Tag Archives: LGBTQ

Fighting Tolerance

One of the (relatively few) bright spots in recent American culture has been the vast improvement in social attitudes about LGBTQ people and the laws addressing their status. It never made sense–culturally or constitutionally– to make the religious beliefs/prejudices of one subset of Americans the law of the land.

Of course, a fair number of our persistent “hot button” issues are a replay of that same  demand–the insistence by some Christian denominations that the law should require everyone to abide by their denomination’s religious convictions.

The progress toward equal civil rights for LGBTQ folks should not lull us into a belief that we can declare victory for “gay rights,” because it turns out there are still powerful forces intent upon turning back that progress.

The Guardian recently published a lengthy article about one such effort.

Titled “The Multi-Million Dollar Christian Group  Attacking LGBT Rights,” the article focused on an organization called–misleadingly–The Alliance Defending Freedom. (Of course, the “freedom” the Alliance is defending is the freedom to impose its religious views on others).The Alliance is described as “a conservative Christian powerhouse working internationally to remake laws governing family, sex and marriage in a vision which ‘keeps the doors open for the Gospel.'”

Their Gospel, of course.

ADF, which reportedly received more than $55m in contributions in 2018, claims to have more than 3,400 affiliated attorneys and judges worldwide. In the 25 years since it was founded, it has brought 10 cases before the US supreme court, including some of the most consequential cases of the last decade on contraceptive and gay rights.

ADF is, “an aggressive, strategic legal group that is about Christian supremacy and hegemony in the US and in the world,” said Frederick Clarkson, a senior research analyst with Political Research Associates. “It’s the world under God’s law.”

The group’s work against LGBTQ+ people has led experts on extremism at the Southern Poverty Law Center to label them a hate group. ADF rejects that label.

The Alliance gave us Hobby Lobby, and more recently, the case of the baker unwilling to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding.

The group was founded by prominent opponents of gay rights, including Jeff Sessions, and it hasn’t confined its activities to the U.S. (In the UK, for example, it is defending graphic signs used by anti-abortion protestors.)

In the last decade, ADF attorneys argued in favor of state-sanctioned sterilization for trans people at the European Court of Human Rights. Their brief argued, “equal dignity does not mean that every sexual orientation warrants equal respect”.

Gee–I guess we are not all “God’s children…”

The Alliance is one of the groups behind those misnamed “religious freedom” laws that have popped up in so many states– laws that would give businesses the right to refuse customers or perform services based on “sincere” religious beliefs.

The article notes that, since American public sentiment now strongly favors same-sex marriage, groups like the Alliance have focused on curtailing trans rights, and the rights of trans girls in particular, alleging various “dangers” their existence causes to cis women.

Interestingly, on the same day I came across the Guardian article, the Religion News Service  reported on the “Godly” behavior of some other “Christians.”

A California-based Christian college and the former publishers of The Christian Post and Newsweek have pled guilty in a scheme to fraudulently obtain $35 million from lenders, according to the Manhattan district attorney….

Earlier this month, William Anderson, former chief executive officer of Christian Media Corporation and former publisher of the Christian Post, and Etienne Uzac, former co-owner and chairman of Newsweek Media Group, each pleaded guilty to one felony count of money laundering in the second degree and one felony count of scheme to defraud in the first degree.

Anderson stepped down from the Christian Post, an evangelical Christian publication, in 2018. Christian Post Executive Editor Richard Land, a longtime Southern Baptist ethicist, was not immediately reached for comment.

The publication made headlines in December for publishing an editorial in favor of President Trump. That editorial caused a politics editor at the publication to quit.

Perhaps the pious, holier-than-thou” “Christians” who are so concerned about other people’s “sins” should turn their attention to the behavior of their own brethren. Perhaps, too, they should consider the possibility that immoral behavior doesn’t occur exclusively below the waist.

And so long as we’re being “biblical,” Isn’t there some passage about removing the beam from one’s own eye before trying to remove the speck from someone else’s?

Subsidizing Bigotry

As the country’s diversity and tribalism have grown, America’s public schools have become more necessary than ever. The public school is one of the last “street corners” where children of different backgrounds and beliefs come together to learn–ideally–not just “reading, writing and arithmetic” but the history and philosophy of the country they share.

Today’s Americans read different books and magazines, visit different websites, listen to different music, watch different television programs, and occupy different social media bubbles. In most communities, we’ve lost a shared daily newspaper. The experiences we do share continue to diminish.

Given this fragmentation, the assaults on public education are assaults on a shared America.

Nevertheless, politicians and (especially) religious adherents who feel threatened by diversity and modernity have worked tirelessly to support voucher programs that allow parents to remove their children from public school systems and send them to private–almost always religious–schools, where they study with “their own kind.” The rhetoric around these programs typically defends them as “allowing children to escape failing schools”–although those “failing” schools are hardly helped by sending their already inadequate resources to private schools–despite consistent research showing that vouchers virtually never lead to academic improvement. (They do, however, lead to increased racial segregation.)

As an added indignity, voucher programs send tax dollars to schools that discriminate against LGBTQ children and children with LGBTQ parents. Here in Indiana, Cathedral High School, which received over a million dollars in 2018, fired a gay teacher;  Roncalli High School, which also has accepted vouchers worth millions fired a much-loved gay counselor who was in a same-sex marriage.

Recently, in a welcome announcement, two major contributors to Florida’s voucher program announced that they would no longer be contributing to that state’s program, which also allowed recipient schools to deny admission to gay students.

Two of the largest banks in the U.S. say they will stop donating millions of dollars to Florida’s private school voucher program after a newspaper investigation found that some of the program’s beneficiaries discriminate against LGBTQ students.

In a statement to NBC News and CNBC on Wednesday evening, Wells Fargo confirmed that it would no longer participate.

“We have reviewed this matter carefully and have decided to no longer support Step Up for Students,” the San Francisco-based bank said of the voucher program. “All of us at Wells Fargo highly value diversity and inclusion, and we oppose discrimination of any kind.”

In a tweet to a Florida lawmaker Tuesday, Fifth Third Bank, based in Cincinnati, said it has told officials with the voucher program that it will also stop participating.

An investigation by the Orlando Sentinel found 156 private Christian schools with anti-gay views that participated in Florida’s program. Those schools educated more than 20,000 students whose tuition was paid by Florida taxpayers–including, obviously, LGBTQ taxpayers.

The investigation found that 83 of the 156 schools with anti-gay views refuse to enroll LGBTQ students, and that some number of those schools also exclude students whose parents are gay.

“Florida’s scholarship programs, often referred to as school vouchers, sent more than $129 million to these religious institutions,” the Sentinel reported on Jan. 23. “That means at least 14 percent of Florida’s nearly 147,000 scholarship students last year attended private schools where homosexuality was condemned or, at a minimum, unwelcome.”

So much for the American “street corner” and our commitment to civic equality.

We taxpayers are subsidizing segregation and bigotry–without realizing the promised improvement in academic outcomes.

 

Indiana Forward

I recently read an article that identified pluralism as the great challenge of our time.

Most Americans no longer live among people who look, pray and think as they do; we are no longer surrounded by people whose minor differences offer no challenge to the assumptions that ground our worldviews.

Will our tribal differences allow us to create genuine, supportive communities?

Psychiatrists can probably explain why some people are comfortable in a diverse environment and others are threatened, but that diversity is an inescapable aspect of modern life. The challenge facing lawmakers is how to craft rules that respect the right of threatened folks to hold their beliefs while protecting the targets of their disapproval or hatred from harm.

I recently posted about a letter to the editor from four Indiana legislators opposing a hate crimes bill.The tone of that letter made it abundantly clear that lawmakers who wrote it see the bill as criticism of  their belief that certain Hoosiers are unworthy of explicit protection. (The LGBTQ community was the clear, if unidentified, target of their “righteous” enmity.)

A very different perspective was offered by Michael Huber, who heads the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, and Ann Murlow, CEO of United Way of Central Indiana. In a column written for the Indiana Business Journal, they reminded readers that Indiana is one of only five states without a hate crimes law.

It’s a blind spot in our justice system and a flaw in our business climate that becomes more conspicuous with each passing year.

Nationally, reports of crimes motivated by a victim’s unchangeable characteristics—such as race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity—increased 17 percent from 2016 to 2017. Stories of violence and vandalism from across the state show that Hoosiers aren’t immune to this trend.

The column reported on the establishment of a coalition called Forward Indiana by members of the business, nonprofit, education, faith, government and philanthropy communities.

That coalition understands that an inclusive bias-crimes law is good for people, employers and our state. The Indy Chamber has also reactivated the statewide Indiana Competes coalition, extending its anti-discrimination mission to make the business case for action against bias crimes.

Together, we represent thousands of companies, civic organizations, religious and social service groups, and individuals from all walks of life in support of a strong law with a clear list of personal characteristics that reflects the diversity of modern-day Hoosiers.

Simply put, we want Indiana to reject hate without loopholes or ambiguity.

Indiana Forward recognizes that failure to declare, in no uncertain terms, that government will forcefully protect its citizens from crimes motivated by the bigotries of other citizens would send a positive signal to self-righteous haters.

Huber and Murtlow are also absolutely right when they point out that passage of a hate crimes bill that is not inclusive, a bill that surrenders to theocratic demands to exclude certain citizens from its protection, would be an endorsement of the position that it is acceptable to hate members of that group.

If we go to the Statehouse ready to exclude some of our fellow citizens— trading equality for expediency—any victory would be a hollow one that surrenders any claim to real leadership….

If Indiana passes a bias-crimes bill in 2019 that pointedly excludes gender identity, it would only amplify the negative perceptions that hinder our economic development efforts.

No one wants another Religious Freedom Restoration Act; our partners still struggle with the fallout as they try to appeal to skilled workers, attract conventions and convince employers that Indiana is an inclusive and inviting state.

But the lesson of RFRA isn’t to avoid controversy, it’s that discrimination is bad for business and wrong for Indiana. Leaving gender identity out of bias-crimes legislation would leave us on the defensive, limiting our ability to welcome a diverse workforce and the business opportunities that follow.

It’s not enough to lead with an affordable business climate when human capital is also a top priority. Passing a watered-down bias-crimes law would force CEOs to rethink Indiana as a competitive place to recruit and retain talent.

We shouldn’t squander this opportunity to lead with hesitation or half-measures; the General Assembly should pass a strong bias-crimes law that doesn’t leave any Hoosiers behind.•

In other words, let’s bring Indiana into the 21st Century.

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?