Thursday, March 26, 2015

Misusing religious freedom as a weapon of mass discrimination

Religious discrimination is a real thing.

 History -- both modern and ancient -- is tragically full of examples of times and places where religious discrimination has been the source of persecution, death and destruction. The perversion of religion into a weapon of mass destruction is antithetical to the core beliefs of all the world's great religions. And yet none of those religions have escaped the sad reality that human beings -- given the power to do so -- will use God as an excuse to inflict pain and suffering on other human beings.

Our forefathers knew that. And they brought that knowledge -- that wisdom -- into our Bill of Rights with a First Amendment that begins: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."

The First Amendment both prevents the government of the United States from privileging one religion over another and protects each and every one of us -- as American citizens -- to believe whatever we choose -- or choose not -- to believe about what God thinks, approves of or blesses.

It is what protects our democracy from becoming a theocracy. And, as we watch with sadness and horror the nightly news stories of religious wars and sectarian violence, this guarantee of religious freedom is something Americans of all religions -- and no religion -- should rejoice and be glad in. 

What that guarantee of religious freedom is not is something to be distorted and exploited to further a homophobic agenda of legislated discrimination against LGBT people. But that's exactly what happened today when Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the so-called "religious freedom" bill into law during a private ceremony in his Statehouse office.

Officially entitled the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" this bill will allow individuals and businesses in the state to deny services to LGBT people on "religious liberty" grounds - doing nothing to restore freedom and everything to bolster bigotry. It is the first of many proposed measures pending in statehouses around the country - all with the intent of allowing business owners and individuals to discriminate against LGBT people on religious grounds.

It is a dangerous and detrimental piece of legislation -- not only for the LGBT Americans who are its direct target. It opens the door for discrimination, inequality and prejudice to nearly every citizen of every state, undermining the foundational American value of equal protection. It nothing less than an orchestrated backlash against equal protection for LGBT citizens and the flagrant distortion of the ideal of religious freedom into a vehicle for religion based bigotry.

Bottom line: The First Amendment protects your right as an American to the free exercise of your religion. It does not protect your right to use your religion as an excuse to discriminate against other Americans.

And watching the tragic consequences of genuine religious discrimination on the nightly news makes it all the more urgent that we stand together and speak against this and other pending legislation - and challenge those who are supporting it.

Because religious discrimination is a real thing. And this blatant effort to exploit it in order to attack LGBT citizens is a reprehensible thing.

Let the boycotts begin.


musculars said...

I find it hard to understand your objection. Indiana law is nothing more than the state equivalent of the federal RFRA.
In the event o a Title VII lawsuit, religious conviction may be admitted a s a defense for discrimination, it does not mandate the courts to accept such defense or provide immunity against discrimination. It is an attempt to guide the courts to find a balance between competing rights and claims. As Indiana University law professor Daniel Conkle stated that “The proposed Indiana RFRA would provide valuable guidance to Indiana courts, directing them to balance religious freedom against competing interests under the same legal standard that applies throughout most of the land. It is anything but a ‘license to discriminate,’ and it should not be mischaracterized or dismissed on that basis.”
I wonder if the overblown reaction is a cynical attempt to dislodge the Clinton scandal from the front pages.


Nice try.

Fun Facts to Know and Tell from Lambda Legal:

Myth: SB101 is just like the federal law that President Clinton signed 20 years ago.

Truth: SB 101 is substantially broader than the federal law. It extends religious rights to all businesses, no matter how large and completely secular they are. In addition, the federal RFRA can only be invoked against government action. SB 101 goes much further, inviting discrimination by allowing religious beliefs to be raised as a defense in lawsuits and administrative proceedings brought by workers, tenants and customers who have suffered discrimination in a business transaction based on someone else’s religious beliefs.

musculars said...

Equally valiant effort.
"It extends religious rights to all businesses, no matter how large and completely secular they are. In addition, the federal RFRA can only be invoked against government action."
That is actually not true.
There is a split among the federal courts of appeals whether only one party in the lawsuit must be a governmental body The majority of circuits have held that the language allows a defendant to assert RFRA as a “defense” in a private cause of action not involving the government. In invoking Title VII religious exercise is still being burdened through the enforcement of a federal law in the course of bringing suit.
Furthermore settled law prior to RFRA had historically afforded free religious exercise great latitude until Justice Scalia ruled against a free exercise defense in Employment Division vs Smith. RFRA was the congressional response to that ruling.
As 19 states have similar RFRAs, are we to boycott all of them as well?

uffda51 said...

I find it hard to understand how anyone cannot object to the Indiana law. I also find it difficult to believe that everyone in LGBT-ville, as well as their straight allies, got together to conspire to dislodge Hillary from the front pages. It must have been a big meeting. And I hardly consider the reaction overblown. Most people no longer view human sexuality through the lens of the Iron Age and are justifiably outraged when attempts are made to legalize bigotry.

musculars said...

The infotainment business does display a herd mentality in changing the news cycle but no meeting required as far as I know.
Your assertion is unsupported and your arguments are straw men.
RFRAs and the protection of religious liberty has been rather noncontroversial. Anyone who takes the time to understand what these laws are also understands what they protect and what they do not. You have given me no reason to believe that you even know what you are talking about.


Let's try this one more time.

RFRAs are -- in and of themselves -- a good thing. Hijacking them as vehicles for discrimination is NOT a good thing.

In summary -- from the Religion News Service: "The act Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993 required a “compelling state interest” in order to justify a ban on religious practice. That all changed in the 2000s, as conservative activists began using RFRA in a new way: as a sword, rather than a shield … arguing their religious belief should trump your civil rights.”

At more length:

musculars said...

To be clear my objection to the straw man arguments were directed primarially at uffda51's argumentation.

Still there is nothing in this law as it is written that can be highjacked to overide the constuitutional protections that were afforded Americans before Employment Division vs Smith. It was always assumed prior that the law must have a compelling interest to override the religious conscience of citizens and it is specious to assume that private bodies are not and should not be protected.

Any law can be thwarted of its original intent. One need only look at the practical failures of progressive legislation to appreciate this, but it is simply unfounded that these laws would advance invidious widespread discrimination. I reiterate that only a cursory understanding of the history and practical jurisprudence around these laws shows that they are being implemented in ways other than in the way they are intended.
If anything it can be more persuasively argued that the courts have not gone to great lengths in protecting private consciences. To malign and mischaraterise what in fact conservatives are doing presently at the forefront of protecting the first amendment is only to acknowledge the lengths certain progressives will go in their intolerance, silencing opposing religious consciences and pushing religion into a private realm beyond the public square.


Not buying it, dude. This is not about defending the First Amendment. It is -- as the RNS feature pointed out -- about arguing that your religious beliefs trump someone else's civil rights.

And it's all in the service of getting ducks in a row before the SCOTUS decision coming in June.

Happy Holy Week ... onward to Easter!