This op-ed was originally published at The Huffington Post.
Over the last twenty years, 19 states have passed laws modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was enacted in 1993 with broad bipartisan support. But just this year, almost the same number, 15, have seen such bills introduced, generating enormous controversy across the country, particularly in Indiana where Gov. Mike Pence signed the new state RFRA into law.
Why the huge uptick now? As one of those involved in the original drafting and passage of RFRA in 1993, I think it's a combination of the perceived dangers to the far right from the move towards LGBT marriage equality and the perceived opportunity created just last year by the 5-4 Supreme Court's rewriting of RFRA in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
Even before the Supreme Court agreed to decide the marriage equality issue, the far right has highlighted the supposed dangers to small businesses like bakers and florists who do not want to serve LGBT couples because of religious objections. Under RFRA as passed in 1993, and under the protection from the First Amendment's Free Exercise doctrine that it was meant to restore, RFRA wouldn't have offered much help. First, neither had been applied to non-religious corporations, which had never been thought to have religious freedom rights. Second, it would have been very hard to argue that a neutral law banning discrimination against LGBT people would have created a "substantial burden" on actual religious exercise, which is required to qualify for a RFRA-type exemption. For example, in one case the Supreme Court rejected the claim that requiring federal welfare recipients to submit social security numbers was such a burden even when it conflicted with an applicant's religious beliefs. And even if such a burden were created by obeying an anti-discrimination or other general law, pre-Hobby Lobby law would not have helped a religious claimant: as the Court ruled in rejecting a religious exemption to a requirement that a religious farmer withhold social security taxes, such an exemption would improperly "operate to impose the employer's religious faith on the employees" and others.
But then came Hobby Lobby.
In that case, writing for a bare majority of the Court, Justice Alito ruled that religious objections by a corporation's owners exempted them under RFRA from providing contraceptive coverage through insurance to employees under the Affordable Care Act. As Justice Ginsburg explained in dissent, rather than interpreting RFRA to restore prior case law, the majority interpreted it as going beyond prior Court decisions to maximize benefits to religious claimants. In particular, she explained, the Court effectively re-wrote RFRA so that it could be invoked by for-profit corporations, and so that the original law protecting individuals against a "substantial burden" on the exercise of religion was transformed to allow claims by a business owner that complying with a neutral law offended their religious beliefs in some way. Under the majority's view, Justice Ginsburg suggested, RFRA could be interpreted to "require exemptions" in cases where religious beliefs were used to justify actions that discriminated on the basis of race, gender, and sexual orientation. Pointedly, Justice Alito responded only that "prohibitions on racial discrimination" would be safe from a RFRA exemption claim, but said nothing about gender or LGBT status.
So for far-right activists and legislators concerned about LGBT marriage equality and other rights, Hobby Lobby provided the perfect opportunity: pass state RFRA laws and effectively grant a religious exemption claim from LGBT anti-discrimination laws and local ordinances, based on the Court's re-writing of RFRA's language. Indeed, in communicating with supporters about the Indiana RFRA law, the far-right Family Research Council specifically called it the "Hobby Lobby bill."
Even better, rhetoric directed at outsiders could be cloaked in general language about protecting religious freedom, not attacking LGBT rights. Supporters could even invoke Democratic supporters of RFRA like President Clinton and claim that neither RFRA nor its state counterparts had been interpreted to allow discrimination, as Indiana Gov. Pence has tried to do. These claims ignore the fact that it wasn't until last year that the Supreme Court effectively rewrote the language in RFRA so that it was transformed from a shield for religious liberty into a sword against anti-discrimination protections. And previous supporters like President Clinton have made clear their opposition to this year's state RFRA proposals.
Under pressure, the neutral façade of recent state RFRA proposals has crumbled. When pushed to amend a state RFRA proposal in Georgia to make clear that it could not be used against anti-discrimination ordinances, a Georgia legislator admitted that one of the reasons for the bill was to allow it to be invoked by the small business owner who had religious objections to providing services to an LGBT couple. And when an amendment was added in the Georgia House Judiciary Committee to state that the RFRA bill was not to be used against discrimination laws, the bill was promptly tabled on March 26, with a supporter stating that the amendment would "gut" the bill.
As of now, the fate of RFRA bills in Georgia and elsewhere is uncertain and Gov. Pence has asked the legislature for an amendment to "clarify" that Indiana's RFRA law cannot be used to deny services to anyone. That would be a welcome step - one that flies in the face of the clear intent of some of the bill's backers, which was clearly to enshrine such a "right" for Indiana businesses. Language has been adopted elsewhere to make clear that state RFRAs cannot be used against anti-discrimination bills; such a provision is currently in Texas' RFRA, although there is a proposal to remove it. Before Hobby Lobby, such language might not have been necessary. After Hobby Lobby, it is crucial.
Yesterday, Micah Clark of the American Family Association’s Indiana chapter, who helped craft Indiana’s new “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” and even stood right behind Gov. Mike Pence during the signing ceremony, said that any effort to clarify that the act will not sanction discrimination would “totally destroy” the law.
Clark repeated that message today on “Sandy Rios in the Morning,” where he told guest host Fred Jackson that his state is right now bogged down in “spiritual warfare” over the fate of the law, which Clark falsely claimed was the exact same law as RFRA statutes enacted on the federal level and in other states.
While he helped pass the broad, controversial law that effectively allows businesses to discriminate against certain customers, such as gays and lesbians, Clark said that Religious Right activists like hisemlf are the real victims in the fight.
“The first thing you have to do is pray, because this is a spiritual war,” Clark told listeners. “There is no doubt about that, by the Twitter comments I get, by the email comments and threats from the opposition, some pornographic things that are out there and obscene things being said. This is a campaign of fear and lies and so this is a spiritual war that people must pray about.”
“I said a few years ago, ‘if we won’t stand for marriage, what will we stand for,’ but if we won’t stand for our own religious freedom, what will we stand for as a church?” he added.
Fox News pundit Todd Starnes is joining his network colleagues in linking President Obama to a tourist who took a selfie at the site of an explosion in the East Village.
Because one of the women who took a selfie in the East Village worked as a field organizer for Obama’s 2008 campaign for four months, Starnes wondered during his radio bulletin today if she was simply taking a cue from the president.
“The self-absorbed generation, ladies and gentlemen,” Starnes said. “Maybe she was just emulating the man she helped get elected to the White House. I mean, how can we forget President Obama taking selfies during Nelson Mandela’s funeral — a funeral!”
Of course, the supposedly scandalous Obama selfies occurred at a celebratory memorial service, not during Mandela’s funeral.
End Times broadcaster Rick Wiles is embracing radical conspiracy theories about the Army’s upcoming Jade Helm 15 training exercise, telling listeners of Friday’s edition of “Trunews” that the drill is “the preparation for or the actual implementation of a round-up of patriotic men who have the capcity to influence and inspire the citizenry to resist a coup against the Republic.”
He added that the training could be a “two-month-long Night of the Long Knives.” (Wiles similarly warned last year that the government will unleash the Ebola virus on America “as the cover to round up patriots who resist the takedown of the Republic.”)
“Several years ago, Satan launched his D-Day invasion and the church at large has no idea of the scope and depth of the Satanic, military operation against it, and make no mistake, this is a Satanic military operation against the body of Christ,” Wiles said.
This demonic attack apparently includes Right Wing Watch: “Satan’s people are intimidating Christians, telling us to shut up; well, the Holy Spirt is telling us, ‘speak-up.’ This radio program is monitored daily by the extreme left, the enemies of the Cross, many of you may be indifferent about whether we continue or not but I assure you, the far-left is not indifferent about the future viability of ‘Trunews.’ They want to bring us down. How many other radio programs are they monitoring like they monitor ‘Trunews’? What does that tell you? They consider ‘Trunews’ to be a serious threat.”
Last week, conservative talk show host Michael Savage spoke to Walid Shoebat – who claims amid much skepticism to be a former terrorist – to discuss “Obama's love affair with Islam.” While Shoebat has previously claimed that President Obama’s family is of the radical Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam, he now apparently believes that Obama is a Shiite Muslim, explaining to Savage that Obama is advancing Shiite Islam.
But Savage was on to a bigger story: how the Obama campaign logo was an Islamic subliminal message.
“What is the symbol or campaign logo of the Obama administration?” Savage asked. “What are these Obama bumper stickers? Let’s see, a blue crescent over fallen red and white stripes. What is the crescent? Is that not the symbol of Islam? And the blue stripe over the red stripe represents the states that vote Democratic red over the states that vote Republican blue, and so he now unites them under the banner of Islam.”
Savage may need to take a second look at the logo, but he continued to explain that “Obama wants to promote Shia Islam and see a new Persia arise,” and has a plan to “subordinate the West for the spread of Islam.”
The two went on to claim that Obama’s alleged support for socialism and immigration also comes from Islam. Shoebat alleged that Obama’s socialism “comes right from the heart of Islam itself” and seeks to use immigration to “flood this country and change its demography completely.”
Later in the program, Shoebat said Obama will unite the Islamic world to invade Israel, which will result in “Israel unleashing its hydrogen bombs” on its opponents. Israel, he continued, “will unleash hell on the Islamic powers and the world will see the true power of Israel, and then the whole world will realize that God is in control.”
Long before winning a seat in the Colorado State House, Gordon Klingenschmitt became a right-wing martyr over his claim that he lost his position as a Navy chaplain for saying “Jesus” in his prayers. Klingenschmitt sued, launching the “Save Chaps” and “Pray In Jesus Name” campaigns, and he held up his purported firing as an example of anti-religious, anti-Christian hostility in government.
Klingenschmitt, however, lost his lawsuit, as a judge found that there was never an effort to “limit Dr. Klingenschmitt’s right to engage in any religious practices (including presenting an opening prayer at the event or invoking the name of Jesus in his prayer),” noting that he was appropriately disciplined for breaking well-established military rules which prohibit people from appearing at political events in full military garb.
But like other right-wing activists, Klingenschmitt never let this key detail get in the way of his narrative that he and other conservatives Christians in America are the victims of persecution.
So it is comes as no surprise that Klingesnchmitt is now creating yet another narrative about religious persecution in wake of recent comments he made about the gruesome attack on a pregnant Colorado woman. Klingenschmitt said on his “Pray In Jesus Name” televangelist program that the attack was the “curse of God upon America” for legalizing abortion: “part of that curse for our rebellion against God as a nation is that our pregnant women are ripped open.”
His remarks quickly incited an uproar, which Klingenschmitt hoped would die down after he made a donation to the woman’s recovery fund, regularly boasting about his contribution in media interviews. However, the woman’s family rejected his donation, and Democrats and Republicans alike condemned Klingenschmitt’s statements. He refused to apologize, insisting that he was only being criticized for “quoting the Bible in church” and standing up “against evil.”
He eventually offered an apology, but only after insisting that he was the victim of a media campaign to distort his remarks: “Klingenschmitt's apology in Monday's video comes after 23 minutes of recapping the tragedy and criticizing media reports about him. He accuses reporters of misquoting him and lying, and says the Gazette retracted its story, which is not true.”
Colorado House Republican Leader Brian DelGrosso yesterday decided to remove Klingenschmitt from the Health, Insurance and Environment Committee, although he will remain on another committee dealing with local government as a “kind of disciplinary action.”
The move inspired Klingenschmitt to fall back on his earlier claim that he is facing persecution for just quoting the Bible: “I am literally being punished for quoting unpopular Bible verses in my Sunday church, or interpreting the Old Testament differently than Leader DelGrosso interprets it, during my private ministry outside the Capitol. Is that suddenly a crime?”
House Republican leaders weren’t the only ones to incite the wrath of Klingenschmitt, as he also accused Right Wing Watch of persecuting him by quoting excerpts from his television program verbatim, as part of his long career of portraying himself as a perpetual victim of discriminatory practices that only exist in his own mind.
Drawing on the right-wing conspiracy theory that Democrats encourage non-citizens to illegally cast ballots in U.S. elections, Phyllis Schlalfy told American Family Radio today that President Obama’s executive actions on immigration are part of a larger plot to rig the vote.
The Eagle Forum founder told host Fred Jackson that the “purpose” of “Obama’s amnesty” is to help undocumented immigrants unlawfully vote: “They want to jimmy the next election by making these illegals grateful to the Democrats and able to vote, and that’s just really a change in our system that we don’t approve of. It isn’t fair, it isn’t honest, but once they have a driver’s license and a Social Security number, you can’t stop them from registering to vote.”
While likely presidential candidates chase billionaires they hope will bankroll their campaigns, activists in states across the country are ramping up a very different kind of campaign: grassroots organizing to restore some common sense to the rules governing money in elections. In March alone, we’ve seen significant victories in the movement to get big money out of politics.
Last week, following sustained advocacy by PFAW activists and allies, the New Hampshire Senate unanimously passed a bill in favor of a constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United v. FEC. If it passes in the House, New Hampshire will become the 17th state calling for an amendment. PFAW’s New Hampshire Campaign Coordinator Lindsay Jakows, who has been leading our on-the-ground effort in the state, said the vote shows that “our state senators are listening to, and responding to, the voices of their constituents.” And after passing 67 town resolutions in support of an amendment – including 11 just this month – the voices of New Hampshire constituents on this issue are crystal clear.
On the other side of the country, local leaders in Washington and Montana are also making important strides. Earlier this month, Washington’s state Senate unanimously passed a disclosure bill that would expose the spending of some of the largest political donors. PFAW activists in the state made calls to their senators, urging them to vote for the bill to strengthen transparency in Washington’s politics. And in Montana a disclosure bill that would help shine a light on “dark money” in state elections passed in the state House this weekend following calls from PFAW activists.
All of these victories share the same core ingredient: people power.
The sustained drumbeat of calls and emails from local advocates, which led to important wins in three states just this month, show what’s possible when grassroots leaders organize to take their democracy back from corporations and billionaires.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has been appearing all over the media in the last few days to insist, erroneously, that Indiana’s new “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” is no different from other similarly-named laws in other states and will not effectively legalize discrimination.
According to reports, Pence and others may push for the legislature to clarify that the law does not sanction discriminatory practices.
However, Micah Clark of the American Family Association’s Indiana chapter, who stood right behind Pence, along with several other Religious Right leaders, when he signed the bill into law and has quite a record of anti-gay activism, said today that he opposes any such clarification.
He told AFA President Tim Wildmon today that conservatives should call Pence and other state officials and demand that they oppose any effort to clarify that the law does not legalize discrimination: “That could totally destroy this bill.”(In Georgia, supporters of a similar bill also opposed a push to ensure that the legislation will not permit discrimination in business.)
Wildmon agreed, adding that the Indiana law is necessary to protect anti-gay business owners from “persecution.” The law’s critics, Wildmon claimed, are waging “spiritual warfare” against state officials.
This weekend, Mission America’s Linda Harvey hosted Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute to discuss the Religious Right campaign to have parents keep their children home from school in protest of the Day of Silence, an annual nationwide demonstration against anti-LGBT bullying.
Higgins said that the Day of Silence was really focused on promoting a political agenda rather than protecting LGBT children, labeling anyone who disagrees as “haters.”
Harvey agreed, repeating her claim that LGBT people don’t actually exist: “It goes on and on with the strong-arming, emotional and mental strong-arming, by implying that there are such – again – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. This is not an inborn lifestyle, there is no evidence of homosexuality — or being transgendered [sic], that you were ever born in the wrong sex body.”
Ted Cruz’s father and adviser Rafael Cruz, a prominent right-wing activist in his own right, appeared on “Eagle Forum Live” this weekend with Phyllis Schlalfy, where he called on state leaders to follow Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s lead in flouting federal court decisions which strike down bans on same-sex marriage.
“Something very exciting that has happened is what happened in Alabama with Justice Roy Moore,” Cruz said, hailing a state supreme court ruling which found that “the courts of Alabama do not have to obey the opinion of a federal judge and as a matter of fact, Justice Roy Moore, ordered the civil courts in Alabama not to issue marriage licenses for homosexual couples. And so what they are doing is asserting that the state has supremacy and basically all of these laws were for the state to make those decisions, not the federal court, the federal court is overreaching and it is actually legislating from the bench, contrary to the opinion of the majority of the American people.”
Cruz added that states with marriage equality will begin forcing pastors to marry same-sex couples under penalty of prison, something that has never taken place in any of the dozens of states where same-sex marriage is legal.
“We need to realize that the attack on marriage is more than just an attack on marriage, it actually goes to the heart of religious freedom,” Cruz said. “What is going to come next and this is part of the danger of what may happen out of the Supreme Court in June, is that if marriage of anybody-with-anybody becomes a civil rights issue, then they are going to come to churches and force pastors to violate their religious convictions. And so it is going to come to America to where a pastor is going to be faced with a decision: do you obey a law that is not only unjust but violates your core principles, or do you obey God and face prison?”
“This is the dilemma that America’s pastors are going to be facing if this issue is labeled a civil rights issue. It goes way beyond marriage to actually violate the religious freedom of people of faith,” he continued.
Later in the program, Cruz warned that “we are on the brink of the destruction of this country” and said that President Obama is acting “like an emperor more than a president,” adding: “If we have eight more years of this type of government, this country will be destroyed.”
When a caller, Dan, called in to say that the American people should begin “killing judges” over the fear that “judges will order pastors to marry homosexuals,” Schlafly said that she is “not ready to kill anybody.”
Instead, Schlafly said that people should instead “use all the ways that are available to us in this free system.” Cruz agreed with Schlafly, arguing that elected officials are selected by “a small minority of Americans” and that people who believe in “biblical values” must turn out en masse to the polls.
Lord Christopher Monckton writes in WorldNetDaily today that liberals, in order to be consistent with their support for public health efforts, should run campaigns that highlight “the misery, disease and death that homosexuality – no less than smoking – brings to its unfortunate practitioners” and to people who are “drawn into the homosexual deathstyle.”
He claims that liberals are hypocrites for speaking out about the dangers of smoking and climate change while, at the same time, trying to “promote ‘gay’ ‘marriage.’”
In fact, Monckton goes so far to call for the “immediate, compulsory, permanent isolation of carriers” of HIV.
Life expectancy for gay and bisexual men is eight to 20 years less than for all men. If the same pattern of mortality were to continue, it is estimated that nearly half of gay and bisexual men now aged 20 will not reach their 65th birthday.
Now, we can always hope that the development of anti-retroviral drugs has helped since 18 years ago. However, the life expectancy of a smoker is 10 years shorter than that of a non-smoker, which – even assuming a dramatic improvement in homosexual lifespans since the 1990s – makes promiscuous homosexuality no less dangerous to the health of those who practice it than smoking.
Yet leftists, instead of insisting – as they do with smoking – that public-health campaigns should warn people of the medical dangers of homosexuality, they “celebrate” it and promote “gay” “marriage.”
The facts are clear enough. But the left does not support the facts because the facts do not support the left.
What conclusion should be drawn? It is surely this: Public policy on questions from homosexuality to climate change – where the left is similarly cavalier with the facts (just read any statement from Mr. Obama about the climate) – should be determined on the basis of fact as well as fashion and sentiment.
The Church’s continuous teaching on homosexuality is not some outmoded, fuddy-duddy, far-right, redneck hate-crime. It is born of love for those who might otherwise be drawn into the homosexual deathstyle. It is intended to prevent the misery, disease and death that homosexuality – no less than smoking – brings to its unfortunate practitioners.
Thirty years ago, I pointed out in the American Spectator that in the absence of the usual public-health measure to contain a new and fatal infection – immediate, compulsory, permanent isolation of carriers – millions would die of HIV. I also pointed out that Western sensibilities would not permit the identification and isolation of carriers.
The arbiters of Christianity over at BarbWire today published a column by Timothy Buchanan about the move by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to allow churches in the denomination to perform same-sex weddings.
Buchanan asserted that by having “thrown in the towel and surrendered to the loud and obnoxious voices of militant lesbians and ‘gays,’” the church has embraced “utter lunacy” and inserted “the last nail in its coffin.”
“The moral high ground in this conflict has been surrendered to Satan,” he said, warning that other denominations will now be “pressured into defiling themselves, as well, or suffer persecution for their ‘stubbornness.’”
The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (PCUSA) is now dead. After a long, tedious struggle to remain faithful to the scriptures and great Christian reformers like John Knox, the leadership of the PCUSA denomination (the liberal branch of Presbyterian churches) has thrown in the towel and surrendered to the loud and obnoxious voices of militant lesbians and “gays”. A PCUSA church near you will soon be conducting same-sex “marriages.” The moral high ground in this conflict has been surrendered to Satan.
How did this happen? It occurred as church deaths always do, with a membership that is ignorant of the scriptures. Bring in some spiritually dead anti-Christian heretics. Add a few New Age ideologies that sound “Christianese,” like ending discrimination and embracing the future, sprinkle with the words: love, community, and equality, and shake until blended. There you have it. A deadly cocktail of pharisaic poison. Each ingredient by itself is harmless, but together, they create a deadly toxin that is fatal to dignity, honor, faithfulness and righteousness.
In real numbers, the defection of the PCUSA doesn’t make much of an impact on Christendom. Its membership is at an all-time low with only about 1.8 million members. But the real impact will be felt when other denominations like the United Methodist Church, the Catholic Church, and the Southern Baptist Church are pressured into defiling themselves, as well, or suffer persecution for their “stubbornness.”
PCUSA members have ignorantly rejected Paul’s admonishing question, “What fellowship has light with darkness?” Homosexuality is “very grave sin.” That’s what God calls it, and that’s what it is. For Presbyterians to think that God will applaud them or anyone else who shakes his fist at Him by embracing same-sex marriage, is utter lunacy. This latest action by PCUSA leaders is simply the last nail in its coffin. The death has been a long time coming, and it began when leaders misappropriated for themselves, the authority to supplant the truth of God’s word with the policies of sinful and unredeemed men.
Contrary to the hopes and promises of proponents of same-sex marriage, PCUSA will not expand as a result of this movement, nor should it. (As if church expansion could ever be a compelling reason for faithlessness.) On the contrary, its demise is now locked in.