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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

“Mike Pence Still Isn’t Telling The Truth”: Pence’s RFRA Is Not Clinton’s RFRA

Why Indiana?

With the backlash in full effect—with cancellations of gamer conventions, Wilco concerts, office expansions—even Indiana Governor Mike Pence backtracked today, saying that he will accept the kind of legislative “fix” that Republicans had earlier rejected, as Jackie Kucinich reports.

To hear Gov. Pence tell it, his state is being unfairly singled out.  In fact, he protested today, his Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is no different from the ones President Clinton and then-State-Senator Obama supported in the past. He reiterated that today in his press conference, saying it was no different than the federal bill the ACLU applauded “when President Clinton signed it in 1993.”

That is incorrect—and Gov. Pence knows it. Pence either doesn’t know the law—which is unlikely—or he is purposefully not telling the truth about it. And he kept up that lie today.

In fact, Indiana is different, for four specific reasons: Hobby Lobby, the interests supporting this bill, the bill’s focus on antidiscrimination, and the role of business.

1.  Hobby Lobby

First and most importantly, Gov. Pence is being knowingly disingenuous when he compares Indiana’s RFRA to others. When Bill Clinton signed the federal RFRA in 1993, it passed Congress nearly unanimously. That’s because it was meant as a shield protecting minority religions from government interference. The typical cases were Native Americans using peyote, or churches seeking zoning variances—religious acts that didn’t really affect anyone else.

Hobby Lobby changed that.  Last year, for the first time, the Supreme Court said RFRA was a sword, as well as a shield, enabling a corporation to deny insurance coverage to its employees. Social conservatives cheered.

Since Hobby Lobby, the only states that have passed RFRAs are Mississippi—not exactly a bastion of tolerance, commerce, and industry—and Indiana. Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, you may recall, vetoed her state’s RFRA after the NFL, among others, rebelled.  Georgia and Oklahoma have shelved theirs, and Texas is likely to follow.

Pence’s RFRA is not Clinton’s RFRA.  Hobby Lobby changed the game.

Now, does Gov. Pence know this?  Of course he does.  The law’s own supporters have used the same examples for years: the baker who shouldn’t have to bake a cake for a gay wedding, the photographer, the florist.  To most of us, that looks like discrimination—putting a “No Gays Allowed” sign up on your storefront window.

And those are the best cases.  RFRAs allow hospitals not to honor same-sex visitation rights, and doctors not to treat the children of lesbians.  These are actual cases.

Is Pence just lying, then?  Well, not quite, because of ….

2.  The Right-Wing Echo Chamber

No matter how many times Gov. Pence says this isn’t about gays and isn’t about discrimination, the people standing behind him when he signed it are a who’s-who of anti-gay social conservatives.  (This meme makes it pretty clear.)

Within that far-right echo chamber, RFRA really is about religious freedom.  When I started working on this issue two years ago, I thought the “religious freedom” line was just rhetoric to disguise the culture war.

Since then, though, I’ve met and debated these people, and I’ve watched their propaganda.  They appear to sincerely believe that Christians are being persecuted, and that LGBT people owe them an “olive branch” in the form of religious exemptions.

That echo chamber has been so well-funded, and is so insular, that it’s lost sight of the American mainstream, which sees discrimination as discrimination, even if there’s a religious reason for it. That’s left Republicans across the country exposed. Their base is telling them RFRAs are about religious freedom, and then they’re shocked when the mainstream sees it differently. Several have privately expressed a sense of betrayal.

The fact is, the echo chamber is far from the mainstream.  And when RFRAs are out in the open, they’re failing.  And the reason for that is—

3.  Antidiscrimination

State RFRAs are a backlash to same-sex marriage—but, legally speaking, they’re not about marriage, but discrimination law. Should businesses—florists, pharmacies, hospitals, bakeries—be able to say “No Gays Allowed”?  This is the question Gov. Pence refused to answer five times on Sunday morning.

And unlike marriage, it is not a close one, in terms of public opinion. Yes, public approval of same-sex marriage has risen sharply, to around 55% today. But public approval of anti-discrimination laws is much higher, around 75 percent.

This is why the focus on marriage (as in this thoughtful blog post at the Washington Post) is actually somewhat misleading. If this were really about marriage, it would be closer.

Now, will Gov. Pence’s “fix” be the one-sentence amendment that would bar its application in anti-discrimination contexts?  The sentence is simple: “This chapter does not establish or eliminate a defense to a claim under any federal, state or local law protecting civil rights or preventing discrimination.”  But we’ll see if it actually makes it into law.

If it doesn’t, RFRA will remain a loser in the court of public opinion.  And also in the world of—

4.  Business

As we also saw in Arizona, the corporate world has almost completely shifted on this issue.  RFRAs are bad for business: they make states seem unwelcoming, turn away potential customers, risk costly boycotts, and make it harder to recruit the best employees.  These aren’t ideological positions; they’re economic ones, supported by reams of data.

That’s why the Indiana, Texas, and Georgia Chambers of Commerce – dominated by pro-business Republicans have all opposed RFRAs. So have business-oriented Republicans in each of those states—including the mayor of Indianapolis. (Interestingly, Coca Cola, which has long touted itself as pro-LGBT, has remained conspicuously silent in Georgia.)

That realignment is a game changer. RFRAs aren’t being debated between Democrats and Republicans.  They’re being debated between pro-business Republicans and social conservative Republicans.

Incidentally, because of GOP primary politics, that latter camp includes all of the party’s likely presidential candidates.  We’ll see if the rightward pandering hurts them in the general election.

Indiana isn’t being singled out because of coincidence, or media spin, or just bad timing.  Rather it’s because of a very mainstream, apple-pie value: because discrimination is not the American way.


By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, March 31, 2015

April 1, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Mike Pence, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Cringe-Worthy Display”: The Question Indiana’s Pence Won’t, Or Can’t, Answer

If Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) was looking for a way to raise his national visibility in advance of a possible presidential candidate, his new right-to-discriminate law, if nothing else, has given him the national spotlight.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Sunday defended his decision to sign a religious freedom bill into law, saying that it was “absolutely not” a mistake.

In an interview on ABC’s “This Week” the Republican governor repeatedly dodged questions on whether the law would legally allow people of Indiana to refuse service to gay and lesbians, saying that residents of the state are “nice” and don’t discriminate and that “this is about protecting the religious liberty of people of faith and families of faith.”

The interview between the Republican governor and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos featured an extraordinary exchange that matters quite a bit. The host noted, for example, that one of Pence’s own allies said the new state law is intended to “protect those who oppose gay marriage,” leading Stephanopoulos to ask whether a “florist in Indiana can now refuse to serve a gay couple without fear of punishment?”

The governor replied, “This is not about discrimination,” which wasn’t an answer. So, Stephanopoulos asked again, “Yes or no, if a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that legal now in Indiana?” Pence dodged again.

To his credit, the host pressed on, and again the governor wouldn’t answer. Which led to Stephanopoulos’ fourth effort: “So when you say tolerance is a two way street, does that mean that Christians who want to refuse service … to gays and lesbians, that it’s now legal in the state of Indiana? That’s the simple yes-or-no question.”

Once more, the GOP governor simply wouldn’t, or couldn’t answer.

It was a cringe-worthy display. I’m not even sure why Pence agreed to do the interview in the first place – the Indiana Republican had to know the question was coming, but the governor was visibly stuck, refusing to respond to the most obvious element of the entire debate.

And while Pence struggles to defend a pro-discrimination statute, the backlash to the conservative law has intensified in recent days.

Angie’s List, an online concierge to find companies to perform various household maintenance, announced Saturday it was halting a planned expansion to its campus in Indianapolis over the new law, according to CEO Bill Oesterle.

This coincided with protests at the Indiana Capitol, on top of concerns raised by a wide variety of national businesses, groups, and leaders. A Washington Post op-ed from Apple CEO Tim Cook this morning raises the stakes further.

The governor said Saturday he’ll “support the introduction of legislation to ‘clarify’ ” that the Indiana law “does not promote discrimination against gays and lesbians” – an effort that’s no doubt intended to calm the waters – but Pence added yesterday during the ABC interview, “Look, we’re not going to change the law, OK?”

Actually, no, it may not be “OK” with opponents of discrimination that Pence intends to leave the new law intact.

* Postscript: One man claiming to be an Indiana business owner says he’s already begun discriminating against gay customers, taking advantage of the new law, but the man’s story has not been corroborated.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 30, 2015

March 31, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Mike Pence, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Gov. Pence Feels The Effects Of Epistemic Closure”: Hailing The Beliefs Of Those Living Inside ‘The Bubble’

Back in 2010, Julian Sanchez did us all a favor by defining something he called “epistemic closure.”

One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile…It’s not just that any particular criticism might have to be taken seriously coming from a fellow conservative. Rather, it’s that anything that breaks down the tacit equivalence between “critic of conservatives” and “wicked liberal smear artist” undermines the effectiveness of the entire information filter.

The only information allowed inside this bubble of epistemic closure conservatives have built is that which confirms what they already believe to be true. Anything that contradicts their beliefs is written off as coming from “wicked liberal smear artists” and so, not only will it be rejected, it must be destroyed for the threat it represents.

As Sanchez points out – that creates a certain vulnerability for conservatives. What happens is that every now and then, the reality outside the bubble is simply too difficult to ignore and/or reject. We all watched as that happened to one conservative commentator after another on election night 2012. Even the Republican candidate himself was finally shaken out of his epistemic closure. Reality stepped in a provided a bitter pill for all to swallow.

But when your whole identity has been built underneath the protection of that bubble of epistemic closure, even moments like that are followed by rationalizations that attempt to repair the fabric that was torn by the intrusion of reality.

What we’re witnessing right now is that Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana is experiencing just such a breach in the bubble of his own epistemic closure. He actually believed that the people of Indiana (and the country) would hail his state’s adoption of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because that’s what everyone inside his bubble believed.

I spoke with Pence on the same day that thousands of people rallied at the Statehouse in opposition to the law. And the same day that Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle announced that his company will abandon a deal with the state and city to expand the company’s headquarters in Indianapolis because of RFRA’s passage.

Oesterle’s statement is a telling sign that the outrage over RFRA isn’t limited only to the political left. Oesterle directed Republican Mitch Daniels’ 2004 campaign for governor. And it’s a signal that the damage from the RFRA debacle could be extensive…

I asked the governor if he had anticipated the strongly negative reaction set off by the bill’s passage. His response made it clear that he and his team didn’t see it coming.

“I just can’t account for the hostility that’s been directed at our state,” he said.

Of course Gov. Pence is now backtracking on this bill and promising to clear up the “confusion” about its intent. But, just as legislators in Georgia learned this week, it is the intention of supporters of RFRA to discriminate against LGBT people. He’s about to learn precisely what it means to be between a rock and a hard place.

Democrats should take note of this moment. We often give the pronouncements of those who live inside a bubble of epistemic closure too much power. As Stephen Colbert said so many years ago, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” Eventually that reality breaks through.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Post, March 29, 2015

March 30, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Mike Pence, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Almost Anything Passes For ‘Religion’ In This Country”: Religious Freedom? Nope, Just Plain Old Discrimination

Religious conservatives have lost their battle over gay marriage. Most will even admit it. The clock is ticking down to April 28, when the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments for and against it—and by the end of June, they will have ruled on the right of every American to a civil marriage to the person of their choosing, regardless of gender. Although a “no gay marriage” ruling is possible, almost no one believes the Supreme Court will rule against the civil right to marriage.

Majority support for gay marriage is to be found in virtually every demographic in society. But the minority who still opposes it does so with vigor and conviction. The Roman Catholic hierarchy (not the people in the pews) and conservative Evangelicals continue to look for ways to express their disdain and condemnation for gay or lesbian couples who want to be married or who have been married. The new strategy is to do state-by-state what has been impossible nationally. With the help of ALEC (the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council), bills are popping up all over the country in state legislatures with what conservatives hope will be their effective (and legal) defense against the rising tide of acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

Indiana is a good case in point. On Monday, the Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would exempt individuals and companies from non-discrimination rulings by the courts—based on their religious beliefs. A similar bill was passed earlier by the Indiana Senate, and once the two are reconciled, Republican Governor Mike Pence has indicated he will sign it. This legislation, like its sister bills in other state legislatures, is based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bill passed by the U.S. Congress in 1993. Many states have their own RFRAs, which, like the federal one, prevent any law which substantially burdens a person’s free expression of religion. (This legislation figured heavily into the Hobby Lobby case.)

If this legislation becomes law, anyone who disagrees with any non-discrimination legislation or court rulings would be allowed, based on their religious beliefs, to disregard the provisions of that non-discrimination protection.

The multiple ways in which such legislation is problematic are stunning. First, this would open the floodgates for citizens/corporations to exempt themselves from all kinds of laws, merely by claiming that it violates their religious beliefs. Now, we are presumably not just talking about your common, everyday, vanilla, mainstream religions (think Methodists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Reform and Conservative Jews).  Such a law would, presumably, also protect members of the Westboro Baptist Church with its “God hates Fags” approach; the crazy, renegade Mormon man and his 25 wives; Satan worshippers; and Scientologists. Almost anything passes for “religion” in this country, and there would be no end to the appeals for exemption following certain laws based on the tenets of one’s religion, no matter how small and no matter how outside the mainstream that religion.

However, religionists don’t have to be crazy or on the fringes of society to wreak havoc on those they disdain. In debating the bill, Representative Bruce Borders (R-Jasonville) cited an anesthesiologist who refused to anesthetize a patient because the procedure for which his services were needed was an abortion—all due to his religious beliefs about the sinfulness of that procedure. A Roman Catholic pharmacist could refuse to fill a prescription for physician-prescribed birth control, citing her church’s objection to any kind of artificial birth control. A Southern Baptist pharmacist could refuse to fill a prescription for Truvada, the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug used by gay men (and others) to lessen their risk for being infected with HIV, claiming his church condemns the “gay lifestyle,” by which he means, apparently, promiscuous and profligate sex.

It is difficult for me to understand how this is not akin to the fervently held religious beliefs that the races should not “mix” in marriage, and the anti-miscegenation laws that emanated from those beliefs. Of course, in 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down those laws as unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia. How is this any different from a 1960s lunch counter owner denying service to African Americans because of his religious beliefs (widely held at the time) that “Negroes” were lesser human beings and citizens than white folks?

Taken to their logical and extreme conclusion, such laws could allow someone to ask to be exempted from meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, if that person’s religion believed (as in much of the Old Testament) that physical infirmities were the result of the afflicted person’s sin (or that of his parents), and “my religion condemns sin rather than cooperating with it.”

But these debates and legislation are not fueled by the religious adherent’s condemnation of sin. Chances are, the florist who refuses to provide flowers for a gay wedding does not deny service to a bride who is on her second or third marriage. Jesus is silent about gay marriage, but roundly and emphatically condemns remarriage after divorce. The photographer who refuses to take pictures for a lesbian marriage (because it is against God’s will) should also decline to photograph a lavish and ostentatiously expensive wedding (Jesus talks a lot about the sinful nature of greed). If this were seriously about not serving sinful people, then obese people would be turned away from fast-food outlets as obviously living the sinful “lifestyle” of a glutton. If this were really about condemning sin, then service would be denied to all sinners, not just a particular sin among a particular, targeted group.

Make no mistake: These legislative bills, like the one about to become law in Indiana, are about exempting some people from having to comply with non-discrimination laws already in place for LGBT people, as well as pre-empting and forestalling any efforts to put such protections in place. This is old-fashioned discrimination all dressed up in ecclesiastical vestments and “religious freedom” language. But it is still discrimination, pure and simple, against a targeted group of fellow citizens. No amount of cloaking such legislation in the garb of “freedom of religion” is going to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.


By: The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress; The Daily Beast, March 25, 2015

March 25, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Discrimination, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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