Sunday, February 19, 2017

“Religious Freedom" Laws Legalize Bigotry

One of the most serious threats facing freedom of religion for all Americans is the falsely named "religious freedom" bills pending in numerous state legislatures and in Congress under a bill ridiculously entitled the "First Amendment Defense Act" ("FADA") which destroys the religious freedom of everyone except Christofascists who would be in effect placed above the law.  Indeed, Christofascists would be allowed to ignore non-discrimination laws and public accommodation laws at will so long as they claimed to be acting in accord with their religious beliefs.  In his testimony before Congress, Rabbi David Saperstein summarized what these toxic laws permit:
This legislation would give many individuals, organizations, and corporations who claim a sincere religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage the right to deny employment and service to anyone they believed violated those beliefs:  individuals or families of LGBTQ people , unmarried mothers; divorced parents. If this is passed, we could expect to see discrimination in a range of areas where now it is barred.

While not cited, even one's use of contraception would be a basis for discrimination.  It is NOT just LGBT individuals who would be targeted, although we are obviously a primary target.  

A piece in Religion Dispatches looks at the disingenuousness of arguments that FADA would not legalized discrimination.  Here are article highlights:
National Review writer Alexandra Desanctis on Wednesday published a piece purporting to explain how recent conservative efforts to defend “religious freedom” aren’t really about discriminating against LGBT Americans.  Desanctis goes on to misrepresent almost every legislative and executive action she discusses. I can’t speak to any “malicious” intent of the author, but a cursory examination of her contemporaries reveals a lopsided tendency to use religion to justify anti-LGBT discrimination, then fall eerily silent when the religious freedom of non-Christians is threatened. The weaponized kind of “religious freedom” at issue in President Trump’s draft executive order is precisely the modern mutation of this foundational principle, which undoubtedly deserves to be placed in scare quotes, as publications ranging from New York magazine to the Wall Street Journal do.
Desanctis implies that “religious freedom” bills and the executive order are concerned only with marriage. And while the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges did directly deal with marriage equality (tossing a single sentence in Justice Kennedy’s masterful opinion to the anti-equality concerns of religious objectors), nearly every legislative effort billed as a protection of religious liberty since then has reached far beyond the county clerk’s office.
Desanctis herself mentions the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) as one prominent example of legislation introduced “to protect religious Americans who believe in heterosexual marriage.” Apart from neglecting to note that FADA does not protect religious Americans who believe in marriage equality (because they do exist), Desanctis declines to mention that the bill, as introduced last year, included provisions that would allow faith-based discrimination against LGBT people, single mothers, and people of minority faiths.
Not only do religious freedom bills in general concern themselves with more than just marriage, but even the leaked draft order does so as well, explicitly targeting the validity of transgender identities by claiming that gender is an immutable characteristic defined by biology, anatomy, and a doctor’s declaration at birth.
By definition, the Americans who reject this biological essentialism are those who have experience with someone (or perhaps are themselves someone) whose gender identity differs from that which they were assigned at birth. Everyone else—indeed, the vast majority of Americans—are unlikely to critically analyze this provision, since most people’s sex assigned at birth corresponds with their internal sense of gender identity. This fact, however, has no bearing on the continued existence of trans people in America.
[I]n 30 states, it is expressly legal to fire someone because they are transgender. In 28 states, an employee could marry their same-sex spouse on Sunday, then be fired on Monday for putting a wedding photo on their desk. These aren’t hypothetical dilemmas—real people lose their livelihood every year because a supervisor didn’t approve of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
So while Desanctis points out that there is currently no law directly approving anti-LGBT discrimination, the policies she’s advocating for in her piece would change all that. The draft executive order, FADA, and similar “religious liberty” efforts nationwide would create a blanket license to discriminate, provided one claims their “sincerely held religious belief” has been offended. But even here, it’s important to note that the word “religious” is intended to mean “conservative Christian.” 

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