Why The Ongoing RFRA Battle Is About Far More Than Wedding Cakes

SOURCE: ReligionDispatches

Author: Sarah Posner

Emphasis Mine

Now that both Indiana and Arkansas have enacted their Religious Freedom Restorations Acts, with each altered in response to an unprecedented and swift-moving opposition, it’s worth taking a look at what the landscape looks like going forward.

First, laws designed to provide a defense to businesses who refuse to serve LGBT couples, or who refuse to cater or photograph same-sex weddings, are not popular. One poll, from the Public Religion Research Institute, found that just 16% of respondents supported such laws. Jeb Bush, who had initially defended Indiana Governor Mike Pence and the RFRA that caused the vociferous backlash (albeit with little apparent understanding of how RFRAs function in the legal system), later said he would have preferred a “consensus-oriented” approach to a law that would not allow discrimination against LGBT people.

The Indiana fix–adding language that the law couldn’t be used to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation–addressed the major issue that had generated the backlash. But its still legal under Indiana law to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, even though some municipalities in the state bar it. The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said in a statement, “we still don’t believe these nondiscrimination provisions go far enough.”

But there are legitimate concerns beyond how these new RFRAs could be used to treat LGBT people. As the American Civil Liberties Union has said, while the new provision in the Indiana RFRA is a “major improvement, ” the law as now enacted “still poses a risk that it can be used to deny rights to others, including in education, access to health care, and other aspects of people’s lives.” Although the new law’s religious freedom claims and defenses are no longer available to for-profit entities, they still are available to non-profit entities who can invoke its provisions to raise religious objections to providing service.

While Indiana lawmakers supporting the RFRA were, as documented in this well-reported piece in the Indianapolis Star, motivated to provide legal protections to businesses that refuse to provide services to same-sex couples or for same-sex weddings, other comments by lawmakers show their intent was broader. Republican Rep. Bruce Borders suggested anesthesiologists who oppose abortion should not have to anesthetize women undergoing the procedure. The Indianapolis Star reported that “Borders said he believes the Bible’s command to ‘do all things as unto the Lord’ means religious believers need to be protected not just in church, but in their workplaces as well.” If that workplace is a religious non-profit, like a hospital or university, the new language appears to give those entities the right to assert a religious exemption if they object to the services required for a particular patient or person.

In Arkansas, by contrast, the law was changed to ensure that it could only be invoked in cases in which the government is a party, just as in the federal version.

Proponents of these new RFRAs have continually argued that the federal RFRA, enacted in 1993, had widespread and bipartisan support. They frequently ask why those who supported RFRA’s passage in 1993 now protest the new RFRAs go too far.

The answer lies in how the courts have interpreted the federal RFRA. At the time, it looked like a needed fix to protect individuals who, for example, were barred from receiving employment compensation after being fired for smoking peyote, an essential part of a Native American ritual.  In 20 years, though, it has been expanded, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, to confer rights on closely-held corporations seeking to deny their female employees the benefit of no-cost insurance coverage for birth control.

The debate on these laws is far from over. While the focus over the past week has been on their impact on LGBT people, Supreme Court precedent points to a wider reach. The innovation, if you will, of Hobby Lobby was not just allowing a closely-held corporation to invoke religious freedom rights. It was how the Court assessed, in favor of the corporation, the impact of religious freedom claims on third parties generally.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email

 

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Why God’s Intentions Are Irrelevant

Source: Religion Dispatches

By: the most lovely Sarah Posner

N.B.: the following post uses the word ‘god’, whatever that might mean.

Richard Mourdock, Republican Senate candidate in Indianaexplained his opposition to rape exceptions to abortion bans last night: “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Read Irin Carmon’s post at Salon, about how and why this sort of talk is becoming more commonplace in the GOP.

There are reasons beyond the sheer misogyny Carmon documents, though, why these sort of justifications shouldn’t be given any credence in our politics.

We’ve become far too tolerant of religious explanations and religious excuses for public policy decisions. The media says, ah, he’s a man of faith, so we’ll just question the public policy implications of what he’s saying, rather than the theo-excuses he’s making for legal restrictions on half the population’s medical decisionmaking. But really we should be questioning why politicians are given a pass when they undergird their policy positions with God’s will.

Does God intend climate change, and the global catastrophe that will ensue if it’s left unchecked? Does God intend that some hardworking people will make a lot of money, while the slothful will stay poor, and deserve it? Does God say taxes are wrong? Does God say women should be submissive to their husbands? Does God say slavery is sometimes justified? Does God say we should all own guns? Just because some people answer “yes” to these questions doesn’t mean their interpretation of God’s intentions should dictate law and policy.

As I discussed yesterday in my post about the rise of the religiously unaffiliated (and why the culture wars aren’t yet over), the Democrats have become far too tolerant, indeed supportive of, religious talk in politics. Many Democrats will of course condemn Mourdock’s position because of its misogyny and utter absence of empathy (both perfectly justified condemnations). But will Democrats stop invoking religion, too? Once you tolerate religious talk in politics, you have to take all comers, from the biblical literalists to the soft civil religion types. And if you tolerate religious talk in politics, where do you draw the line on what’s an acceptable religious justification for policy, and what is not? (“I don’t think God intends that” isn’t a sufficient response to comments like Mourdock’s.)

Every time a politician invokes a religious justification for a policy position, he or she should be compelled to articulate a non-religious one. That goes, too, for any Republican who wants to weasel out of endorsing Mourdock’s position on rape exceptions; they should have to articulate a non-religious reason why they support other restrictions on abortion.

We now have a wealth of information on the growing religious diversity of Americans, including the growing number of Americans who don’t believe in God, question God’s existence, or believe in God but refuse to belong to an organized religion. It’s starting to look like God is intending that we stop invoking him in political debates.”

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/sarahposner/6544/why_god%27s_intentions_are_irrelevant/

Political Reporters Start Reading Religious Right Books

N.B.: This is why the First Clause of The First Amendment is more important than ever!

 

From RD, by Sarah Posner

“There’s a somewhat refreshing development taking place in political reporting. Not only reporters are noticing that Republican candidates coalesce with religious right leaders, but they are also discovering a crucial truth about the movement: that its followers aren’t just motivated by opposition to abortion and LGBT rights. They are motivated by something more fundamental, a reimagined “truth” about what America is (and isn’t) and how a “biblical worldview” should guide politics and policymaking.

This is a good thing, of course, because as Joanna argued this morning, candidates should be asked tough questions about how their beliefs would impact their governing. Michele Bachmann thinks that God is trying to send a message through earthquakes and hurricanes, and that message is not (in her mind) that Republicans should stop obsessing about energy efficient lightbulbs being “tyranny,” or talking about closing down the Environmental Protection Agency.

Twitter lit up this morning after Jonathan Martin’s piece in Politico (“Is Rick Perry Dumb?”) noted that he was reading Charles Stanley’s book, Turning the Tide. Stanley is pastor of megachurch First Baptist Church of Atlanta and one-time Southern Baptist Convention president whose broadcasts through his In Touch ministry are seen and heard on radio and television across the country. Stanley, although widely known, is not without controversy: after years of marital trouble, his wife divorced him in 2000. Despite longstanding SBC denunciation of divorce, Stanley remained as pastor of his church despite an unwritten SBC prohibition on divorced men serving as pastors (the SBC prohibits ordination of women, but this resolution is not binding on local churches, who can decide otherwise). At the time, a church spokesperson said, “God has positioned Dr. Stanley in a place where his personal pain has validated his ability to minister to all of us.”

The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, whose piece on Michele Bachmann brought dominionism to the forefront of the political conversation (even though reporters who cover the religious right have reported on it for years), started tweeting quotes from Stanley’s book, such as “Pray to help leaders ‘reaffirm our Christian heritage and reestablish Your biblical precepts as the basis of American society and law.'” He also observed, “Can’t remember another campaign bragging that candidate was reading a book that asked people to pray for conversion of all Jews and Muslims.”Perhaps Lizza can’t remember, and perhaps a campaign didn’t explicitly brag about reading a particular book, but considering that conversion of non-believers is a standard evangelical imperative, it shouldn’t be too terribly surprising that an evangelical candidate would brag about reading a book that contained such an exhortation. And as I’ve argued before, creating candidates like Perry (or Bachmann) has been years in the making. Doug Wead, in his 1985 memo to George H.W. Bush, named Stanley as one of the leading religious leaders in America whose support the candidate should cultivate. Stanley, then the president of the SBC, “is said to be ‘intrigued’ by the [Pat] Robertson candidacy but ‘leaning to George Bush.'” Oh, yeah, that guy, Pat Robertson! Remember when he ran for president?Wead continued: Dr. Stanley is the key to building relationships with the seven or eight pastors of the largest SBC churches. Like Stanley, these pastors will probably endorse someone for president. They will influence others through the use of their mailing lists, radio and television programs, and printed materials which get across their message without violating their government awarded 501 c3 status. They will even have voter registration booths in their church lobbies which will be open after a rather pointed sermon, “I don’t want to influence how you vote but . . . .” Let’s not forget how a mere four years ago Mike Huckabee (himself an SBC pastor considered a moderate by some in his denomination!) gave a Christmas sermon at John Hagee‘s church,said that the Constitution should be amended to conform with “God’s standards,” said that allowing “seculars” to govern America would lead to Nazism, rallied a church in New Hampshire to enlist in “God’s army” to be “soldiers for Christ,” appeared to be the anointed one of some religious right godfathers, and drew the wrath of the late Robert Novak, no less, because of his ties to Christian Reconstructionism. Or that John McCain wrapped his arms around Rod Parsley and Hagee, or that even Rudy Giuliani sought and gained Robertson’s blessing. And that was just ’08; it’s all been going on much longer than that.  While GOP candidates’ cultivation of conservative evangelicals is not a surprise, it is a good thing that it’s being discussed more. Perhaps, if nothing else, it will put the lid on the inevitable “is the religious right dead?” piece.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/sarahposner/5028/

Atheists, Muslims More Popular Than Tea Party (Also, Tea Party’s Just a New Name for Racist Christian Right)

From Alternet, by  Sarah Seltzer

“The results of a comprehensive New York Times polling project (document link here) offer some good news to that end. The results show that public opinion is trending away from Tea. They also dispel some big myths about the Tea Party being economic in nature rather than what it actually is: a re-branded, repurposed version of the same old Christian Right. This may seem familiar to AlterNet readers–but still, it’s good to have the numbers and the mainstream attention to highlight such a crucial truth.

Here’s the juiciest nugget from professors David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam in the Times, one which encapsulates the Tea Party’s growing unpopularity with a vivid comparison or two (emphases mine):

Of course, politicians of all stripes are not faring well among the public these days. But in data we have recently collected, the Tea Party ranks lower than any of the 23 other groups we asked about — lower than both Republicans and Democrats. It is even less popular than much maligned groups like “atheists” and “Muslims.” Interestingly, one group that approaches it in unpopularity is the Christian Right.

Alex Seitz-Wald at Think Progress, highlighting the above results, also notes that these unpopularity numbers for the Tea Party have skyrocketed over the past year or so.

The professors, who have conducted a wide-ranging survey of interviews over time, go on to shatter the big canard of the Tea Party’s “creation myth” and image in the mainstream media, pointing to data collected before and after the birth of the “Tea Party” to back up their claims. The results, below:

So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics.

Andrew Sullivan writes about how pivotal this numerical information is: “Now we have some large data sets to review the reality. And the reality is that the Tea Party is the Christianist right-wing of the GOP.” First-person evidence leads to the same place.  Abe Sauer at The Awl draws the exact the same conclusion as Sullivan and the Times data after two years hanging out in a more social sense with the Tea Party, to which he initially felt sympathetic:  “Two years of Tea Party functions later, and I finally know what the Tea Party wants: A Christian nation.”

Again,  “The Tea Party is about small government” is a myth that progressives have emphatically been pointing to as untrue, and the long line of conservative social legislation that’s been passed by states controlled by Tea Party blocs suggests the same.

Adele Stan here at AlterNet and our colleagues like Sarah Posner and others have been hammering home this fact for a long time, but really it’s good to see that the MSM is catching up, and that apparently, so is the majority of the country. This is a message that needs to be repeated until it sinks in. The Tea Party is nothing new. Same problem, new name.

Now, if only this information meant that politicians could ignore this bloc, that the Tea Party didn’t retain its ability to hold our government hostage. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.”

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/rss/1/651861/atheists%2C_muslims_more_popular_than_tea_party_%28also%2C_tea_party%27s_just_a_new_name_for_racist_christian_right%29?akid=7419.123424.qJ7Z66&rd=1&t=18