Tag Archives: Eric Miller

Oh, Indiana…..

At the end of each semester, those of us who teach university courses are inundated with research papers; it’s a time I refer to as “grading hell,” because my 30+ graduate students each submit a 20 page paper, analyzing a chosen policy issue.

The grading can be tedious, and at times I’m unpleasantly surprised by a student’s inability to write clearly (or even grammatically) or by conclusions that suggest the student didn’t understand anything we discussed in class. On the other hand, I end up learning a lot from the many excellent students who have chosen to examine policies with which I am unfamiliar.

And then there’s another category: papers that address problems or issues with which I have been engaged, but only superficially, and that provide me with greater detail and background than I previously possessed. This semester, I received a couple of those; especially a paper about Indiana’s regulation of day care facilities from one of my better students.

The paper focused on the reasons that child care “ministries” are treated differently from other day care operations under Indiana law.

The analysis confirmed everything I had previously heard about the influence of Eric Miller and his organization, “Advance America” on the Indiana legislature. Advance America bills itself as Indiana’s largest “pro-family and pro-church organization.” (In Indiana, “pro-family” is code for “anti-LGBTQ, anti-reproductive choice and pro-voucher support for fundamentalist Christian religious schools.)

In 1993, when legislation was moving through the Indiana General Assembly that would have subjected child care ministries to some regulation, including hand washing procedures, Miller rallied his organization to flood legislators with phone calls. Miller explained his opposition to the legislation, as presented in the Indiana House Family and Children Committee, by noting, “this is a public policy debate. Who’s responsible for caring for the children of the state of Indiana? The parents or the state?”

As the paper pointed out,  Indiana’s child care ministries are exempted from most of the rules that apply to other child care providers in the state–there are virtually no regulations they must observe or standards they must meet. Only 11 other states exempt religious-based organizations from some or all child care regulations, mostly southern states like Alabama, Virginia, South Carolina and Florida.

In her paper, my student argued that this lack of regulation, far from being required by the Free Exercise Clause, constitutes a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. And she pointed out (and documented) that, in Indiana, this regulatory system that discriminates in favor of religious providers of child care fails to adequately protect children, serve families or prepare children for k-12 education.

While objections to regulation of these “ministries” are couched in religious freedom terms, it’s likely the real reasons are less spiritual: less regulation means lower costs. The ministries can hire fewer workers, need not offer staff training, and needn’t upgrade facilities that government inspectors would find deficient.

(Such ministries also are free of the regulations prohibiting physical punishment. If God wants “youth ministers” to beat the devil out of that three-year-old,, they can follow God’s dictates….)

In 2012, a 22-month old drowned in a baptismal font while in the care of a registered child care ministry in Indianapolis, and there were once again efforts to impose minimal regulations on these facilities.

During the 2013 legislative session, state Rep. Rebecca Kubacki authored legislation that would require day cares (including child care ministries) that accept taxpayer-funded vouchers to run background checks on employees and volunteers… Miller activated his Advance America network by telling them the legislation was “an attack on religious freedom.”  He pressured lawmakers via email, phone calls flooding statehouse offices and direct conversations from legislators’ own ministers. Kubacki didn’t back down, saying, “I’m here to protect these kids, and if I don’t get re-elected, I don’t care.”  In 2014, she lost in the May primary.

Thanks to gerrymandering, Indiana’s legislature has a Republican super-majority. Most members of that super-majority–again thanks to gerrymandering– represent rural areas of the state where Eric Miller and the fundamentalist churches that fund his organization hold considerable political sway– and Miller has a history of threatening and bullying legislators who are insufficiently subservient to his version of “religious freedom.”

“Suffer the little children” assumes a whole new meaning….

 

Karma’s a Bitch

More accurately, as a friend posted on Facebook, “Karma’s only a bitch if you are.” Either way, the ignominious conclusion of the Christian Right’s spiteful effort to send a message to the LGBT community is what we professors call “a teachable moment.”

Let’s recap: Eric Miller of Advance America, Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, and Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute were smarting from their losses in the same-sex marriage debate. They wanted a win for their constituencies (to whom, not so incidentally, their constant fundraising efforts are directed), and prevailed upon their ideological allies in the Indiana legislature to introduce a vague and expanded, post Hobby Lobby version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They were confident that Governor Pence, a longtime culture warrior, would sign it.

RFRA was unlikely to have much effect in rural Indiana, where discrimination against LGBT folks was still entirely legal anyway. And although the legislation raised some troubling questions, most lawyers predicted that it would not trump LGBT civil rights in cities where those rights were protected by ordinance.

But the real purpose of the legislation wasn’t legal, it was political.

The bill was intended to send a message: to tell gay folks that despite their marriage victory, they remain unwelcome, and (by “protecting” good Christians against further “victimization” by the nefarious “gay agenda”) to reassure their credulous members they were worth the dollars they’ve been extracting from them.

That message was received and (unlike both RFRA and the First Amendment) understood.I’ve already posted about the immense and damaging blowback it generated.

Yesterday, the Governor and legislative culture warriors capitulated, amending the law to provide that “religious liberty” cannot be used as a defense when a business or other “provider” discriminates on a laundry list of bases–including sexual orientation and gender identity.

This is the first time in Indiana history that LGBT folks have been explicitly protected by state law. It isn’t quite the same as inclusion in the state civil rights law, but it’s close; after all, virtually all discrimination against LGBT folks is justified by citation to religious belief. If that is no longer a sufficient reason, it’s hard to think what is.

And that gets us back to (very satisfying) karma. Eric Miller, Micah Clark and Curt Smith deliberately set out to inflict gratuitous harm on a marginalized minority. Because they thought they could. Because it would be good for fundraising. Because it would salve their wounded egos. Because they have never understood the fundamental decency of most Hoosiers.

Instead–and as a direct result– gay rights in Indiana have advanced substantially. In addition to the new language in the Indiana Code, a broad coalition has formed to work for inclusion of sexual orientation in state civil rights laws. Businesses throughout Indiana are displaying “We Serve Everyone” signs. And the presumed political power of these smarmy culture warriors has been shown to be largely mythical (can we all say “the emperor has no clothes?)

Karma is so gratifying.

 

 

Well, Lookee There! I Actually Agree with Eric Miller. Sort of.

In one of the recent missives sent out by Advance America, Eric Miller gave the reasons why he is (surprise!) supporting Scott Schneider’s “Religious Freedom” bill.

For one thing, it’s because that bullying government (the one that makes it possible for folks to do business) shouldn’t be able to make retail establishments treat gay customers the same way they treat other members of the general public on whom they depend for their livelihood.

Okay–I know you will be surprised when I say that isn’t the part I agree with.

And there was something about transgendered use of bathrooms–for some reason, the “Christian” right is absolutely fixated on bathrooms. I don’t agree with that, either–I don’t even understand that.

Here’s the part I agree with: “A church should not be punished because they refuse to let the church be used for a homosexual wedding!”

I totally agree with that. So does every U.S. court that ever addressed the issue. There’s this pesky little clause in the First Amendment called the Free Exercise Clause, that for some reason Eric Miller must have missed in law school–and among other things, it absolutely protects churches from having to perform rituals that are contrary to their beliefs.

I’m sure that when Eric Miller learns about that bit of what we lawyers call “blackletter” law (so called because such legal principles are so settled and foundational), he’ll amend his fundraising email.

And pigs will fly…..

But Think About the Children!

There are few things more important to Indiana policymakers and lobbyists than the welfare of our children. Just ask them–or ask Eric Miller, who routinely appears at the legislature to insist that we have to disadvantage gay people “for the children.” Miller has worked diligently to “protect” Hoosier children from the dangers posed by GLBT folks, no matter how fanciful or invented those dangers might be.

For some reason, Miller is far less concerned about the documented, decidedly real-life threat posed by unlicensed church daycare operations. As the Indianapolis Star reported in January

Child advocates have been pushing for decades for tighter scrutiny of unlicensed Indiana day cares but have often watched the legislature take little action, even as the grim tally of child injuries and deaths has grown..An investigation last year by The Indianapolis Star found that at least 22 children have died in Indiana day cares since 2009, with 16 of those deaths in unlicensed day cares.

As the Star noted, bills to tighten licensing requirements have died in prior sessions, killed by objections that the regulations would “infringe on the religious freedom of the churches that run day-care ministries.”

Eric Miller of the conservative advocacy group Advance America has been among the loudest voices of that position.

So let me see if I have this right. Miller says Indiana needs new laws discriminating against gay citizens because children will be traumatized if they have two mommies or see gay neighbors being treated like everyone else. But Indiana absolutely doesn’t need new laws to prevent children from being neglected or abused in unsupervised facilities affiliated with a church. Because making a church follow the same rules that apply to other daycare operators will infringe their religious freedom.

Let’s call that what it is: utter bullshit.

On that logic, church school bus drivers should be exempted from traffic laws. Religious structures shouldn’t have to be built in conformity with building and fire codes.

Eric Miller and his cohorts don’t give a rat’s patootie about the welfare or safety of Hoosier children. They care only about pursuing–and in Miller’s case, profiting from–their Christianist agenda.

The biggest danger to children comes from a legislature cowed by these pious charlatans.

Credulity 101

Are the members of the churches in his network as ignorant and credulous as Eric Miller clearly thinks they are?

If so, it’s the most convincing evidence to date of the need to improve civics education.

As the Indianapolis Star has reported, Miller and his fellow culture-warrior Curt Smith are trying to rally their troops by claiming that, if HJR6 doesn’t pass, pastors who preach against homosexuality might be thrown in jail.

This, of course, is utter bullshit.

Although his willingness to tell humongous fibs does raise the possibility that Miller didn’t really graduate from an accredited law school (or listen to church lessons about bearing false witness), I’ve always presumed that he did, and that somewhere along the way he had to encounter the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment–and specifically, the Free Exercise Clause–clearly allows pastors to preach whatever they believe without fear of punishment by big, bad government. (If bigotry from the pulpit were a criminal offense, a lot of racist pastors would be ministering from behind bars.)

The worst thing government can do to churches is revoke their tax-exempt status when they become too involved in partisan political campaigns–and the IRS has historically been loathe to impose even that penalty.

Miller’s other assertions are equally bogus. HJR6 would place a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions in the Indiana Constitution.  The presence or absence of that ban would have absolutely no effect on merchants’ decisions about what customers to serve. A prohibition on discriminating against gay customers would only take effect if Indiana ever amended its state civil rights laws to include GLBT folks. Unless and until that happens, homophobic business owners remain free to refuse service to gay people, to fire people for being gay, and to refuse to hire people they suspect may be gay.

I’m not going to dignify the restroom accusation, except to point out that most public restrooms are used by one person at a time, and–don’t tell Miller–a lot of establishments today only have one facility for both men and women. I’ve never understood the Right’s hysteria over toilets.

Speaking of hysteria, these latest, patently ridiculous accusations are the latest sign that Miller and his merry band of culture warriors are getting pretty hysterical. They are not going softly or gracefully into the dustbin of history.

But hysterical or not, that’s where they’re going.