Donald Trump and the equally sinister Mike Pence have enthusiastically climbed on-board the Christofascists rallying cry of "religious freedom" as a means to gain special privileges for themselves and to mask their real motivation: hatred of others. The Trump/Pence regime has been relentless in its efforts to harm LGBT Americans, most recently filing briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that it is lawful to fire employees due to the sexual orientation, a move that sent many Christofascists into near orgasmic delight. Sadly, many straights do not understand that gays and transgender citizens are not the only targets of the Christofascists. Women and religious minorities likewise need to be concerned by the insidious use of claims of religious freedom to disguise hate and bigotry. It is also necessary to note that claims of religious freedom can create public health threats as underscored by the measles outbreak in New York City centered on an ultra-orthodox Jewish community. Religious beliefs should never be allowed to outweigh public safety issues or the civil rights of others. Freedom of worship means exactly that: worshiping at religious services of one's choice and not having your tax dollars used to support an official state sponsored church. A column in the New York Times and USA Today look at the effort to use the ploy of religious freedom in a way never contemplated by the Founding Fathers to harm other citizens and deprive them of equal civil rights. First these excerpts from the Times piece:
In 1976 I left a small Catholic grammar school, where we prayed aloud four times a day, to attend a large public high school where we didn’t pray aloud at all. The United States Supreme Court had banned school-sponsored prayer in 1962, but nobody was keeping me from praying. . . . I prayed all day long, and no one in my public school had any idea I was praying at all.
It has been decades since I prayed my way through high school, but all across the red states, conservative Christians are still challenging that 1962 decision, constantly pushing the limits of what “student-led” prayer in public school, which the ruling permits, really means. Earlier this year, a 17-year-old student in Louisiana sued her school district for beginning the day with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Technically a student leads the prayer. In reality the student reads from a printout that school officials set beside the microphone.
Conservative Christians are forever trying to inject their personal religious beliefs into the public sphere. Here in Tennessee, the owner of a small-town bakery just outside Nashville recently reneged on an agreement to bake a wedding cake because the wedding in question involved two brides and no grooms.
It would be almost funny if it weren’t so unfair. It’s illegal for a store owner to discriminate against customers because they happen to belong to a group against which the shopkeeper harbors a personal prejudice. It’s illegal for a racist to open a restaurant that serves only white people. Prejudice cloaked in the robes of religious faith should follow the same precedent.
Only it doesn’t. In this country, citing religious or spiritual convictions is often a surefire way to get out of doing something you’re required by law to do. If your religion claims that homosexuality is sinful, this logic goes, then why should you be required to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple? If practicing birth control runs counter to your church’s teaching, then why should the health insurance you offer your employees be required to cover a vasectomy? And why, if your religion teaches you to forego vaccines that prevent viral illnesses, should you be required to vaccinate your children?
At this very moment, nature is providing the perfect response in the form of a measles outbreak the likes of which we have not seen in this country for a quarter-century. Of the 764 confirmed cases so far this year, the vast majority are clustered in New York City, primarily in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities where some view vaccines as a violation of kosher restrictions and a danger to children’s health.
Here’s what also exacerbates those numbers: failure of political will. Mayor Bill de Blasio has declared a public health emergency and closed some New York City public schools in response to the outbreak, but so far state lawmakers have refused to revoke the religious exemption for vaccination. All 50 states require children to be vaccinated before enrolling in public school, but the vast majority of them allow for similar religious or philosophical exemptions.
We live in an age of easy travel and widespread misinformation, and it’s long past time for lawmakers in this country to propose a much more reasonable definition of religious freedom. The Constitution protects my right to believe whatever I want to believe, including my right to shun science and modern medicine. It does not give me the right to expose innocent people to unnecessary suffering. . . . If you decide not to vaccinate your children, then they should not be allowed to take public transportation or go to public school.
Likewise, if you’re a baker whose religious convictions prevent you from baking a wedding cake for a gay couple, then you need to find a line of work that doesn’t involve selling wedding cakes from a public storefront. You can take your chances with natural family planning if that’s what your religious faith calls you to do, but you’ll still be required to offer your employees health insurance that covers birth control.
Religious faith is a private matter between a believer and God. But how a believer lives in community with other people is something different altogether. It’s time to stop giving believers a pass just because their beliefs happen to run counter to the laws of the nation they live in. Human lives may depend on it.
The op-ed in USA Today continues this theme and looks in particular at the Trump/Pence war against LGBT citizens motivated by Trump's desire to please Christofascists and Pence's own extreme and dangerous religious beliefs. Here are excerpts:
Last week President Donald Trump took another hostile action against LGBTQ people. But you wouldn’t know that from many of the headlines.
“Trump Administration Strengthens ‘Conscience Rule’ for Health Care Workers,” read the headline in the New York Times about a bill that would allow doctors, nurses, physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers and others to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. National Public Radio’s web site went with “New Trump Rule Protects Health Care Workers Who Refuse Care For Religious Reasons.”
It’s true that someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity are only two among several reasons such workers, under an expanded Department of Health and Human Services rule, may deny care to people based on religious grounds. And most reports did discuss the threat to LGBTQ people, in addition to the threat to other groups, such as women seeking reproductive health care.
But the coded language used by the Trump administration, couched in protecting religious beliefs rather than permitting discrimination against LGBTQ people . . . . Using this coded language to attack LGBTQ rights has benefited this administration as it continues to galvanize conservative evangelicals — who know exactly who is being targeted — while not alienating people who might see these efforts as an attack on civil rights.
But make no mistake: LGBTQ people are among the primary targets if not the main target of such efforts. It's part of religious conservatives' strategy to chip away at marriage equality and LGBTQ rights much as they have done on the issue of abortion rights for many years.
The effort to recast discrimination against LGBTQ people, and roll back rights that were hard won, has indeed been successful. The debate has shifted to issues such as “religious liberty” and “conscience.”
That’s why it’s important that the agenda of anti-LGBTQ forces, including the coded language they use, be fully exposed. Some of the Trump administration’s hostile actions, such as the president’s Twitter announcement in 2017 that’d be banning transgender people from the military, are so overt they can’t be papered over. But others are disguised as protecting religious freedom.
When Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in March, he claimed that “freedom of religion is under attack in our country.” He then portrayed himself and his family as among the victims.
In Virginia and more than half the states, absent a federal law such as the Equality Act recently re-introduced in Congress, there are no protections for LGBT people against such discrimination in employment and education. And yet, in polls Americans express broad support for these protections. Most Americans don’t see this as an issue of “religious liberty” — and many of them are people of faith themselves — but rather as one of flat out discrimination.
It’s for that reason that Trump, Pence and others in the GOP speak in inexplicit ways to play to the evangelical base, while keeping the anti-LGBTQ agenda below the radar for anyone who would be turned off by blatant bigotry. But when you're the target, you get it. Many of us in the LGBTQ community understand their code and why their intent must be made clear.
Trump's brutal record of hostility to LGBTQ people, and his bowing to those determined to roll back LGBTQ rights, must be fully laid bare to voters before the 2020 election. As long as the administration is allowed to get away with vague statements and code language, it won't be.
Christofascists - it is far past time to stop using the misnomer "conservative Christians" - and in the case of the measles epidemic, ultra-orthodox Jews are in the final analysis intensely self-centered people who care nothing for the rights or very lives of others. It is all about them and to Hell with everyone else. The need to be recognized and treated as such.