Tag Archives: Georgia

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Times They Are REALLY A-Changin’

At least, they are changing in Georgia. From the Georgia publication, GA Voice, we learn

If you didn’t think things could get anymore dramatic in the fight over the so-called “religious freedom” bills, think again. Michael Bowers, the infamous Republican former Georgia attorney general who was at the center of two of the state’s biggest LGBT rights cases, has been hired by Georgia Equality to help fight passage of HB 218 and SB 129. In other news, dogs and mail carriers have reached a truce, Jennifer Aniston was spotted antiquing with Angelina Jolie, and Batman is going in on a summer home in Cape Cod with the Joker.

This was the Bowers of the infamous Bowers v. Hardwick case upholding Georgia’s law against gay sodomy–a case that made criminals out of LGBT folks until it was finally overruled in Lawrence v. Texas. He is now working with Georgia Equality to fight discrimination against gay citizens and others–discrimination that he says these measures will protect.

It is no exaggeration that the proposed [measures] could be used to justify putting hoods back on the Ku Klux Klan. For decades, Georgia’s Anti-Mask Act has prohibited wearing masks in public.

The law was enacted to prohibit the Ku Klux Klan from wearing hoods in public, and by extension, to discourage participation in its activities. While this statute contains exceptions for holidays, sporting events, theatrical performances, and gas masks, it does not contain a religious exercise exception – because many Klansmen used religion to justify participation in the Klan.

But the proposed [measures] would create a religious exception that was purposefully excluded. Anonymous participation in hate groups would undoubtedly rise….

Here in Indiana, the same measure is sailing through the General Assembly.

Bower’s analysis reminded me that Indiana used to be “ground zero” for the Klan; I’d like to think we’ve evolved….that the times are also changing here.

I guess we’ll know once the legislative session concludes.

What Is WRONG With These People? Rerun Edition

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently ran a story that left me banging my head on my desk.

“Let me tell you what we’re doing (about ObamaCare),” Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens bragged to a crowd of fellow Republicans in Floyd County earlier this month: “Everything in our power to be an obstructionist.”

After pausing to let applause roll over him, a grinning Hudgens went on to give an example of that obstructionist behavior, this one involving so-called “navigators” who are being hired to guide customers through the process of buying health insurance on marketplaces, or exchanges, set up under the federal program.

“We have passed a law that says that a navigator, which is a position in that exchange, has to be licensed by our Department of Insurance,” Hudgens said. “The ObamaCare law says that we cannot require them to be an insurance agent, so we said fine, we’ll just require them to be a licensed navigator. So we’re going to make up the test, and basically you take the insurance agent test, you erase the name, you write ‘navigator test’ on it.”

As the article points out, Georgia is not the only state where Republicans are in charge and are doing everything in their power to insure that people don’t get healthcare.

Think about that. No matter what your policy differences with the President, no matter what concerns you might have about the ACA’s approach, what sort of human being deliberately–indeed, gleefully–takes steps to insure that other people will continue to suffer?

How much do you have to hate the President that you are willing to let thousands of people go bankrupt and/or die if that’s what it takes to deny him a policy victory?

The Atlanta reporter asked the obvious questions:

Why would you take pride in making it harder for Georgians with pre-existing conditions to get the insurance coverage that had previously been denied to them, and that might save them from potential bankruptcy or even death? Why would you block the federal government from offering Medicaid coverage to more than 600,000 lower-income Georgia citizens, coverage that would allow them to compensate hospitals and doctors now forced to treat them for free? Why refuse to educate uninsured Georgians on the fact that they will soon be eligible for subsidies to help them pay for health insurance, as other states are doing?

I’d ask how low these people can go, but I’m afraid I’ll find out.

 

Over the Edge

Look, I know it sucks to lose. But in the wake of November 6th, the sound of the loon is increasingly loud in the land. As Mother Jones reports:

On October 11, at a closed-door meeting of the Republican caucus convened by the body’s majority leader, Chip Rogers, a tea party activist told Republican lawmakers that Obama was mounting this most diabolical conspiracy. The event—captured on tape by a member of the Athens-based watchdog Better Georgia (who was removed from the room after 52 minutes)—had been billed as an information session on Agenda 21, a nonbinding UN agreement that commits member nations to promote sustainable development. In the eyes of conservative activists, Agenda 21 is a nefarious plot that includes forcibly relocating non-urban-dwellers and prescribing mandatory contraception as a means of curbing population growth. The invitation to the Georgia state Senate event noted the presentation would explain: “How pleasant sounding names are fostering a Socialist plan to change the way we live, eat, learn, and communicate to ‘save the earth.’”…

About 23 minutes into the briefing, Searcy explained how President Obama, aided by liberal organizations like the Center for American Progress and business groups like local chambers of commerce, are secretly using mind-control techniques to push their plan for forcible relocation on the gullible public…”

Ya gotta watch out for those commies from the Chamber of Commerce.

As a friend of mine remarked after hearing this lampooned by David Letterman, there have always been folks whose connection to reality is intermittent at best–the guy who used to hang around the barber shop spinning conspiracy theories, or your great-aunt Bertha who complained about the men peeking in her window. Today, the internet allows those people to do two things Aunt Bertha couldn’t: find each other, and amplify the crazy.

I have some sympathy for people who just can’t cope with the world as it is, the people who need a “real” explanation for events they find incomprehensible (like re-electing that black guy…or voting to approve same-sex marriage). I have considerably less patience for the people who enable them.

Convening a hearing to listen to paranoid fantasies is a bridge too far, even for Republicans in the Georgia Legislature.

This country desperately needs two responsible political parties. The last thing the Republicans should be doing in the wake of the November 6th reproof delivered by voters is encourage the residents of Neverland.

Can We Spell Clueless…

The persistence of bigotry in society is widely acknowledged, and there are plenty of examples of people who are just plain hateful. There’s a robust literature that tries to explain the roots of prejudice, and a lively debate about what constitutes an appropriate response to its expression.

But how should we react to behavior that isn’t motivated by animus, but is just stupid and/or insensitive? What do we do with the clueless?

There are a couple of videos that have been going around the internet that address this issue. One compiles embarrassingly dumb remarks white girls say to black girls, and there’s another doing the same with “shit” gentile girls ask Jewish ones. (As someone who was a Jewish girl, I can attest to the accuracy of the latter one; I still remember a high school “friend” who asked me in all seriousness whether Jews had tails.) These videos are being shared for their comic value, and maybe that’s all we can do–laugh.

But an article shared by a colleague yesterday points to some of the less laughable consequences of clueless behaviors.

In Norcross, Georgia, a third-grade math assignment used slavery as a basis for story problems–as in “If Frederick received two beatings each day, how many beatings did he get in a week?” According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one of the math teachers decided to use a social studies lesson on Frederick Douglass as a basis for a series of story problems that were–to be kind–incredibly inappropriate. Inexplicably, his worksheet was then reviewed and used by three other teachers.

Here’s a math story problem: if one third-grade teacher has no common sense and three of his colleagues don’t notice, how many third-grade teachers are clueless?

Parents in this racially-diverse school district were understandably outraged, and the school is “investigating” the incident. But this is one of those times when people of good will are really at a loss to suggest appropriate action. Some parents are calling for the teachers to be fired, but in the absence of intentional animus, that is probably an over-reaction. (Of course, if this incident is an indication of pedagogical competence, perhaps not…)

There are things we can do to combat bigotry and racism. Combatting well-meaning ignorance is a lot harder.