Tag Archives: civil rights

Highways And Civil Rights.

I typically do not link to media sources that are obviously partisan (unless that partisanship is what I’m highlighting), but I was fascinated by a recent post from Daily Kos about the Biden Administration’s recognition of the impact of transportation policy on civil rights.

I first became aware of that connection when my husband and I became involved with (largely unsuccessful) efforts to keep the state from rebuilding the Interstates that had carved up neighborhoods in our downtown fifty years ago. I pointed out that the routing decisions made at that time not only divided historic neighborhoods, but exacerbated public safety problems and delayed the ensuing commercial and residential redevelopment of our downtown. Those decisions also decimated Black neighborhoods, and evidence suggests that particular result was not accidental.

Since being confirmed as Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg has been emphasizing the role played by transportation in civil rights.

In an interview with Politico, Buttigieg again repeated that saddling Black communities with the pollution and bifurcation associated with highways was “not just a matter of halfway accidental neglect” but “intentional decisions that happened.” He’s vowing reforms; much of the rest of Politico’s article consists of former Obama administration officials expressing their own wary hopes that the time is now right for more sweeping changes.

The post goes on to connect the dots, pointing out that environmental policy is also a civil rights issue. The U.S. highway system is just one example, but it’s a powerful one.

Moving swiftly to electric vehicles would alleviate the thick soot buildups recognizable to anyone who has lived next to a major artery. Restructuring mass transportation networks so that more Americans can use them to get to more places both lessens the climate impact single-person transportation and allows residents of currently isolated neighborhoods access to far more jobs and services than they currently have. Removing highways to replace them with smaller surface roads and more green space not only stitches together now-divided neighborhoods, but lessens urban heat island effects that magnify heatwaves and further strains our electrical grids.

Those of us who live in Indianapolis understand the extent to which the Indiana legislature’s animus toward our efforts to improve the city’s inadequate mass transit is motivated by a belief that transit is used predominantly by “those people.”

The post also had a good explanation of the problem with spending a disproportionate share of tax dollars on highways rather than environmentally-friendly transit.

It is akin to the elevator problem in urban high-rises: The more floors are added, the more elevators are needed to transport people from one floor to another, and the more space those elevators take up on each floor. After a certain threshold, so much space must be devoted to the elevator shafts on each floor that there is little to no room left on each floor for actual living or office space; there is nowhere left for the people in the elevators to actually go.

In American metropolises, the space devoted to roads, highways, garages, parking spots, setbacks and related structure takes up so much space that it makes the islanding of each neighborhood a fiat accompli. You could not walk to a grocery store or other services even if you were motivated to do it, but need a car simply to drive past all of the infrastructure devoted to cars between you and it. Mass transit becomes less viable because the roads and parking spaces have imposed a cap on population density surrounding each stop, stretching out the fabric of each city and forcing transportation planners to either put an interminable number of people-collecting stops on each line or to decide that the majority of each neighborhood will simply not be served.

The situation we face with transportation is evidence–if more were needed–of Heather McGhee’s premise in The Sum of Us: decisions based on racism and the desire to disadvantage “those people” end up hurting all of us.

 

The Equality Act

Those of us who follow such things remember that Joe Biden endorsed same-sex marriage before Barack Obama did. (It is highly likely that Obama held that pro-equality position well before he was ready to publicly announce it, but his public position was undoubtedly  accelerated by Biden’s pronouncement.)

Now, Biden is reassuring the LGBTQ community that he will move swiftly to protect gay equality.

As president-elect, Biden is making sweeping promises to LGBTQ activists, proposing to carry out virtually every major proposal on their wish lists. Among them: Lifting the Trump administration’s near-total ban on military service for transgender people, barring federal contractors from anti-LGBTQ job discrimination, and creating high-level LGBTQ-rights positions at the State Department, the National Security Council and other federal agencies.

It’s impossible to disagree with Biden’s observation that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence “have given hate against LGBTQ+ individuals safe harbor and rolled back critical protections.” (Let’s be candid: the Trump/Pence administration has encouraged hatred against all people who are “other”–defined as not white Christian straight male.)

There is, of course, a limit to what can be done through executive action, and Biden has said that his top legislative priority for LGBTQ issues is the Equality Act.

The Equality Act was passed by the House of Representatives last year, but–surprise! not— stalled in the Senate. It would nationalize the comprehensive anti-bias protections already in place in 21, mostly Democratic-governed states, protecting against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in housing, public accommodations and public services.

According to the AP report at the link,

Biden says he wants the act to become law within 100 days of taking office, but its future remains uncertain. Assuming the bill passes again in the House, it would need support from several Republicans in the Senate, even if the Democrats gain control by winning two runoff races in Georgia. For now, Susan Collins of Maine is the only GOP co-sponsor in the Senate.

The Equality Act is opposed by the usual suspects, who are screaming that equal rights for gay people are “special rights” and an intrusion on their “religious liberty.”

These defenders of discrimination based upon the religious beliefs of some–certainly not all–denominations remind me of a long-ago committee hearing I attended in the Indiana legislature. That body was “considering” (note quotes) a bill that that would extend some measure of civil rights to gay Hoosiers. If my memory is correct, that bill was offered every session for several years by then-State Senator Louis Mahern, and just as routinely defeated. (Louie is a friend of ours, and once shared  a letter he’d received from a Hoosier “Christian” pastor, informing him that as a result of that advocacy, the pastor’s congregation was praying for Mahern’s painful death…)

In the hearing I attended, another Indianapolis pastor, now deceased–Greg Dixon, of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple–testified. He informed the committee that his bible commanded him to stone gay people (“sodomites”), and that any effort to prevent him from following that biblical command was an unconstitutional invasion of his religious liberty.

So there!

Every time the government proposes to eliminate discrimination against marginalized populations, we hear the same refrain from religious fundamentalists. The 1964 Civil Rights bill was opposed by people who claimed that God wanted black and white people separated and women subordinated.

The benefit of separating personal and civic behaviors–giving government and religion separate jurisdictions–is that we can allow these unpleasant people to discriminate in their personal lives, but forbid their efforts to make their hatreds the law of the land.

There should be no religious privilege to behave in ways that we collectively deem destructive to our social health.

As I like to say, if you don’t like gay people–or Black people or Muslims or Jews–then you don’t have to invite them to dinner. Thanks to separation of Church and State, however, you can’t tell landlords they need not rent to them or restaurant owners that they need not serve them.

America has just voted overwhelmingly to elect a mensch. Let’s hope he can get the Equality Act passed.

 

 

Scalia Was Right

Well, that’s a headline I never thought I’d write!

Not that I always disagreed with Antonin Scalia; he was pretty good on free speech, for example. But overall, I found his jurisprudence intellectually dishonest, and his “originalism” disingenuous–especially because he was smart enough to know it.

What makes the headline particularly ironic, is the fact that my initial reaction to the decision he authored in Employment Division v. Smith was that it was wrong. It was certainly widely criticized.

In that case, members of a Native American Church, who were counselors at a private drug rehabilitation clinic, were fired because they had used peyote–possession of which was a crime under Oregon law– as part of a religious ceremony.  The counselors filed a claim for unemployment compensation with the state, but the claim was denied because their dismissal was deemed work-related “misconduct.” The Oregon Courts of Appeals reversed, finding the denial an infringement of their religious liberty, and the Oregon Supreme Court agreed. The state then appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that denying the unemployment benefits was proper because possession of peyote was a crime.

Scalia ruled that the denial of unemployment benefits was proper because the law against peyote use was a “law of general application.” That is, it hadn’t been passed as an effort to target Native American religious practices, but as part of a legislative effort to combat drug abuse generally. The fact that a law of general application inadvertently hindered a religious practice might be unfortunate, but that didn’t make its enforcement unconstitutional.

Because the law’s application in this case so obviously–and in the opinion of most people, unnecessarily– punished a longstanding religious ritual, the decision generated considerable outrage, and if memory serves, prompted passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, requiring the Courts to apply a more rigorous judicial standard in such cases. (This was not the infamous Indiana version.)

On reflection, however, I came to the conclusion that Scalia was right.

Here’s the issue: When should “sincerely held religious beliefs” justify ignoring laws meant to protect or improve the citizenry? To take an obvious extreme, we have laws against murdering babies; should the ritual sacrifice of her newborn in accordance with a sincere religious belief exempt the parent from punishment?

If not, when should religious belief trump civil law?

We are once again having this debate, as a result of the tension between laws intended to ensure civic equality and religious dogmas that label certain others “sinners.”

The Washington Post recently reported on one such conflict.

The Supreme Court on Monday added a major case to its docket this fall to decide who prevails when a group’s religious beliefs conflict with a city’s attempt to eliminate discrimination.

The justices will take up a legal fight from Philadelphia, where city officials ended a contract to provide foster care services with Catholic Social Services because the agency said it would not accept applications from same-sex couples who want to take care of children. The case will be heard in the term that begins in October.

The Third District Court of Appeals ruled for the city, holding that it was not targeting the Catholic agency in enforcing its policy prohibiting the city from doing business with entities that discriminate.

The case is being seen as a major test of whether the Court will reconsider precedents, especially the precedent established in Employment Division v. Smith, to the effect that generally applicable laws that don’t intentionally target religious groups are constitutionally enforceable.

It will be interesting to see the reaction of those politicians and pundits who continue to laud Scalia for his convoluted opinions privileging religion as “tradition.”

But then, for all those who counted themselves Scalia fans, it was all and always about results–not consistency.

 

 

 

Pride In Indiana

Today is Pride Day in Indianapolis. The parade –which I always attend– will have well over 100 entrants, representing a wide variety of government agencies, educational institutions, churches and area businesses–a far cry from the few forlorn entries in the first such effort 25 years ago.

Among other things, Pride now celebrates the legal and social progress of the LGBTQ community, which has made great strides nationally over the last couple of decades. In Indiana, it will not surprise you to discover that such progress has been considerably more spotty; cities and towns have passed inclusive Human Rights ordinances, but the state as a whole is an embarrassment on this issue (as well as on so many others.)

The very different politics of cities and rural areas with respect to LGBTQ rights has recently been highlighted by the effort of Jim Merritt–a longtime legislator now running for Mayor of Indianapolis–to “cozy up” to the gay community, and to distance himself from his “perfect” anti-gay record in Indiana’s Statehouse. Our legislature has been gerrymandered to create districts dominated by rural voters, and Merritt has pandered accordingly.

He is not alone. Indiana’s legislature has stubbornly refused to pass an inclusive bias crime bill. Efforts to add four little words–sexual orientation and gender identity– to the list of protected categories in the state’s civil rights law have gone nowhere.

Two years ago, on this blog, I posted some revelatory statistics about the legal disabilities of LGBTQ Hoosiers. The laws that facilitated those statistics haven’t changed. Here’s a smattering of what I wrote then:

Approximately 133,000 LGBT workers in Indiana are not explicitly protected from discrimination under state law….  If sexual orientation and gender identity were added to existing statewide non-discrimination laws, 61 additional complaints of discrimination would be filed with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission each year. Adding these characteristics to existing law would not be costly or burdensome for the state to enforce.

Recent polling discloses that 73% of Indiana residents support the inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected class under Indiana’s existing civil rights law. That’s 73% in Very Red Indiana.

Major employers in the state have worked with civil rights and civil liberties organizations in an effort to add “four little words” to the list of categories protected under the state’s civil rights statute:  sexual orientation and gender identity. So far, the legislature has exhibited zero interest in doing so.

The public outrage over Pence’s RFRA led to a subsequent “clarification” (cough cough) that the measure would not override provisions of local Human Rights Ordinances that do proscribe discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. A number of city councils around the state promptly added those protections to their Ordinances, which was gratifying.

The problem, as the research points out, is twofold: municipal ordinances in Indiana don’t have much in the way of “teeth.” They are more symbolic than legally effective. Worse, for LGBTQ folks who don’t live in one of those municipalities, there are no protections at all.

The result: Only 36% of Indiana’s workforce is covered by local non-discrimination laws or executive orders that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And that discrimination occurs with depressing regularity.

– In response to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 75 percent of respondents from Indiana reported experiencing harassment or mistreatment at work, 30 percent reported losing a job, 21 percent reported being denied a promotion, and 48% reported not being hired because of their gender identity or expression at some point in their lives.

– Several recent instances of employment discrimination against LGBT people in Indiana have been documented in court cases and administrative complaints, including reports from public and private sector workers.

– Census data show that in Indiana, the median income of men in same-sex couples is 34 percent lower than that of men married to different-sex partners.

– Aggregated data from two large public opinion polls found that 79 percent of Indiana residents think that LGBT people experience a moderate amount to a lot of discrimination in the state.

Four little words. Why is that so hard?

Today, at the parade and the event itself, the community and its allies will celebrate the progress that has been made.

Monday morning,  opponents of bigotry need to go back to work.

 

 

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.