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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

“The Real Cost Of Republican Cruelty”: Voters Should Know Who’s Holding Up Their Health Care

With one week remaining before the March 31 deadline for health coverage this year, a Republican filing a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act has become a familiar, if tiresome, sight.

But Republicans filing a lawsuit against the law on the grounds of copyright infringement? That’s something new.

Yet that is effectively what happened this month in Louisiana. On March 14, the state’s lieutenant governor sued the progressive group over a billboard criticizing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to expand Medicaid in the state. The billboard uses Louisiana’s tourism slogan — “Pick Your Passion!” — and adds: “But hope you don’t lose your health. Gov. Jindal’s denying Medicaid to 242,000 people.” The lawsuit claims that the MoveOn ad will “result in substantial and irreparable harm, injury, and damages” to the Louisiana tourism office — as if denying health insurance to the neediest will not cause the state “substantial and irreparable harm.”

Legal experts say Jindal’s ploy has no chance of succeeding, thanks to the First Amendment. (This would be the same First Amendment that the governor passionately invoked in defense of “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson’s right to spew racist and homophobic vitriol.)

Jindal’s reason for refusing to expand Medicaid is as specious as his reason for suing MoveOn. He claims, falsely, that the expansion would divert funds that now go to disabled individuals under traditional Medicaid. In reality, the health-care law doesn’t harm the existing program. It creates several programs to improve care for the disabled receiving Medicaid; Jindal enrolled Louisiana in three of them. But this hasn’t stopped him from blaming the ACA for his own bad policies, including cuts he made to state Medicaid funding for pregnant women.

Louisiana isn’t the only state where Republicans are preventing thousands of low-income Americans from receiving health care. In Virginia, where state lawmakers refuse to expand Medicaid, hospitals will face higher costs and reduced services as a result. One million Texans will be denied access to coverage if the state continues to reject the Medicaid expansion. Meanwhile, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is willing to leave 300,000 of his neediest citizens uninsured. His reasoning? He’s afraid that the law might be repealed, leaving his state no way to meet its commitments — an ironic stance for a Republican to take, since they’re the ones trying to repeal it!

The 19 states that are refusing to expand Medicaid aren’t just leaving low-income Americans out to dry — they’re also leaving billions of health-care dollars on the table. While Bobby Jindal busies himself over a billboard, his state’s internal analysis found that Medicaid expansion would save Louisiana as much as $134 million in 2015 alone.

The real cost of Republican cruelty, however, cannot be measured in dollars and cents, but in people’s lives. Researchers at Harvard and the City University of New York concluded that without the Medicaid expansion, individuals will go without checkups, cancer screenings and treatment for diseases such as diabetes and depression — leading to thousands of premature and preventable deaths.

So much for compassionate or fiscal conservatism.

Amid the misinformation and fear-mongering, however, lies a real opportunity for Democrats to increase support for the ACA and win more races in November.

Consider the recent special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, where Republican David Jolly’s victory is being widely interpreted as a rebuke of the Affordable Care Act. Polls suggest that it wasn’t Obamacare that hurt Democrat Alex Sink but the same factor that often hurts Democrats in midterm elections: low turnout.

To combat this, what if Democrats organized a clear, concerted effort to demonstrate how Republicans are denying millions of Americans access to health insurance?

There are already signs that raising awareness is working. The Moral Monday movement, which favors expanding Medicaid, has been getting attention for its protests at public meetings in several southern states. Other states are considering following the lead of New Hampshire, where the state Senate voted, with Republican support, for a modified expansion.

At the same time, progressives should back MoveOn’s brilliant billboard campaign parodying the tourism slogans of not just Louisiana but also Texas, Florida, Nebraska, Virginia and Wisconsin — which are all blocking the Medicaid expansion.

The campaign might consider going to South Dakota, Alaska, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi and Maine, which have Republican governors, contested Senate races and huge numbers of residents who are being denied access to health care. They need to know who is at fault.

High-profile Democrats running for federal office this cycle should be similarly bold. Voters, especially low-income voters who are most hurt by the GOP’s cruel stance on health care, need to understand just what’s at stake. It’s time for Democrats to run on health-care reform, not away from it — and Medicaid expansion is a worthy place to start. If they need to know how far Republicans have gone to prevent it, there’s a billboard along Interstate 10 in Louisiana that’s a pretty good guide.


By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 25, 2014

March 27, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Bobby Jindal, Voters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Defense For Nonsense”: How Not To Argue Against Medicaid Expansion

Medicaid expansion is a sensible move for literally every state, but Mississippi, with more than its share of residents who lack insurance, live near the poverty line, and suffer from poor health, needs the policy more than most. Even Mississippi’s insurance commissioner, a conservative Republican, has urged Gov. Phil Bryant (R) to put aside ideology and embrace the provisions of “Obamacare” for the good of the state.

But Bryant has refused. Last March, the governor said he wouldn’t accept Medicaid expansion in part because the Affordable Care Act is not “the law of the land.” By any standard, the argument was gibberish.

This week, the Republican governor came up with a new argument.

“For us to enter into an expansion program would be a fool’s errand. I mean, here we would be saying to 300,000 Mississippians, ‘We’re going to provide Medicaid coverage to you,’ and then the federal government through Congress or through the Senate, would do away with or alter the Affordable Care Act, and then we have no way to pay that. We have no way to continue the coverage.”

Let’s think about this for a minute. There are, by everyone’s estimation, several hundred thousand folks in Mississippi who would benefit from Medicaid expansion. According to Bryant, the state could help them, but he doesn’t want to – because in his mind, Congress might repeal the health care law at some point in the future, and the state wouldn’t be able to afford to pick up the slack.

But even by GOP standards, it’s impossible to take this seriously. For one thing, it’s pretty obvious Congress isn’t going to repeal the law, as even the most right-wing lawmakers on Capitol Hill are grudgingly conceding.

For another, even in the extraordinarily unlikely event that the law is repealed sometime after 2017, Mississippi could simply revert back to its current policy once the federal well runs dry. In other words, Bryant is effectively telling struggling families, “We’ll refuse to help you now because of the remote possibility we may no longer be able to help you later. It’s better to leave you with nothing now and for the foreseeable future than risk helping you and your family for the next several years.”

There is simply no defense for such nonsense.

Postscript: In the same interview, the governor was asked about drug testing, and why it’s limited to welfare recipients, as opposed to corporate leaders whose companies get state tax money and/or public employees like himself.

“If I was receiving any federal or state benefits to help raise my family, I’d be glad to take a drug test,” he replied.

Bryant receives $122,160 a year in taxpayer money as his salary. He also has the people of the state of Mississippi to thank for his health care benefits.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 2, 2014

January 3, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Consider The Source”: The Women-Folk Screwed Up American Education With Their Uppity Ways

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant appears to have crossed the Todd Akin Line in an online discussion at WaPo today, as WaPo’s own Valerie Strauss reports:

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) said Tuesday that America’s educational troubles began when women began working outside the home in large numbers.

Bryant was participating in a Washington Post Live event focused on the importance of ensuring that children read well by the end of third grade. In response to a question about how America became “so mediocre” in regard to educational outcomes, he said:

“I think both parents started working. The mom got in the work place.”

Bryant seems to have instantly realized he’d stepped in it (and/or a frantic staffer signaled to him off-camera), and so he started qualifying and back-tracking without retracting his remarks. And so they remain on the record.

Is it unfair for us progressive gabbers to pounce on him? I have somewhat mixed feelings. Sure, politicians say things they don’t mean to say from time to time. But it’s not exactly my job to help the likes of Phil Bryant stay on message. So the simple approach in trying to decide if a “gaffe” like Bryant’s is significant is to consider the source. After all, Todd Akin himself in his famous and politically fatal ruminations on rape was echoing a very familiar meme of the anti-choice movement, in defense of a position (no exceptions to an abortion ban for victims of rape and incest) that he continued to maintain without interruption before and after the “gaffe.” It was fair to say that although he regretted his failure to confine the remark to entirely friendly audiences, he was honestly if inadvertently giving us a glimpse into his world-view, and that’s always relevant, particularly when you are talking about someone who would very much like to deny women the right to choose.

So what about Phil Bryant? Are there reasons to suspect he’s prone to the view that the women-folk screwed up American education with their uppity ways?

Well, there was this incident back during the 2009 battle over a “personhood” initiative (banning all abortions, all “abortifacients” like Plan B, and arguably many forms of regular old contraception) that turned out to be too extreme even for Mississippi voters (as reported at the time by the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal):

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said Monday that “Satan wins” if voters reject Initiative 26 that defines personhood at fertilization.

“This is a battle of good and evil of Biblical proportions,” the Republican gubernatorial nominee told a pro-26 rally attended by about 30 supporters at Tupelo City Hall.

Bryant appeared with American Family Association’s Rev. Donald Wildmon, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and Rep. Alan Nunnelee in support of the initiative.

Cristen Hemmins of Oxford, an opponent, attended the event with four other anti-26 advocates. Hemmens, who was raped and shot twice during a kidnapping as a college student, asked Bryant, “Why can’t you men have any sympathy for women like me?”

Bryant told her he is sympathetic to situations like hers but said he believes “that the child has some rights, too, even in that condition.”

Does this perhaps create a soupcon of reasonable suspicion that Bryant believes in an eternal social order dictating that women just need to get used to second-class citizenship and focus on their reproductive duties? Call me unbalanced if you wish, but I think it does. And since the jesuitical practice of hiding one’s true views as a tactical matter is very commonplace among Christian Right types, I think we are at least entitled to consider Bryant’s remarks today as a valid data point.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 4, 2013

June 6, 2013 Posted by | War On Women, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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