14. Thus developed the meme that he has a lock on that age group around the country and writers like Nate Silver are attempting to explain the phenomenon. But does the polling bear that out?

The problem with examining the question is that there are very few polls of states that will weigh in after New Hampshire – and even fewer that provide information based on age. So with the caveat that these are merely individual polls and should be taken with a grain of salt, here is a bit of evidence to test the meme.

Based on this NBC/WSJ poll (Feb. 2-3), it looks like the New Hampshire results will closely mirror what happened in Iowa with those under 45.

Sanders 72%
Clinton 27%

One of the states that holds its primary on March 1st (Super Tuesday) is Georgia. Here is how the under 40 vote looks in a poll conducted by Landmark Communications (Feb. 4).

Sanders 13.5%
Clinton 61%

North Carolina holds its primary on March 15th. Here’s what Public Policy Polling (Jan 18-19) found for voters under 45 in that state.

Sanders 31%
Clinton 51%

Perhaps these polls from Georgia and North Carolina haven’t accurately captured the millennial surge in those states. Or perhaps Bernimania will catch on there as the vote gets closer. Or maybe, like other age groups, a more diverse collection of young people will vote differently than the mostly white group that we’ve seen in Iowa and New Hampshire. We’ll have to wait and see. But it’s still a little early for all of the assumptions about how Sanders has a lock on the youth vote.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 9, 2016

February 10, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Millennnials, Young Voters | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“His Hands Are As Dirty As Anyone’s”: If Jeb Bush Wants To Be A Different Kind Of Republican, He Should End GOP War On Voting

Jeb Bush appears before the Urban League today — the only other Republican candidate who accepted their invitation was Ben Carson — where he will tell them that antipoverty programs have failed, and the path to greater success for African-Americans is the one the GOP wants to pave. Politically, Bush surely wants credit for showing up in front of an audience not exactly guaranteed to be friendly. As Eli Stokols noted, “Just about everywhere Jeb Bush goes, he talks about his willingness to go everywhere.”

But at a moment when his party is fighting with all its might to limit the number of African-Americans who make it to the polls, it’s going to be awfully hard to make a case that the GOP has their interests at heart.

That issue is on display in a trial now going on in North Carolina. But before we get to that, here’s part of what Bush had to say:

“I know that there are unjust barriers to opportunity and upward mobility in this country. Some we can see, others are unseen but just as real. So many lives can come to nothing, or come to grief, when we ignore problems, or fail to meet our own responsibilities. And so many people could do so much better in life if we could come together and get even a few big things right in government.”

That’s about as close as he came to acknowledging that racism exists, and about as much on the topic as you’ll hear from any Republican. And while Jeb will happily tout his record on things like charter schools as helping African-Americans, one topic he didn’t raise was voting rights. That may be because on that subject, his hands are as dirty as anyone’s.

When he was governor of Florida, Bush’s administration ordered a purge of the voter rolls that disenfranchised thousands of African-Americans, in a happy coincidence that made it possible for his brother to become president. The private corporation they hired to eliminate felons from the rolls did so by chucking off people who had a name similar to those of felons; people who had voted all their lives showed up on election day to be told that they couldn’t vote.

The remarkable outcome taught Republicans an important lesson. Here you had an election in which their candidate got fewer votes than his opponent, and the whole thing was decided in a state where his brother was the governor and the co-chair of his state campaign was the state’s chief election official. He won by an official margin of 537 votes, and the purge was just one of the things that made it possible. The lesson was this: when it comes to voting, we can get away with almost anything. What came out of that election, as Ari Berman documents, was a wave of Republican efforts to win elections by keeping people less likely to vote Republican from being able to cast a ballot. African-Americans aren’t the only people on that list, but they’re at the top.

So we see cases like North Carolina, where once the conservatives on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act — a landmark law for which some African-Americans literally gave their lives — the state rushed to pass a menu of voting restrictions, all of which are designed to reduce the number of non-Republicans who make it to the polls. Young people are more likely to vote for Democrats? The North Carolina law eliminated pre-registering, where teenagers can register before they turn 18 if they’ll be of age on election day. African-Americans are disproportionately more likely to lack a photo ID? The law requires it. African-American churches mount “souls to the polls” efforts, bringing people to vote early on the Sunday before election day? The law ends early voting on that Sunday.

This law is on trial in a federal courtroom in Winston-Salem; closing arguments are happening today. To be honest, whatever happens in that trial, the five conservatives on the Supreme Court have made it clear that they are quite open to all kinds of restrictions on voting rights. So from a practical standpoint, Republicans may continue to enjoy success in their efforts to make voting as inconvenient and difficult as possible, at least for the wrong people.

But if Jeb Bush is wondering whether he can get African-Americans to vote for him, the answer is almost certainly no, and the continuing struggle over voting rights is one big reason. It’s awfully hard to convince African-Americans you love them when you’re still on the wrong side of a conflict that was at the center of the civil rights struggle. African-Americans look at places like Florida, North Carolina, Texas, or Wisconsin — or almost every state where Republicans are in charge — and say, “They’re still trying to keep us from voting, half a century after the Voting Rights Act!”

If Bush really wants to be a different kind of Republican, he could try to end the Republican war on voting rights. He could say, “We can have a secure voting system, and still make it easy and convenient for every American citizen to vote.” Because it really wouldn’t be that hard. He could advocate extended early voting (including Sundays), and looser identification measures that are geared toward allowing every legitimate voter to cast their ballot, not shutting out as many people as possible. He could acknowledge that in-person voter impersonation, the only kind of fraud that ID requirements can stop, is so incredibly rare (one investigation found only 31 cases in over a billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014), that it’s wrong to disenfranchise thousands of people on the off-chance you might stop it. He could acknowledge that members of his party have used voting restrictions as a way to give themselves partisan advantage.

Or he could hope that showing up to the Urban League and shaking black people’s hands will be enough to wipe out decades of history, his own and his party’s. I’m pretty sure that won’t do the trick.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, July 31

August 1, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Jeb Bush, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , , | 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

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