Tag Archives: civil rights

The Proof Of The Pudding…Er, Cake

What was that line from Jaws? He’s baaaack….

Remember the Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court? Although headlines suggested he’d won his case, the Court actually punted, because it found that the initial consideration of his argument by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had denied him “the neutral and respectful consideration” to which he was entitled.

That case thus failed to set a precedent or resolve the issue. So guess what–Mr. “sincere religious belief” is back, this time for refusing to bake a cake for a transgender customer.

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., on Tuesday filed another federal lawsuit against the state alleging religious discrimination.

This time, the cake at the center of the controversy was not for a wedding. In June 2017, Colorado lawyer Autumn Scardina called Masterpiece Cakeshop to request a custom cake that was blue on the outside and pink on the inside.

The occasion, Scardina told the bakery’s employees, was to celebrate her birthday, as well as the seventh anniversary of the day she had come out as transgender.

Masterpiece Cakeshop ultimately refused Scardina’s order on religious grounds.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission once again found Phillips guilty of discrimination, and once again, he has filed a federal lawsuit claiming religious discrimination.

I have no idea whether the transgender customer was part of an effort to test Phillips’ assertion–in the context of the original case–that he served everyone, and only objected to using his cake-baking “art” to celebrate occasions he “sincerely” believed to be sinful. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Leaving aside the (strong) legal justification for civil rights laws, here’s what strikes me about Masterpiece Cakeshop, the sequel.

As I’ve previously noted, if I owned a bakery, and I sincerely didn’t want to bake a cake for a customer (for any reason–maybe the customer has just been a pain in the derriere), I would simply say something like, “Gee, Mrs. Smith, I am so backed up with orders that I can’t take any more until after the date you need the cake,” or “I’m so sorry, Mr. Jones, but I’m short-handed right now…”

In other words, there are lots of ways you can refrain from “participating in sin” without issuing a self-righteous sermon to justify the abstention.

People in business who want to stay in business avoid unnecessarily pissing people off–especially people who are part of communities that are likely to take offense and stop patronizing your store. (A couple of years ago, a bakery not far from my house did refuse to bake a cake for a gay couple, and told them the refusal was based upon the owners’ religious beliefs. This is a gay-friendly neighborhood, the couple shared their experience, and six months later the bakery was no longer in business.)

Even if the religious belief that requires you to refuse baking a cake is sincere, I know of no religious doctrine that requires you to be a horse’s ass about the refusal. If your religious beliefs require you to turn away business by lecturing your hapless would-be customers about the wages of sin, you have no business being in business. (And you probably won’t be for long.)

Forgive my cynicism, but Mr. Phillips sounds far more interested in theatrically demeaning LGBTQ folks and being a tool for right-wing legal activists than in running a bakery.

Is This Really What Jesus Would Do?

The administration presided over by our thrice-married, p***y-grabbing, porn-star-fornicating President has announced its latest effort to protect religiosity.

The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division has been established to restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom…. The creation of the new division will provide HHS with the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom, the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights.

The “religious freedom” being protected by the new division and rules is the freedom of medical practitioners to deny medical care if providing that care would be “inconsistent” with their religious beliefs.  (Did the Good Samaritan check the sexual orientation of the injured man he helped? I forgot that part of the story…)

The Administration is clearly unconcerned with the religious beliefs or health needs of women who need reproductive services like birth control. The new rules allow almost anyone who works in the health field to refuse to provide a wide array of services; adding insult to injury, there is no requirement that religiously objecting doctors refer patients elsewhere.

Planned Parenthood warns that the rule could allow a pharmacist to refuse to fill a prescription for birth control, doctors to deny hormone therapy to transgender patients, and  pediatricians to refuse to treat the child of gay parents.

An Atlantic article looked at the implications.

There are already federal laws that protect medical personnel from being required to provide abortions. In addition, nearly every state also allows health-care providers to refuse to perform abortions, and 12 states allow them to refuse to provide contraceptives. In six states, even pharmacists are allowed to refuse to fill birth-control prescriptions.

According to reproductive-rights groups, the problem is these laws often mean patients who are denied services aren’t then referred to a doctor who will provide the care. According to one poll, only 57 percent of doctors nationally believe objecting physicians must refer patients to an accommodating provider. “Only in a couple of states are patients given information and referrals,” says Elizabeth Nash of the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute.

Given the language of the new regulation, the “protection” could be extensive.

“Under the new rule, you could have translators who refuse to translate for a woman undergoing tubal ligation,” says Elizabeth Sepper, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Those crafting the new rules explain that requiring objecting physicians to refer patients to willing providers would also violate their tender religious consciences.

The proposed rule defines “referral” as providing “any information,” including a phone number or website on a pamphlet, about a health service that the provider disagrees with.

The Administration’s uber-solicitous concern for the religious sensibilities of providers is certainly not matched by any concern for patients, whose rights are far more likely to be violated even under current law.

In 2015, a lesbian couple in Michigan had a pediatrician decline to care for their six-day-old infant, Bay, because, as the doctor later explained to the couple, “after much prayer following your prenatal, I felt that I would not be able to develop the personal patient-doctor relationships that I normally do with my patients.”

Another case, also in Michigan, involved Tamesha Means, a woman who was rushed to her county’s Catholic hospital when her water broke at 18 weeks into her pregnancy. “Based on the bishops’ religious directives, the hospital sent her home twice even though Tamesha was in excruciating pain,” as the ACLU put it. The hospital staff did not tell her that she could, and probably should, end the pregnancy, according to the ACLU’s summary. Ultimately, Means returned to the hospital a third time, this time with an infection, and miscarried.

Critics of this new level of regulation point out that it is transparent political pandering; unlike the numerous cases where patients have been endangered, instances where providers have been discriminated against are vanishingly rare. As the article concluded,

“They’re setting up this office and using a lot of taxpayer dollars to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist,” Fogel says. “Health systems are already pretty good at accommodating people who have a genuine objection to participating in a service.”

Swartz agrees, saying the problem of conscientiously objecting physicians “is like voter fraud. Those instances are one in a million.”

Rare though they might be, these cases will now merit special attention by the U.S. government.

Perhaps this new division is protecting “Christian” doctors in return for that “mulligan” Evangelicals gave Trump…

 

 

What’s Different?

As the Supreme Court prepares to take up one of the persistent “I won’t bake a cake for ‘those people'” cases, a friend asked me to explain the difference between a merchant who refused to do business with a Neo-Nazi group and one who refused to serve gays or Jews.

It’s an important distinction, but not an immediately intuitive one.

Civil rights laws were initially a response to businesses that refused to serve African-Americans–many of the proprietors claimed that their religious beliefs prohibited “mixing” the races (much as those refusing service to LGBTQ folks today base that refusal on religious teachings). Those civil rights measures–later expanded to protect other groups– were based upon an important principle that undergirds our legal system.

Our system is based upon the premise that your right to be treated like everyone else depends upon your behavior, not your identity.

As a result of that important distinction, I can post a sign saying “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” I cannot post a sign saying “No blacks, no Jews.” I can “discriminate” between customers behaving properly, and those who are disruptive, are unwilling to pay, or are otherwise exhibiting behaviors that I believe are harmful to my ability to ply my trade.

I cannot discriminate based upon my customers’ race, religion, or–in states that have inclusive civil rights law–sexual orientation or gender identity.

The confusion between a merchant’s unwillingness to have her business associated with the KKK, for example, and unwillingness to serve LGBTQ customers is reminiscent of arguments raised when Indiana was (unsuccessfully) trying to add “four words and a comma”(sexual orientation, gender identity) to Indiana’s civil rights law, which still does not include protections for gays or transgender individuals.

During those arguments, opponents of the added protections asserted that “forcing” a business to serve gay customers would be indistinguishable from forcing a baker to make a cake with a swastika or forcing Muslim or Kosher butchers to sell pork.

That comparison, however, is fatally flawed.

If I go into a menswear shop and ask for a dress, am I being discriminated against when I’m informed the store doesn’t sell women’s clothes? Of course not.

Civil rights protections don’t require the baker who doesn’t bake swastika cakes, or the butcher who never sells pork to add those items to their inventory. Civil rights laws do keep the baker from refusing to sell the cakes he does make to “certain people.”

The kosher butcher doesn’t have to carry pork, but he can’t refuse to sell his kosher chickens and beef to Muslim or Christian customers, again, so long as those customers can pay and are abiding by the generally applicable rules of the shop.

The distinction may not be immediately obvious, but it’s important. The essence of civil rights is the principle that you can be denied service for your chosen behaviors, not for your identity.

I hope that helps…

A Wedding

Regular readers of this blog know that I took a nasty fall a few weeks ago, and fractured both my pelvis and my collarbone. I’ve been mending, but the process has been far slower than I’d like. Until last weekend, I had left the house–in my baggiest clothes– only for doctor’s appointments and physical therapy.

Mended or not, however, I wasn’t about to miss the wedding last Saturday of two friends I’ve known for at least 25 years.

I put on real clothes (immensely grateful to find my pants still fit!), and even applied makeup; as I told my husband, I felt almost like a real person again. And off we went–to attend the wedding of two women who’ve been together through good times and bad for the last thirty-eight years, two women who have used their multiple talents, compassion and generosity to contribute to the quality of life in our community.

They were married in a friend’s home, surrounded by dozens of well-wishers from their personal and respective working lives; academic colleagues of the retired history professor, co-workers from the various agencies where the lawyer worked before her own retirement, family members and neighbors.

One of the male relatives who  offered a toast put it well: “some people say marriage is about love, some say it’s about companionship, some say it’s about lust–but I say it’s about time.”

Indeed!

When I first met the two of them, many years ago, they were careful to leave people with the impression that they were roommates–clearly worried about losing jobs and/or friends if they were candid about the true nature of their relationship. Little by little, over the years, social attitudes changed and those concerns eased, and last Saturday–after 38 years, no longer young but still devoted–they were finally able to celebrate their lifetime commitment surrounded by family, friends and neighbors who love and appreciate them and wish them well.

It was a lovely wedding.

I will never, ever understand how the obvious joy of being able to affirm a loving relationship hurts–or even remotely affects–anyone else. I will never, ever understand the mean-spirited scolds who want to deny other people–people they don’t even know– the right to publicly celebrate a meaningful connection to someone they love.

And I will never understand why Indiana’s Governor and Legislature are willing to allow–indeed, encourage– one group of Hoosiers to treat another group badly. I will never understand the stubborn refusal to extend equal civil rights to all Indiana citizens, or why these “good Christians” feel entitled to use the law to marginalize and diminish wonderful people simply because they love differently.

On reflection, I think I’m glad I don’t understand them.

 

Georgia On My Mind

Can we talk about Americans’ widespread confusion over religious liberty?

Georgia lawmakers recently approved a bill that says church officials can refuse to perform gay marriages. (Evidently, supporters of the so-called “Pastor Protection Act” do know that religious leaders already have that protection under the First Amendment, but they argue that passage of the measure will “reassure them.”)

The “Pastor Protection Act” was one of at least eight other bills pending in the Georgia legislature sponsored by opponents of same-sex marriages. They included Georgia’s very own RFRA, which is headed for passage over the vocal objections of state business leaders. Georgia’s RFRA already prompted 373k, a Decatur-based telecom startup, to announce it would relocate to Nevada; yesterday, it generated an editorial about state-level RFRAs in the New York Times:

These brazen measures, going beyond the Indiana law, would create blanket protection for discrimination. That these states would consider such legislation is all the more remarkable given the damage Indiana’s image and economy suffered in the national backlash to its law.

One of the most alarming bills comes out of Georgia, where state lawmakers have cobbled together a dangerous piece of legislation that would prohibit the government from punishing anyone or anything — individuals; businesses; and nonprofit groups, including those that receive taxpayer funds — for discrimination, so long as they claim it was based on their religious views of marriage.

 We’ve seen this movie before.

Decades of foot-dragging in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education was nothing short of scandalous; resistance to the 1964 Civil Rights Act continues to this day, and now, in the.wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, states like Georgia, West Virginia and Indiana—among others—are engaging in the same sorts of behaviors that followed those previous extensions of equal rights.

In fact, what we are seeing from “religious” folks today is strikingly similar to “religious” arguments against civil rights protections for African-Americans in 1964. Then, the argument was “my religion teaches that the races are to be kept separate, so requiring my bakery or shoe store to serve black customers would deny me religious freedom.”

So what is the First Amendment right to religious freedom? How extensive is it? What does it protect?

As I tell my students, religious freedom means you have the absolute right to believe anything you want. Jesus, Zeus, the Flying Spaghetti Monster or nothing at all—it’s entirely up to you. And your church or synagogue or coven can preach about those beliefs, reject participation in events offensive to those beliefs, and even hire and fire certain employees based upon religious doctrine.

When it comes to acting on the basis of your beliefs, however, the law erects some limits. You can sincerely, deeply believe that you should sacrifice your first-born, or that prayer, not medical intervention, will cure your child’s serious disease, but you are not allowed to act on those beliefs. (You can refuse medical care for yourself, but not for your minor child.) You can believe that your God wants you to rob that bank, or use drugs, or copulate in the middle of the street, but no matter how sincere your belief, government isn’t going to go along.

Except in very rare cases, religious belief does not exempt individuals from what the courts call “laws of general application.”

Here’s the deal: when you open a business, government provides the streets and sidewalks your customers use to access that business. Police and fire departments protect it from harm. When your toilets flush, government sewers remove the excrement.  In many areas, government picks up your trash and provides public transportation for your customers and employees. In return for these and other services, government expects you to do two things: pay your taxes and obey the laws.

Including civil rights laws. Even if you live in Georgia, or Indiana.