Civil Rights and the Religious Right

Yesterday at the Indiana statehouse, hearings were held on three bills taking different approaches to GLBT civil rights. None of those bills as originally written actually extended civil rights protections to the gay community—at their best (which wasn’t particularly good), they were efforts to look like the state is protecting the rights of LGBT Hoosiers without actually doing so— efforts to avoid the wrath of both a business community that supports real civil rights protections, and the Christian Right, which most definitely does not.

Of course, some of our legislators aren’t even pretending.

When I went to bed last night (we’re old and I go to bed early), the worst of the measures, a bill that had been dubbed “super RFRA,” was dead (at least for the moment), and a hearing on the others was still going on. This morning, I learned that SB344–which will now move to the Senate floor, would repeal RFRA and replace it with”protections” neutered by religious exemptions.

Genuine extension of civil rights to the LGBT community would be simple: four words and a comma added to the Indiana law that currently protects people from being discriminated against on the basis of race, religion, gender, and national origin. (Interestingly, there aren’t religious exemptions to those categories: if your religion preaches separation of the races or subordination of women, tough. You still can’t fire black people or refuse to serve women.)The convoluted measure that emerged is pretty strong evidence that Indiana legislators really don’t want gays and lesbians (and definitely not transgender Hoosiers) to be treated as citizens entitled to equal treatment.

These legislators are in thrall to the diminishing number of fundamentalist religious activists who want to be able to pick on gay people without worrying about some law requiring owners of public accommodations to actually accommodate all members of the public.

Ironically, all these howls of religious righteousness, all this deference to the delicate religious sensibilities of Christian literalists, is taking place at the same time that leaders of those groups are displaying the highly selective nature of their religiosity. Yesterday, Jerry Falwell, Jr.—one of those who finds homosexuality to be an “abomination”— endorsed Donald Trump for President.

So let me get this straight (pun intended). Gay people—even the most exemplary gay people in long-term, loving relationships—are sinners not to be accorded civic equality or human dignity. But a three-time married megalomaniac who has repeatedly used bankruptcy laws to screw over his creditors, who has flaunted his sex life in the tabloids, who has separated poor people from their money in his casinos, lies constantly and has repeatedly exhibited the crudest racism, sexism and xenophobia—that man is entitled to your “Christian” approval and endorsement.

If there was ever any doubt, Falwell’s endorsement makes one thing clear: This pious insistence that religious objectors should be accorded “special rights” to discriminate isn’t theology. It isn’t based upon their (selective and convenient) reading of their bibles.

It’s bigotry. And our lawmakers should not accommodate it.


  1. One of the worst parts of this bill can be found on page 14, where it seeks to prevent any city or county from ever protecting classes of people not specified by the state.

    It’s as though when confronted with any issue, Republicans try to approach it in the wrongest possible way.

  2. Thank you Sheila!!
    As someone who worked 10 long years to earn an M.A. in Theology and Religious Leadership from an excellent Seminary with the best professors outside the big seminaries in Chicago and the 2 Coasts, I am sick to death of people trying to cloak bigotry in religion. It is immoral and WRONG!

    These people show they know nothing about the faith. They are defintely not Christocentric, or even Theocentric. They are egocentric. We are all beloved children of our Creator! And that force, consciousness or however you envision God does not make mistakes – only we do!

  3. Our legislators will do what they’re told to do and then stand before the cameras and smile and lie about their intentions and the final product; governor Pence will furrow his brow and talk about how Hoosiers don’t discriminate. Life will go on in IN.

  4. I find bigotry to be an abomination in the true sense of the word; it should be outlawed. But, when the lawmakers are the bigots, there is little chance of that happening with the current religious right having the upper hand.

    I look on eating escargot to be an abomination in the true sense of the word; but I see no reason to outlaw this practice by those who enjoy them. They are not forcing others to eat escargot along with them.

    If the last comment sounds silly; it is no sillier than those who believe their’s is the only religion which is right and that all others should live by their beliefs. Fortunately they cannot force me to eat escargots!

  5. Many state governments just ignore the constitution’s directive not to make laws in favor of any particular religion and are quick to claim something is unconstitutional when it doesn’t suit their semi-fascist agenda. Hypocrites.

  6. Oh, I want to stand on the roof of the Statehouse and scream “SOMEONE GETS IT!”.
    Thank you, Ms Kennedy.

  7. It would seem that their claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the drafters of this monstrosity are actually preferring one set of (sincere?) religious beliefs to another. As you state, religious beliefs that purportedly claim (citing the Old Testament) that God separated the races for a good reason get short shrift, but those beliefs that selectively cite (and misread) both New and Old Testament passages* condemning gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender folks to eternal hellfire get a pass on discrimination.

    * (I am not sure that the passage evangelical giant Donald Trump recently cited at Liberty University as “Two Corenthians” is among those. )

  8. Sheila , I read your column every day and frequently you’re better than a 60 minute cardio session to get my heart rate up. Your succinct and intelligent posts should be required reading for every one of us. Thank you for keeping me informed and for the crushing (but not unexpected) reports on the behavior of our political representatives. It is my fervent wish (and one I’ve toasted many times through the holidays) that this be Pence’s last year in office. I really believe we have a groundswell of support behind getting him out…my concern is….where the hell is John Gregg (or frankly anyone else)?? Am I missing news? Political ads? Social media? I’ve seen nothing…and we know what happens when good people (=someone running against Pence) do nothing.

  9. Lisa Jackson; thank you! I have pointed out this lack of John Gregg visible in any form of campaigning, evidently he hasn’t figured out why he lost to Pence four years ago. The Democratic party should clue him in and help him run an actual political campaign for governor of Indiana…or replace him!

  10. When I was being educated as an engineer a term that I heard regularly from those with the unenviable job of training me was that something was “intuitively obvious”, a slightly more academic way of saying ” common sense”. The problem with the term is that something might be more intuitively obvious to someone with heavy background than those of us trying to get there.

    One application of the of the same logic is regarding theocracy as a replacement for democracy. It’s common sense that it’s to be avoided.

    It’s common sense because even casual observation of the world today shows that theocracies are never stable.

    It’s common sense because after thousands of years of intense marketing there is zero progress in any one faith being accepted by a majority.

    It’s common sense that democracy which considers all views is much more likely to weave the best possible fabric for society because exclusivity marginalizes what may well be potentially valuable perspectives.

    It’s common sense because the goal of government should be each of as free as possible from people positioned to impose what’s best for them on others.

    Fundamental extreme religiosity may benefit some who really need it to get through their days. They are very welcome to it. That’s the good thing about democracy.

  11. If the Indiana legislature was debating the imposition of Sharia Law on Hoosiers the panic in the streets would be both palpable and justified.


  12. Civil rights laws in Indiana are still a joke… Privilege still rules!… What good are “rights laws” when the privileged still sit at the front of the bus?? This State, under Republican rule, still caters to the rich and powerful!
    65,000 Children are cut from SNAP, wages are stagnated to the edge of poverty, the infrastructure is crumbling, pieces of the State are being sold right out from under us, “right-to-work laws” infringe on the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, while Pence gives even more tax breaks to the rich!! Make privilege and rights the same in thing…

  13. John Gregg can be seen on FaceBook, I see on there when I login for my periodic headache…

  14. As a matter of fact, because I respond to John Gregg’s posts on FaceBook, I have begun to receive emails from his campaign…

  15. The religious right refuses to stop pushing “their beliefs” onto everyone else. I would like to get a bill authored that would protect the rest of us from having to endure their bigotry. Actually, I would like to be able to legally discriminate against them and refuse to be subjected to enduring their vile presence in public places. Yes, I believe it is past time to turn the tables on them and treat them the same way they are treating their fellow human beings.

    If you click on the red words in Sheila’s post it will take you to an article about Rep. Woody Burton. He is downright despicable. He also authored HB1340 that will enable Pay Day lenders to gouge the working poor even more than they already do. That bill passed unanimously yesterday in committee.

    Here is a link to an article that explains this committee’s proposal to rape the very people that are struggling from week to week on paychecks that don’t cover their cost of living.

  16. Among all life humanity may be the leader is preying on their own species. As we dominate other species and take over their world too this tendancy of ours seems to worsen. If we can’t prey on other species because there are so many of us and so few of them we turn on our own.

    This then is why government is essential in providing consequences for those who believe themselves entitled to what others have.

    Despite government the creativity shown by those who believe that taking is better than creating is never ending, requiring the continuos expansion of the laws that provide the consequences to those who can’t or don’t make it on their own.

    Imposing your religious faith on those of other faiths is such a predatory behavior. In fact imposing your beliefs of any sort is predatory.

    Live your life free of my beliefs and I will do the same. When we have to make an important and collective decisions we’ll use democracy to do it.

  17. Marco Rubio:

    “This is the first time we’ve had a president not interested in fixing the problems in America.”

    It takes nothing but gall for a member of the current Congress to claim this of the President.

    “This is the first time in modern history we’ve had a president that is trying to fundamentally change America.”

    Consider the state of the Union in 2008 after a record onslaught of conservatism. Obama has been exactly the right segue from Bush to Bernie.

    “This is the first time that we have a president that believes that America is an arrogant global power that needed to be cut down to size.”

    This because of Obama’s critical caution in avoiding the military mistakes that Cheney made that helped to bring about 2008.

    Rubio and Pence are products of the same cult.

  18. Did some disgruntled pre-renaissance “Mike Pence” Bible copyist painstakingly sneak in that dirty stuff as grist for the politicians’ mill?

    Little wonder the Bible gets burned sometimes. Thomas Jefferson edited it resulting in his skinny (essentially “red letter”) version, The Jefferson Bible.

  19. It is clear to me that the folks pushing legislation that discriminates against LGBTQ people are struggling with their own pornographic minds. They are focused on the sex act itself (and I would bet the focus is on the sex act between folks with male genitalia). They are afraid of the abomination in their own minds.

  20. An excellent column as always but one question…

    “If there was ever any doubt, Falwell’s endorsement makes one thing clear: This pious insistence that religious objectors should be accorded “special rights” to discriminate isn’t theology. It isn’t based upon their (selective and convenient) reading of their bibles.
    It’s bigotry. And our lawmakers should not accommodate it.”

    Shouldn’t isn’t be is? It is their selective and convenient reading of the bible that allows them to spout the hypocrisy and maintain the self righteous attitudes that they want to shove down everyone else’s throats. That allows them to continue with the willful equating of gay with pedophilia and necrophilia and whatever other demonization they can come up with while ignoring both facts and the truth about some of their own.
    Or maybe it should be both is and isn’t….

  21. Carolyn. Interesting.

    Many religions, the specifics of the generalized “theology”, require proselytizing.

    That’s what evangelicals believe that they must do in order to court God’s favor.

    We have all been accosted by many folks trying to sell us something because our buying would be good for them. That’s why linguists invented the symbol called “no” in English. We can say no when we don’t want to buy what’s good for them so we can save the resources involved to buy what’s good for us.

    The problem/solution here is American government was proscribed by our Constitution to be free of religion so it can’t be used by religion to proselytize.

    It’s not good or bad just illegal.

  22. I feel sorry for them mostly, since they live in a region they have to manage autonomously with conversion tables (Bigotts, Magna Carta spellings, ABA memorialized at Runnymeade, London where spielers are safe from our Red Button and “idiot light” dashboards). Here they are with a text fixed by CC trying to pass a language placement test for 2017…For isms, they are not even up to Elginism in protecting their greatest assets in the mounds and moraines up to the present, same Vincennes, same no-saints since 1492…as immigrants still.

  23. Away for three days in a business trip, return and reading our legislators lack of respect for humans and desire to allow guns any and everywhere, makes my stomach ache. As well as my heart.

    Damn it people, be nice.

  24. Sheila– I recall a saying about the First Amendment that I learned early in Law School: “Your freedom to swing your fist ends at my nose”. I suspect that the followers of “Religious Freedom” have forgotten that or possibly never learned it in the first place.
    Andy Emerson

  25. Look up authoritarianism and Robert Altemeyer, psychologist and extensive researcher on authoritarianism. Very instructive. Combine legislatures who are into social dominance (e.g., Indiana) and populations that support right wing authoritarian agendas (which may familiar to you in Indiana), and you have the makings of the ruin of a democracy. Data show that the agendas include weaker constitutional guarantees, punishing and getting pleasure from punishing law breakers, prejudice, hostility toward homosexuals and feminists and fear of a dangerous world. Do a search on this if you want your hair to stand on end.

  26. The Conservative GOP Indiana legislators want to pass a state law the supercedes and obviates any local and municipal ordinances forbidding discrimination with regards to public accomodations in the public sphere… Yes? I wish to know if it would go even further and effectively nullify institutional anti-discrimination policies… Would it over-ride Indiana University’s policy of non-discrimination for example? Could anyone address this issue?

  27. It would be interesting to see if there would be a lurch into the 21st century at the statehouse if Eli Lilly announced that they are moving their labs and scientists to another state – or country – if our Governor and his pals pass anything less than a bill that covers everyone. What if the NCAA let it be known today that they are getting a head start on identifying venues other than Indy to schedule future Final 4’s since it appears Indiana is on the verge of excluding some from fully enjoying our Hoosier Hospitality? It might save us the agony and expense of an extended session if the message is sent before the vote so that no ‘fix’ is needed.

  28. There is a big difference in a Christian loving everyone regardless of their “politics” or sexual preferences, and a Christian who is forced by our government to act in a way that is counter to our religious tenets. Isn’t this why our founding fathers ordered a “separation of church and state” in our constitution? No one should be forced to act against their own religion, especially in their own business.
    How can this be called “religious freedom” when we are being forced to act against our religion for the sake of not ” hurting the feelings” of approximately 3.4% of the whole country? How can our government tell us that we must comply with, and serve, a small group of people that our religion considers to be acting in perversion? There has to be a compromise here.

    In many establishments, there were signs on the front door that state “WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE SERVICE.” It has been legally allowed as a way to let owners choose not to be forced to serve anyone who would make them go against their beliefs. This sounds like a possible solution. Whether it be a bakery or photo business or wedding facility, etc, I am sure they are not the only one in town. So let them have their religious freedom, and just go someplace else. Why would anyone want to do business with someone who would have to be forced to serve them, anyway?

    As far as “gender identification” is concerned, it seems very clear to me… If you are a man who identifies as a female, that is your business. But if your body still has a penis, YOU BELONG IN THE MEN’S RESTROOM! Some say they do not want to go into the men’s restroom because they fear getting beat up by some guy. THAT IS NOTHING COMPARED TO THE BEATING YOU WILL GET IF YOU EXPOSE MY LITTLE GIRL TO YOUR BODY PARTS!

  29. I am so sick of these false Christians….I am a Christian and I have never, ever thought that homosexuality was a sin. Never! God created homosexuals, why would God create a baby that upon its birth carries a sin so great that they are damned forever?! That never made any sense to me, especially if you believe in God and believe God created all of us….I know there are those that still believe gender identity and homosexuality is a choice….It isn’t a choice!!!

    I just moved to Tennessee for better job opportunities….I spoke with a business leader who learned I was from Indiana and he mentioned these awful legislation. He commented what company would want to set up shop in Indiana with the continuous barrage of nastiness against a population…no different than the civil rights movement…legislation doesn’t represent the majority of the population….just shameful.

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