Tag Archives: LGBTQ

The God Squad In The Courts

Rewire has a feature called “Gavel Drop,” with brief descriptions of recent lawsuits involving religion and the First Amendment, and providing links to longer descriptions of the parties and issues involved. This particular issue highlights the current (sad) state of “faith-based” America.

Allow me to share a few of the featured entries.

The Alliance Defending Freedom is now arguing in federal court to allow homeless shelters to deny services for transgender people. Downtown Soup Kitchen in Anchorage, Alaska, filed the religious freedom lawsuit against Anchorage earlier this year over the city’s nondiscrimination law; a case had been filed against the center after it denied a transgender woman admission to its shelter. The shelter director said that the woman was denied because she appeared drunk, but also that it would never accept a “biological man.”

In the linked article describing the lawsuit, ThinkProgress points out that ADF’s claim for relief  isn’t simply a request to allow this particular discriminatory act; it is a demand that the court overturn the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance in its entirety. It’s part and parcel of the Christian Right’s persistent attacks on any and all LGBTQ protections, in the name of “religious liberty.”

If a homeless transgender woman has to be thrown out into the cold Alaskan street in order to show proper deference to the religious sensibilities of the “Christians” who run the shelter, well, those are the breaks.

Speaking of religious liberty, the Gavel Drop also reported on this lawsuit from Illinois.

Illinois’ Fourth District Appellate Court upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit challenging a state law that provides funding to Medicaid and state employee health insurance plans that cover abortion services. Anti-abortion groups, represented by the Thomas More Society, are planning to appeal the case to the Illinois Supreme Court.

I note that, for these “good Christians,” religious liberty goes only one way: their way. Adherents of religions that permit abortion are to be denied the liberty to follow their beliefs.

Nothing more clearly demonstrates the hypocrisy of the “religious freedom” movement as piously promoted by people like Mike Pence and organizations like ADF and the Thomas More Society than this insistence that “liberty” means their right to have government impose their beliefs on everyone else.

The theologies of these “Christian” plaintiffs prohibit abortion (for them and for any of their neighbors); but those theologies evidently do allow flat-out lying in service of their “godly” goals. Their argument against the law included the repeated accusation that the measure promoted taxpayer-funded abortion services.

“Taxpayer-funded abortion” is a myth pedaled by abortion-rights foes that feeds on public ignorance about abortion funding. Two-thirds of the public is unaware the federal Hyde Amendment prohibits paying for abortions with federal Medicaid dollars, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

Also among the lawsuits listed in the Gavel Drop was yet another effort to have government endorse Christianity by displaying a cross on public property.

The city of Pensacola, Florida, is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and allow a large memorial cross to remain standing on public land in Bayview Park. Earlier this month, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court judge’s ruling that displaying the cross on publicly owned land violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The city of Pensacola is represented by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

These public monument cases are brought repeatedly, and just as repeatedly dismissed under a long line of precedents invoking the Establishment Clause. Not only do I fail to see how moving the cross to private property violates anyone’s  “liberty,” I fail to understand why the Christian Right is so dead-set on having the government endorse their brand of religion.

Okay, that’s a lie. I do understand.

They’re theocrats, just like the Taliban. They want government to post their symbols in order to remind the rest of us that this is their country, and the rest of us are just here by virtue of their forbearance.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I really get tired of these people.

Confirmation: It Isn’t About Religion

The Indianapolis Star, in one of its increasingly rare forays into what used to be called “news,” reported on a very interesting study investigating popular opinion about the pending Supreme Court case brought by a baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.

As most of you are aware, the baker–routinely described as very pious–has argued that forcing him to sell one of his cakes to a same-sex couples would not only violate his religious liberty, but would amount to “compelled speech.” That is, he argues that civil rights laws requiring him to do business with people he considers immoral are really compelling him to affirm his approval of that immorality.

The free speech argument appears to be a fallback, in case the Supreme Court doesn’t buy the religious liberty one. In any event, most people who are aware of the controversy see the conflict as one pitting respect for “sincere religious belief” against the rights of LGBTQ citizens to be free of discrimination.

As the study found, it really isn’t.

I vividly recall a conversation I had many years ago with a friend I knew to be a truly nice person. He wasn’t a bigot. I was Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU at the time, and he understood the organization to be a defender of individual liberty and the proposition that the power of government (and popular majorities) to prescribe our behaviors is limited by the Bill of Rights.

He wanted to know why the ACLU didn’t think civil rights laws violated individual liberty.  Doesn’t “freedom” include the freedom to discriminate?

The study cited by the Star confirms the continued salience of his long-ago question.

People who believe businesses should be able to deny services to same-sex couples aren’t necessarily citing religious reasons for discriminating, a new study by Indiana University sociologists has found.

Instead, many simply believe businesses should be able to deny services to whomever they want — even though that violates civil rights laws that protect certain classes of people….

Slightly more than half of those surveyed said they supported a business denying wedding services to a same-sex couple, whether the business cited religious opposition to same-sex marriage or non-religious reasons.

Ninety percent of self-identified Republicans said that businesses should be able to choose who they do business with.

I’ve been in these discussions, and more often than not, people who believe civil rights laws deprive them of their liberty will say something like: “what about those signs that say ‘no shoes, no shirt, no service?” or “the government shouldn’t make the kosher butcher sell ham,” or “what if a Nazi asked the baker for a swastika cake?”

I will restrain myself from launching into one of my “civic ignorance” diatribes, and merely point out that civil rights laws do not deprive merchants of their liberty to refuse service based upon a customer’s behavior. Merchants also retain the liberty to decide what goods they will sell (if a menswear store refuses to stock dresses for sale to a female customer, that doesn’t violate anyone’s civil rights.)

Civil rights laws prohibit discrimination based upon the identity of customers who are members of legally specified classes. (FYI: Nazis aren’t a protected class.)

Do those laws curtail a merchant’s “liberty” to discriminate? Yes. So do laws prohibiting religious parents from “whipping the devil” out of their children, and a variety of other “sincere” behaviors deemed damaging or dangerous to society.

Here’s the deal–the “social contract.”

When a merchant opens a shop on a public street, he depends upon local police and firefighters to protect his property. He depends upon government to maintain the streets and sidewalks that allow customers to access his store, and the roads, railways and air lanes that carry his merchandise from the manufacturer to his shelves. In return for those and other public services that make it possible for him to conduct his business, government expects him to pay his taxes, and obey applicable laws–including civil rights laws that protect historically marginalized groups against his disdain.

The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker retain their liberty to advertise that disdain. They retain the liberty to lobby for repeal of civil rights laws. They retain the right to exclude people they consider immoral or unpleasant or just “different” from their social gatherings, their churches and their homes.

As I’ve often said, if you don’t like gay people, you don’t have to invite them to dinner. You just have to take their money when it’s proffered in a commercial transaction.Is that really an intolerable invasion of your liberty?

Freedom From? Or Freedom TO?

The lyrics from an old song keep running through my head. “If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked a cake, baked a cake…”

Unless you’re gay, of course.

Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that will determine which version of that song we’ll sing.

Masterpiece Cakeshop insists that its cakes are “art,” and that the Constitution protects the refusal of the “artist”–aka the guy who bakes the cakes– to bake them for LGBTQ folks. According to the baker, forcing him to sell his “art” to anyone with the money to purchase it compels him to express approval of something his religion condemns–in this case, same-sex marriage.

Those of us who are old enough to remember when “sincere” religious belief was the argument advanced by retailers refusing service to African-Americans tend to frame the issue differently: Does either clause of the First Amendment operate to exempt people from complying with laws of “general application”?

The word “theocrat” gets thrown around a lot these days, and for perfectly understandable reasons, but the question the Court will address is the inverse of what we usually mean when we use that term. Theocracy implies the imposition of one group’s religious beliefs on the nation as a whole through law–using the power of the state to enforce conformity with the religious precepts of a dominant sect.

Here, the question is whether and when respect for an individual’s (presumably sincere) religious belief should exempt that individual from compliance with rules that everyone else must follow. Under what conditions–if ever– should the law allow such exemptions? During prohibition, I’m pretty sure that most Americans–even ardent prohibitionists– would distinguish between Catholics sipping wine during Mass and party-goers imbibing bathtub gin. When the Supreme Court decided the Smith case, ruling that the use of peyote in an Indian religious ceremony was a violation of state drug laws (laws of “general application”) the resulting uproar was a sign that most people considered the decision to be an overly-zealous application of the principle.

When someone is asking to be exempted from a law that wasn’t originally intended to constrain their particular behavior, it may or may not be appropriate to grant the request. When someone wants to be excused from complying with a law that was expressly intended to protect other people from harm or discrimination, however, the calculus changes.

My religion might teach me that I have an obligation to sacrifice my first-born; my entirely sincere belief that I should do so will not exempt me from a law against infanticide. I might sincerely believe that my particular God has no problem with my stealing from people who don’t share my religious beliefs, but that sincere belief won’t keep me out of jail.

In short, my “religious liberty” defense fails when I invoke it to excuse noncompliance with  laws protecting others. Neither my right to “artistic expression/free speech” nor my liberty to believe in a religion of my choice gives me permission to mistreat or disadvantage others. As my friend Steve Sanders pointed out in a wonderful op-ed for the New York Times  on Sunday, anti-discrimination laws regulate conduct, not expression. As he wrote, “if our baker/artist decided that he could not be true to his muse without the use of banned coloring agents, would the food safety laws have to yield? Of course not.”

It’s worth noting that the foregoing analysis generously assumes a sincere belief on the part of the objecting merchant, although it’s glaringly obvious that most people claiming religious or “artistic” exemptions are simply attempting to justify personal bigotries. Evidence of their lack of integrity makes the analysis easier, but it’s important to note that it doesn’t change the result–the claim fails either way.

If he’d known you were coming, gay couple,  Masterpiece Cakeshop should still have to bake you a cake…

 

 

“Moral” Lawbreaking

Remember the lyrics of that old cowboy song, “Don’t Fence Me In”?

Oh give me land lots of land under starry skies above
don’t fence me in
Let me ride through the wide
open spaces that I love
don’t fence me in.

I found those “wide open spaces”–they’re between Wyoming legislators’ ears.

A bill has been introduced into the Wyoming state legislature aimed at legalizing discrimination against the gay community–but only if the discriminatory behavior is motivated by religion. House Bill 135, also called the Government Nondiscrimination Act, would legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ community, so long as the discrimination is done for religious or “moral” reasons.

According to Second Nexus (a publication with which I am unfamiliar),

Specifically, the bill would forbid the government from taking action against any “person,” including public and private corporations and entities, if that person acts on a “religious belief or moral conviction” that marriage is the union of one man and woman, or that “‘man’ and ‘woman’ mean an individual’s biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy genetics at the time of birth.”

The bill is remarkable for the breadth of organizations it allows to discriminate on the basis of religious freedom. “If passed, HB 135 would allow government employees, licensed professionals (like teachers or counselors) and private businesses to discriminate,” said Sabrina King, Policy Director at the ACLU of Wyoming. Under the bill, even hospitals and doctors would be allowed to deny routine health care services. (The bill does not exempt the provision of “emergency medical treatment necessary for treatment of an illness or injury.”)

The bill does not define “moral conviction” or “religious belief,” nor does it specify what would constitute evidence of the genuine existence of such a belief.

Think of all the other possible applications of this approach: all those libertarians who have a “moral conviction” that taxes are theft could assert that conviction as a defense to nonpayment. Mormon men who still believe in plural marriage could cite their religious beliefs when marrying several underage girls. I understand that the Santeria religion requires ritual, public animal sacrifices…Evidently, however, the only religious and moral beliefs that deserve legal protection in Wyoming are those that require marginalizing and diminishing LGBTQ people.

Even Justice Scalia, a notoriously anti-gay, pro-religion jurist, understood that allowing religious exemptions from laws of general application would constitute a direct assault on the rule of law.

I actually have a strong moral objection to seeing my tax dollars used to pay lawmakers who introduce measures that are patently unconstitutional–not to mention hateful and counterproductive–whether those public officials are in Wyoming, Indiana or the White House.