Category Archives: Religious Liberty

It’s Called the Rule of Law….

Indiana’s Governor isn’t the only government official living in an alternate universe. Look, for example, at Alabama’s “Judge” Roy Moore, who has also been in the news of late.

It’s one thing when students who don’t understand the difference between a statute and a constitution complain that their preferred policies should be the law of the land. It’s regrettable–albeit humorous–when Y’all Qaida cowboys communicate their grievances (and inadvertently, their ignorance) by taking over a bird sanctuary. But we expect lawyers— and especially Judges—to understand how the American legal system works.

They don’t have to agree with every Supreme Court decision. They can stamp their feet and insist—as Governor Pence did when he was Congressman Pence—that Marbury versus Madison was wrongly decided, and that every statute struck down by the Supreme Court since 1803 was an act of judicial usurpation.

But we do expect them to obey the decisions of the highest court in the land.

For those of you who’ve been vacationing on the moon, Moore—who has long been a religious zealot with delusions of grandeur—is the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, a position he regained after being removed for defying federal law and several court orders by erecting a five-ton replica of the Ten Commandments at the door to the Alabama courthouse. Most recently,

Judge Moore issued an administrative order declaring that “Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage licenses” to same-sex couples. The Supreme Court’s June Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage involved a case from a different federal circuit, so it does not apply in Alabama, Moore argues. Legal experts say that is a patently wrong interpretation of American law.

Patently wrong indeed! Law students who took such a position would never pass a bar exam.

Read my lips, “Judge.” If you don’t like gay people, fine. Don’t invite them over for dinner. If you disapprove of same-sex marriage, don’t have one. If your version of God hates homosexuals, feel free to pray for their descent into the fiery pits (or whatever hell you people believe in).

But no matter how fervent your belief, no matter how wedded you are to your animus, you don’t get to overrule the Supreme Court. If you are incapable of following and applying the law, you need to be impeached or otherwise removed from a position that allows you to affect other people.

I think it was Andy Warhol who said everyone was entitled to 15 minutes of fame. Don’t look now, Judge, but your 15 minutes are up—and it won’t be long, in historical terms, until those who agree with you join you in that great dustbin of history.

Uses and Abuses of Religion

My youngest son has a simple formula for comparing and evaluating religions. According to him, whatever their other differences and similarities, religions fall into one of two basic categories: those that encourage adherents to engage with the questions (good), and those that hand believers fixed, inflexible answers (bad).

It’s a handy guide.

Just this week, that distinction came to mind twice. Once, when I read about Governor Pence’s fundraising; evidently, one of his major donors is the owner of Hobby Lobby–the man who went to Court to protect his “right” to impose his religious beliefs on his employees. Our Governor is quite clearly in the camp of those who are sure they have the answers, that they know exactly what God wants (and isn’t it nice that God hates the same people they do!), and who give no evidence of ever having engaged with the questions or wrestled with moral ambiguities.

Fortunately, there is another kind of faith community, and it was on beautiful display last Sunday at an Interfaith Vigil for Nondiscrimination. The Vigil was held at North United Methodist Church, and hosted by the Interfaith Coalition on Nondiscrimination, Freedom Indiana and the Reconciling Ministries Network of Indiana.

When my husband and I entered the sanctuary, I was struck by the size of the audience. My husband estimated attendance at a thousand people, most of whom appeared to be middle-aged or older.

Program participants included Darren Cushman-Wood, Pastor of North Church; Rev. Danyelle Ditmer, pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church; Rev. Linda McCrae, pastor at Central Christian Church; Whittney Murphy, the student body president of Christian Theological Seminary; Rabbi Sandy Sasso, Rabbi Emerita of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck: and Philip Gulley, Pastor of Fairfield Friends Meeting.

If there was a “call to arms,” it would probably be Rabbi Sasso’s declaration that people of faith would not stand by and allow religion and religious language to be hijacked and used as a cover for hatred and discrimination.

If there was a summing up of the sentiments of those in the sanctuary, it would be these words of Phil Gulley’s–a small part of his extraordinary and moving speech. Gulley reminded us of “the America of the open door, its hand extended in friendship.

“It is the land of the kindly neighbor, the generous friend, the liberal heart. It is the America welcoming the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. It is the people with nothing to fear but fear itself, the nation conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal. It is the America made wiser by our differences, the America committed to justice, dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, who measures its strength in its citizenry, not its weaponry.”

To which we might add (with a nod to my son’s categorization), it is the America in which thoughtful religious citizens are grateful for their constitutional right to explore questions of meaning and transcendence for themselves—an America that understands the importance of extending that same intellectual and moral autonomy to everyone, that rejects the profoundly unAmerican theocratic urge to use religion in the service of their own dominance and privilege.

Both the Governor’s fundraising report and the Interfaith Vigil remind me that, like so much else in life, religion is neither an unalloyed good nor an unremitting evil. It can be used or it can be abused.

My own test is actually simpler than my son’s: if your beliefs make you a better, kinder person, they’re good. If they make you a rigid, judgmental asshole, they aren’t.

 

 

 

Religious Organizations and Civil Rights

Every once in a while, a court decision provides a “teachable moment.” A recent case provides one such instance, in another clash of dogma and civil rights.

In Massachusetts, a Superior Court Judge has found a Catholic High School guilty of discrimination for withdrawing a job offer it had extended to one Matthew Barrett; the offer was withdrawn when Barrett listed his husband as his emergency contact on his employment forms, and the school became aware that he was in a same-sex marriage.

The job in question was food services manager.

The nature of the position at issue is important, because the Courts have long held that the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment exempts religious organizations from civil rights laws inconsistent with their religious principles—that religious organizations may discriminate on the basis of their religious dogma— when the position being filled is religious in nature.

As a post to a Law Professors’ blog reported

The school argued that it was justified in not hiring Mr. Barrett because his marriage was inconsistent with the school’s religious teachings. Judge Wilkins based his decision on several findings. Noting that the school was entitled to control its message, he said that right is limited to those in a position to shape the message, including teachers, ministers and spokesperson. Justice Wilkins noted that Mr. Barrett’s position was not in a message shaping catagory and Mr. Barrett has not been an advocate for same sex marriage.

Law is all about drawing lines and making distinctions. We distinguish between killing in self-defense and murder, between free speech and harassment, and—as here— between discrimination necessary to the exercise of religious liberty and discrimination that exceeds that narrow category.

Where those lines get drawn is always subject to debate and dependent upon facts and evidence.

Here, the issue appears to be straightforward: should a religious organization be entitled to hire and fire non-religious support staff-–janitors, secretaries, cooks, food services managers—on the basis of compliance with the institution’s religious doctrine?

This case is likely to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.  As the Law Professors’ blog says, “stay tuned.”

Every Once in a While, A Glimmer of Hope…

Several Facebook friends have shared a report from occupy democrats.com suggesting that not everyone has succumbed to insane Islamophobia:

Over a dozen girls from Vernon Hills High School are participating in the “Walk A Mile In Her Hijab” event, which aims to help spread awareness of Muslim cultural traditions and help combat the rising tide of Islamophobia in America.

Their principal, Jon Guillaume, has applauded the plan and the girls for their cosmopolitan interest in other cultures and their courage in standing up for their Muslim peers in these troubled times.

“I think it is a difficult time to be a Muslim student in our high school, in our community and in America. I think this is an opportunity for our kids to embrace the Muslim community within the school. For other kids outside of this organization, to understand what it’s like for these girls to walk through our halls in this garment in a way that stands out from other kids. So, I’m proud of them.”

We should all be proud of these brave girls for not only showing such support for the Muslim members of their communities but also, sadly, for enduring the consequences that donning the headscarf might bring. Since Donald Trump and other Republican candidates have begun their latest round of fear-mongering and discrimination against Muslims, bigoted attacks against innocent Muslim-Americans have sharply risen.

At some point, perhaps humans will redefine the “us” and “them” categories.

Here are my candidates: “us” will include the entire human race, with the only exception—the only “them”—being the bigots, haters, self-aggrandizers and other damaged and deranged people who, it is important to note, can be found among every race, religion and nationality.

The parents of these girls should be so proud. They’ve raised real human beings.

Welcome to “us.”

“A Signature Act that Unifies the GOP”

I hadn’t heard of the “First Amendment Defense Act” until I read about it at RightWing Watch.

Since statutes cannot trump (excuse the phrase)constitutional provisions, you may wonder–as I did–which of our First Amendment liberties requires this ineffectual statutory “assistance.”

The Act

would prohibit the federal government from “taking discriminatory action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

I wouldn’t bother commenting on this grandstanding bit of Congressional snit (which, to the extent it conflicts with constitutional law, will have no legal effect), except that six GOP presidential candidates recently endorsed it, much to the delight of those staunch proponents of unrestricted religious liberty (but only for Christians who agree with them): the American Principles Project, Heritage Action for America, and the Family Research Council.

The candidates pledging to protect religion-based homophobia against the “agenda” of  LGBT folks who think they are actually entitled to equal civil rights are Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Fiorina, Santorum and Huckabee.

According to Maggie Gallagher of the mis-named American Principles Project, non-signers Bush, Graham, Paul and Trump have verbally expressed support for the measure, demonstrating that the Act “is rapidly becoming a signature issue that unifies the GOP.”

 

I know that opposition to same-sex marriage has been a “signature issue” for Gallagher, but I think her enthusiasm for keeping LGBT folks second-class citizens has distorted her already questionable analytic abilities. It isn’t just anti-gay bigotry that has come to characterize what’s left of the GOP.

The party’s “signature issue” has become nativism, and a bigotry capacious enough to encompass not just gays, but immigrants and refugees, African-Americans, Muslims…really, anyone who isn’t a white Christian American.

It’s a “signature issue” that will destroy what was once a Grand Old Party.