Manhattan Declaration

Hobby Lobby And 'Biblical Economics'

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent in the Hobby Lobby case that the Court’s conservative majority had “ventured into a minefield” with its decision. Many of those mines have already been placed by right-wing leaders who claim a religious grounding not only for anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-contraception positions, but also for opposition to collective bargaining, minimum wage laws, progressive taxation and government involvement in the alleviation of poverty.

In Hobby Lobby, the Court found for the first time that for-profit corporations have religious rights just like real people and can therefore make claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that they should be exempt from laws that burden their corporate “exercise” of religion. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was deeply skeptical of Justice Samuel Alito’s assertion that the decision was limited only to the contraception mandate and only for closely held corporations.

“Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage, or according women equal pay for substantially similar work?” she asked. How would the Court justify applying its logic only to religious views about contraception?  “Indeed, approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘risk the Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.’”

Ginsburg’s questions are not merely rhetorical. Conservative Catholic and evangelical leaders who have signed the Manhattan Declaration, including some U.S. bishops, declare themselves willing to engage in civil disobedience – maybe even martyrdom – in order to avoid any participation in abortion or any “anti-life act.” Nor, they declare, “will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.”

Alito’s majority opinion says Hobby Lobby does not extend the right to religion-based discrimination on account of a person’s race, but is conspicuously silent on other kinds of discrimination. That silence raises concerns that business owners could use the Hobby Lobby decision to opt out of a future federal LGBT civil rights law, or the Obama administration’s executive order against anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors.

Indeed, especially in light of Alito’s mention in Hobby Lobby that RFRA applies to the District of Columbia as a federal enclave, such a claim could be brought today to seek an exemption from D.C.’s Human Rights Act that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.  What happens if and when a local bishop instructs Catholic business owners that it would be sinful to treat legally married gay employees the same as other married couples, or an evangelical businessman declares he will not “bend” to DC’s Human Rights Act?

As Zoe Carpenter writes for The Nation,

Business owners now have a new basis for trying to evade anti-discrimination laws and their responsibilities to their employees. Religious liberty is already the rallying cry for conservatives looking for a legal way to discriminate against LGBT Americans; other business owners have tried to use religion to justify opposition to minimum-wage laws and Social Security taxes. Faith groups are already trying to capitalize on the Hobby Lobby decision out of court; on Wednesday, a group of religious leaders asked the Obama administration for an exemption from a forthcoming federal order barring federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

To be clear, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was used as the basis for the Hobby Lobby decision applies only to federal and District of Columbia laws and regulations, including presidential executive orders, not to state laws.

The stories of business owners being told they cannot exempt themselves from anti-discrimination laws have mostly involved questions about state-level civil rights and religious freedom statutes. Earlier this year the US Supreme Court declined to review a New Mexico Supreme Court ruling that a wedding photography business had violated anti-discrimination law when it refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony.

Although Hobby Lobby does not apply directly to state laws, it could influence state courts weighing religious claims by business owners in states with their own versions of RFRA.

The clash between religious conservatives and advocates for LGBT equality has been well publicized. But the minefield Ginsburg refers to extends well beyond traditional “social issues.” Religious Right leaders have been working hard to convince conservative evangelicals that the Tea Party’s anti-government, anti-union, anti-welfare agenda is grounded in the Bible – an effort that started well before the Tea Party arrived on the scene.

David Barton is an influential Republican activist and “historian” who helped write the GOP’s national platform in 2012. Barton’s “Christian nation” approach to history has been denounced by historians and scholars, including some who are themselves evangelical Christians, but it is embraced by conservative politicians who extol a divinely inspired American exceptionalism. Barton teaches that Jesus and the Bible are opposed to progressive taxation, minimum wage laws, collective bargaining, and “socialist union kind of stuff.” 

In addition, “mainstream” Religious Right leaders and conservative politicians are increasingly allied with a group of Pentecostal leaders who promote a “dominionist” theology that says God requires the right kind of Christians to take dominion over every aspect of society, including the business world. Many of them were sponsors of, and participants in, the prayer rally that Texas Gov. Rick Perry used to launch his ill-fated 2012 presidential campaign.

Thanks to previous Supreme Court decisions, alluded to and affirmed by Alito’s majority opinion in Hobby Lobby, the Court has for now seemingly closed the door to companies making a religious challenge to paying Social Security and federal income taxes based on their objection to a particular government program funded with those taxes. But the same might not be true for more targeted taxes and fees, or for laws regulating company behavior or the relationships between companies and their employees.

Opposition to unions has deep roots in Christian Reconstructionism, which has influenced the Religious Right’s ideology and political agenda. An early Christian Coalition Leadership manual, co-authored by Republican operative Ralph Reed in 1990, is a stunning example. A section titled “God’s Delegated Authority in the World” argues that “God established His pattern for work as well as in the family and in the church.” It cites four Bible passages instructing slaves to be obedient to their masters, including this one:

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 

The conclusion to be drawn from these slaves-obey-your-masters passages?

Of course, slavery was abolished in this country many years ago, so we must apply these principles to the way Americans work today, to employees and employers: Christians have a responsibility to submit to the authority of their employers, since they are designated as part of God’s plan for the exercise of authority on the earth by man. 

More recently, Religious Right leaders have cheered on corporate-funded attacks on unions in Wisconsin and Michigan. Does the Hobby Lobby ruling open another front in the right-wing war on workers? It is not uncommon for companies to refuse to cooperate with union organizers or negotiate with a properly organized union. Imagine that a business owner objects to a National Labor Relations Board finding that they have violated the National Labor Relations Act by arguing in federal court that their company’s religious beliefs prohibit them from dealing with unions?

It’s not as far-fetched as it might seem. Since long before the Hobby Lobby case created an open invitation to business owners to raise religious objections to bargaining with unions, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has encouraged workers to raise religious objections to requirements that they join or financially support a union. Here’s an excerpt from their pamphlet, “Union Dues and Religious Do Nots.”

To determine whether your beliefs are religious instead of political or philosophical, ask yourself whether your beliefs are based upon your obligations to God. Do you simply dislike unions or hate this particular union’s politics? Or, does your desire to stand apart from the union arise from your relationship to God? If your beliefs arise from your decision to obey God, they are religious. 

It is possible that conservative courts may not give the same weight to religious claims about anti-gay discrimination or the Bible’s opposition to unions or minimum wage laws as they did to Hobby Lobby’s anti-contraception claims. Those claims were based on the owners’ belief – one that runs counter to medical scientific consensus – that some of the most effective forms of birth control work by causing abortions, and are therefore the moral equivalent of murder.

But as Justice Ginsburg pointed out, it is not clear how courts will differentiate between different types of claims. And it will be easier for claims to meet the new, lower threshold created by the Court in effectively altering the “substantial burden” test.

As Justice Ginsburg pointed out, rather than having to show that a person’s, or corporation’s, practice of religion has been burdened, they simply need to show that a law is “incompatible with” the person’s religious beliefs. Additionally, it seems that a wide array of regulations, conceivably including minimum wage laws, could be threatened by Alito’s reliance on the idea that having the government pay for the cost of implementing a regulation is less restrictive than having the company  bear the cost of a regulation it objects to.   

It is also not clear that the decision will remain “limited” to the 90 percent of American companies that qualify as closely held, which employ more than half of the nation’s workforce. The Court explicitly acknowledged the possibility that publicly traded corporations could raise such claims, but argued that it would be “unlikely.” But in this new world in which corporate religious claims can be made against government regulation, what is to prevent the CEO or board of a publicly traded organization from finding religion with regard to, say, greenhouse gas emissions?

The Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming, promoted by the anti-environmentalist Cornwall Alliance, declares as a matter of faith that earth’s ecosystem is not fragile and that efforts to reduce global warming, like regulating the emission of carbon dioxide, are not only “fruitless” and “harmful” but would discourage economic growth and therefore violate Biblical requirements to protect the poor from harm.

Justice Alito’s opinion rejects Justice Ginsburg’s characterization of the ruling’s “startling breadth.” But it is undeniable that the Court majority has opened the door to owners of for-profit corporations making an array of claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

Justice Ginsburg writes in her dissent, “Little doubt that RFRA claims will proliferate, for the Court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood—combined with its other errors in construing RFRA—invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith.” For today’s right-wing leaders, who claim religious grounding for just about every aspect of their political ideology, there aren’t many forms of regulation that would be off-limits.

Pluralism & Prejudice: Catholic Bishops, Mormons, Evangelicals Unite To Oppose Equality

On Monday, five religious organizations filed an amicus brief urging the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold bans on same-sex couples getting married in Utah and Oklahoma. According to the Associated Press, the brief was written by lawyers for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and was joined by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

The thrust of the brief is to argue that there are sound social policy reasons to oppose marriage equality, and to attack the notion that opposition to gay couples getting married is grounded in anti-gay prejudice, or “animus.” Says the brief, “The accusation is false and offensive.”

“Our faith communities bear no ill will toward same-sex couples, but rather have marriage-affirming religious beliefs that merge with both practical experience and sociological fact to convince us that retaining the husband-wife marriage definition is essential.”

No ill will toward same-sex couples?  Let’s review.

We can start with the Southern Baptists, who have officially declared that “homosexual conduct is always a gross moral and spiritual abomination for any person, whether male or female, under any circumstance, without exception” and that they even oppose businesses extending benefits to domestic partners.  OK, to be fair, that was 1997. The SBC voted in 2003 to “call upon all judges and public officials to resist and oppose the legalization of same-sex unions,” and in 2008 called for constitutional amendment to prevent same-sex couples from getting married anywhere in the U.S.

Richard Land, who was for 25 years the voice of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission until his retirement last fall, has said the Devil takes pleasure in the destructive homosexual lifestyle.  In 2012, Land said, “God is already judging America and will judge her more harshly as we continue to move down this path toward sexual paganization.” A year earlier he accused gay rights activists of “child abuse” for “recruiting” children in elementary school.

Land’s retirement was expected to shift the ERLC’s tone; but the group still opposes ENDA, a proposed federal law to protect LGBT people from discrimination on the job.

Let’s see, who else opposes ENDA, domestic partnerships, civil unions, and marriage equality? That would be the US Conference of Catholic bishops. The bishops have said they oppose “unjust discrimination” against people with same-sex attractions, but they define the term “unjust” in a way that applies only to people who remain celibate. So if you are a gay couple and you are having sex, workplace discrimination against you is justified, as is a refusal to legally recognize your relationship.

A number of prominent U.S. bishops signed, and urged other Catholics to sign, the Manhattan Declaration, which compared liberals to Nazis. It declares conservatives’ positions on marriage to be "inviolable and non-negotiable," and pledges that conservatives will engage in civil disobedience, and may even need to prepare for martyrdom, in order to avoid recognizing legally married same-sex couples.

Let’s not forget Bishop Thomas Paprocki, from Springfield, Illinois, who told Catholics in 2012 that voting for the equality-supporting Democratic Party would put their eternal souls in jeopardy, and who responded to the passage of marriage equality in Illinois by conducting an exorcism.

The Mormon Church was a driving force in opposition to early marriage equality moves in Hawaii and Alaska and was crucial to the success of California’s Prop 8, providing tens of thousands of volunteers and a flood of cash. After a post-Prop-8 backlash from both inside and outside the church, LDS officials seemed to have abandoned the anti-marriage-equality crusade. The church says it supported Salt Lake City ordinances banning discrimination in housing and employment and has supported same-sex couples’ rights regarding “hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights” – sounds good – “so long as those do not infringe of the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.” Hmm.

How about the National Association of Evangelicals?  In 2008, Richard Cizik, the longtime public policy face of the NAE, was forced to resign after he publicly expressed support for civil unions.

Unlike the more progressive Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), the more conservative Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) strongly opposes LGBT equality. In a statement after the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, the church insisted, “Same-sex unions are contrary to God’s will, and gay marriage is, in the eyes of God, no marriage at all… no matter what the courts or legislatures may say.” The conservative Lutherans have backed HJR 6 in Indiana, which is attempting to add a ban on marriage equality to the state constitution.

In January, the LCMS announced it was entering formal discussions with the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Makane Yesus, which cut its longstanding ties with the ELCA last year over sexuality issues. The Ethiopian church was so disturbed by the ELCA’s pro-equality positions that it has declared its members may not share communion with ELCA members.  Ethiopia’s churches and government, with the encouragement of American missionaries, have, in the words of a recent disturbing Newsweek article, “declared war on gay men.”

So, maybe it depends what you mean by “ill will.”

Right Wing Round-Up - 12/13/12

Religious Right Leaders Warn that Contraception Coverage Policy has 'Many Parallels' with Nazi Germany

Sunday on Breakpoint, Chuck Colson hosted fellow Manhattan Declaration co-founders Timothy George and Robert George to discuss the mandate for contraception coverage and the need for “disobedience” to resist the policy. During the interview, Timothy George repeated his claim that the Obama administration is turning the United States into Nazi Germany, comparing the Manhattan Declaration to the Barmen Declaration of German Christians who opposed the Nazi Party and telling Colson that “there are many parallels” today with Nazi Germany. Later in the interview, Colson maintained that while “we’re not going through the horrors the Nazis did,” the “issue is the same” as the German resistors.

George: The Barmen Declaration was a document that came of May of 1934, it was issued by a group of Protestant Christians in Germany just at the beginning of the Third Reich in which they drew a line in the sand and they said to everyone who would listen that Jesus Christ as he is attest in the Holy Scripture is the one Word of God whom we are to hear, whom we are to trust and whom we are to obey in life and in death. It was a way of saying we will not go along with the usurpation of human rights and Christian commitment that Hitler was calling for at that time, and so we felt that something like that needed to be said in our own time. There are many parallels, it’s not exactly analogous, but we want to call people to the kind of faithfulness and fidelity demonstrated in 1934 in that very important and precious document.



Colson: I think, led by the Holy Spirit, these two extraordinary scholars with me and I were simply led along to do this and I think it is a document for our times, there is not an analogy with the Barmen Declaration because we’re not going through the horrors the Nazis did, but the issue is the same.
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