In the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in our country’s history in Orlando this weekend, People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network released the following statement:
“Our hearts are extremely heavy today. Everyone in the YEO Network is thinking of the victims of this horrific attack, their friends and loved ones, and LGBTQ communities in Orlando and across the state and country.
“We also know that out of this heartbreak must come real change. It is not inevitable that weapons of war, like the assault-style rifles used in Orlando, San Bernardino, Aurora, and Newtown, are within easy reach. We can no longer allow pro-gun extremists to set our political agenda; we have to stand up for common-sense gun violence prevention measures. As the president noted on Sunday, to ‘actively do nothing’ in response to this horrific violence is a choice. But it’s not a choice we are willing to make.
“As elected leaders, it is our responsibility to do all we can to serve, represent, and keep safe members of our communities. The fact that this attack was targeted specifically at LGBTQ people is a sobering reminder of the moral imperative to stand up against bigotry in all of its forms. We stand against the hate that divides us, whether its target is the LGBTQ community, the Muslim faith, Black lives, or women’s agency. Today we redouble our resolve to fight for a country where – whether in a bar or at a church or in a workplace – no one has to fear for their life or their safety.”
In the first few months of this year, for the second year in a row, more than 100 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures, many of them promoted under the banner of protecting religious liberty. A new report by People For the American Way Foundation, “Who is Weaponizing Religious Liberty?,” explains that “it takes a right-wing village to turn a cherished American principle into a destructive culture-war weapon.”
The report makes clear that the wave of anti-equality legislation promoted in the name of religious liberty is not an outgrowth of local conflicts but the latest step in a long-term campaign by national Religious Right legal and political groups to resist legal equality for LGBT people. As Americans have come to know and embrace their LGBT family members and friends, harsh anti-gay rhetoric has become less effective, says the report, leading social conservatives to try to reclaim the moral and political high ground by reframing debates over marriage equality and nondiscrimination protections as questions of religious liberty.
These efforts are being promoted by “a network of national Religious Right organizations that oppose legal recognition for the rights of LGBT people,” notes the report, which profiles some of the leading organizations while noting that they “represent the tip of the iceberg of a much larger movement that is trying to eliminate legal access to abortion and roll back legal protections for LGBT people, couples, and families — and trying to do so in the name of religious liberty.”
· Family Research Council and FRC Action
· Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action
· National Organization for Marriage
· Alliance Defending Freedom
· Liberty Counsel
· American Family Association
· Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
· American Principles Project
The report includes links to additional resources on the organizations behind the Right’s use of religious liberty as political strategy for resisting equality.
On Tuesday Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed into law a sweeping bill that allows businesses, individuals, and organizations to cite religious or moral beliefs in order to discriminate. As the ACLU outlines, the new law is likely to have far-reaching implications for LGBT people as well as single mothers, who “could be turned away from social services like homeless shelters, denied medical care, or be fired from their jobs.” The specific beliefs “protected” include the views that marriage is between opposite-sex partners only; that sex should only occur within marriage; and that gender identification is based only on the sex a baby was assigned at birth. People with different religious beliefs on the same issues receive no such special treatment under the law.
Dr. Christopher Cockrell, a Meridian, Mississippi member of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, released the following statement:
“This is a very sad week for our state. People being turned away from shelters or denied medical care simply because of who they are is unjust and discriminatory, and it flies in the face of basic human decency. This is not a law that reflects the values of most Mississippians, including religious leaders, and it may open up a Pandora’s box for more discriminatory bills to come.
“Religious freedom should never be cited as an excuse to harm others. Targeting people who are already vulnerable for state-sanctioned discrimination can only be described as appalling.”
People For the American Way is calling on Republican presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Mike Huckabee and Gov. Bobby Jindal to withdraw from a conference in Iowa next month hosted by a far-right pastor who has defended capital punishment for homosexuality and who has blamed forest fires on women who wear pants.
People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch has documented the long history of extreme anti-gay, anti-women rhetoric from Kevin Swanson, the Colorado activist and pastor who is organizing next month’s “National Religious Liberties Conference” in Des Moines, which event organizers say Cruz, Huckabee and Jindal are scheduled to attend.
“We already knew that the Republican Party opposed LGBT rights and women’s equality, but this is taking things to a new level,” said People For the American Way President Michael Keegan. “We can respectfully disagree on matters of public policy, but someone who supports gay people being put to death should have no place in our public discourse, much less be sharing the stage with a major party’s presidential candidates.”
“If Cruz, Huckabee and Jindal are serious about wanting to hold the nation’s highest office,” Keegan said, “they should back out of this conference and denounce the extremism of its organizer.”
Swanson’s wild extremism includes:
From anti-adoption rules in Russia to laws banning same-sex intimacy in the Caribbean, the right-wing global movement against LGBT rights – especially its U.S. leaders working transnationally – was under the microscope this weekend during a panel at Netroots Nation.
On Friday, People For the American Way Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery moderated a powerful session on the globalization of anti-LGBT activism featuring Urooj Ashad of Advocates for Youth, Gillian Kane of Ipas, Miranda Blue of PFAW’s Right Wing Watch, and Maurice Tomlinson of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
Gillian Kane kicked off the presentations by highlighting that those attacking the rights of LGBT people across the world are also often leading attacks on other rights, including reproductive freedoms. She noted that U.S.-based anti-LGBT activists working transnationally, like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), strategically frame themselves as victims of religious persecution rather than those working to undermine the rights of others. Kane recently published an article on ADF's expansion in Latin America.
Maurice Tomlinson gave a snapshot of the current status of anti-LGBT laws in Jamaica and across the Western hemisphere. He pointed out that Belize and Trinidad & Tobago both ban the entrance of gay people into the country, and that a total of 11 countries in the Western hemisphere still criminalize same-gender intimacy. In Jamaica, Tomlinson noted, “our culture has been perverted” by the exportation of homophobia from the global North for many decades. He also highlighted some of the work happening in Jamaica to fight anti-gay laws, including everything from lawsuits to flashmobs.
Miranda Blue, who authored People For the American Way’s report on Globalizing Homophobia, highlighted the case study of the push for anti-LGBT legislation in Russia, a campaign which she pointed out "hasn’t come out of a vacuum.” She said that Putin is both trying to silence dissent and frame Russia as a bastion of traditional values. Many on the Right in the U.S., she said, have bought into this framing, cheering on the laws and saying that the U.S. should have similar ones. Blue noted that Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage even traveled to Moscow to testify in front of the parliament in support of an anti-gay adoption law.
Urooj Arshad focused on how to do solidarity work with LGBT activists based in the global South and warned against the conflation of the West with LGBT rights. She urged U.S.-based LGBT rights activists to always be in communication with those working and living locally. Arshad, who grew up in Pakistan, noted that in many formerly colonized countries, the criminalization of homosexuality came with colonization, with many of the anti-sodomy laws from that era still on the books.
Peter Montgomery pulled all of the speakers' presentations together by framing the anti-LGBT attacks happening around the world as a unified right-wing movement rather than isolated campaigns. He pointed out the number of laws globally that have been directly supported by right-wing organizations in the U.S., and said that activists here can help support LGBT activists abroad by chipping away at the credibility of U.S. groups that are helping fuel this work internationally.
For more about the exporting of anti-gay activism transnationally, you can read PFAW’s 2014 report on Globalizing Homophobia here.
As the Supreme Court prepares for arguments about the right to marry, PFAW Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin says our country may be “on the verge of a historic breakthrough.”
On Thursday, PFAW hosted a telebriefing for members and supporters on this historic moment in anticipation of oral arguments in the Supreme Court marriage cases (Obergefell v. Hodges) next week. PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker moderated a conversation among affiliate PFAW Foundation Senior Fellows Jamie Raskin and Elliot Mincberg as well as People For supporters who called in to join the discussion.
In the telebriefing, Raskin and Mincberg unpacked some of the questions before the court — not only whether states can prohibit same-sex couples from marrying or refuse to recognize marriages from other states — but also the implications of the various types of reasoning the justices may use to reach their decision.
They also reflected on the remarkable social transformation our country has seen on the rights of LGBT people. Raskin remembered that the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision, which upheld the criminalization of “sodomy,” came out while he was in law school. With the Court’s steady march away from that kind of legal reasoning, he said, “there’s no going back from here.”
Mincberg pointed out that, unfortunately, the backlash has started before the Supreme Court even decides the cases. With “right to discriminate” legislation pending in more than a dozen states and a handful considering “marriage refusal” bills, it’s clear that the far Right is already forging ahead with a nationwide push to undermine the expanding rights of LGBT Americans.
Call participants shared some great questions and opinions, including a retired pediatric doctor who asked why the principles accepted by the medical community to take care of your patients rather than question or judge them have not been accepted by the political community as well.
Listen to the full telebriefing here:
The following is a guest post by Erik Lampmann, a 2011 Young People For (YP4) Fellow. It is cross-posted on the Alliance for Justice blog and the YP4 blog.
Federal courts routinely hand down judgments that affect everyday Americans at an immediate, painful, and personal level – for good or ill.
Consider the case of Seamus Johnston, a transgender student expelled by the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (UPJ) for his use of male restrooms and gym facilities on campus. When he sought redress for his experiences at the hands of UPJ, U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled he had no room to claim discrimination since he was being treated in accordance with his sex as assigned at birth and had not had sex reassignment surgery.
In some ways, Johnson was warranted in thinking he was free to live openly as a transgender man since UPJ offers gender identity and expression protections under its student nondiscrimination statement. Indeed, Johnson had lived openly and without significant difficulty as a man since 2009 — even having taken advantage of men-only exercise courses. Only in 2011 was Johnson first confronted for using a men’s locker room. After issuing Johnson citations, barring him from certain facilities, and eventually arresting him, the university expelled him for his attempt to use the bathroom in which he felt most at peace and which he believed he was permitted to use by university policy. In his appeal for justice, Johnson didn’t ask for much — simply that a university that purports to protect students based on “gender identity and expression” allow him a modicum of relief as a transgender person rather than criminalizing his attempts to live authentically.
Essentially, Judge Gibson acknowledged Johnson’s self-identification as a transgender man, but she didn’t think it really mattered in the context of the Equal Protection Clause or Title IX. Flatly ignoring guidance from the Department of Education encouraging institutions of higher education to recognize transgender and gender non-conforming students’ right to protections under Title IX, Judge Gibson left Johnston, and other transgender students, without protection from sex discrimination. She wrote:
While Plaintiff might identify his gender as male, his birth sex is female … It is this fact … that is fatal to Plaintiff’s sex discrimination claim. Regardless of how gender and gender identity are defined, the law recognizes certain distinctions between male and female on the basis of birth sex. Thus, even though Plaintiff is a transgender male, his sex is female.
In sum, this decision reflects a sobering reality for LGBTQ people, particularly transgender and gender non-conforming individuals: The government — more specifically, a judge — holds the power to determine if the law protects how you define yourself.
This example dramatizes just one way that our courts fail to live up to the promise of the motto “equal justice under law” by protecting the vulnerable among us from exclusion and discrimination. I’ll admit that several years ago the result in this case might have led me to give up on the courts as an avenue for change.
Recent decisions from the Supreme Court and other federal courts have prompted some progressives to view the courts as a once-relevant institution home only to disconnected jurists. When we as progressives write off the courts and treat them as spaces where our communities were never meant to triumph, we concede the power to speak from our lived experience as those affected by the law and to shift the balance of power within the judiciary.
In reality, the legal knowledge of our communities paired with our deeply personal understanding of how the courts’ decisions impact real people gives us a tremendous power to affect the composition of the courts and to create legal precedents that respect rather than ignore our communities’ needs.
Seamus Johnston’s experiences with the justice system are then instructive for progressives building long-term judicial strategies. His loss in the Western District of Pennsylvania is but one battle in a much longer struggle for social justice.
The courts have to matter for LGBTQ Americans and so many others who find themselves on the losing end of cases like Johnston’s. They have to matter because we cannot afford to write off institutions, elected officials, or organizations as permanent friends or enemies. Rather, if we truly believe another world is possible, we have to build it brick by brick, precedent by precedent, judge by judge.
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.
This op-ed by Rev. Timothy McDonald III, , was originally published at The Huffington Post.
Last week, a bill disguised as a "religious liberty" measure that would give a green light to discrimination was passed by the Georgia Senate and will now go to the House.
As a Baptist pastor, I feel called to weigh in on a proposal that is supposedly designed to protect religious rights in my state. I fully support every person's constitutionally-protected right of the free exercise of religion. The right to pray to whatever God you believe in and freely practice your religion is a fundamental one, and one that must be protected.
But I do not support this bill, which is not a true effort to protect First Amendment rights. And the fact that supporters in the state Senate quickly and unexpectedly brought it up in committee when no Democrats were present makes me wonder if even proponents aren't so sure of its merit.
The proposed bill is modeled on a national religious freedom bill that passed in 1993, and supporters claim that it would shield people of all religions from government intrusion. In reality, this is a bill that threatens to allow businesses and individuals to simply flout the laws they don't like. It threatens to turn "religious liberty" law from a shield to guard individual liberties into a sword to bring harm to others.
For example, what happens if medical workers, citing religious beliefs, decide that they won't treat gay or transgender people? If business owners decide that they won't serve Muslims or interracial couples? If landlords decide they won't rent to single women? Beyond anti-discrimination protections, what happens if individuals or business owners claim they are exempt from any number of laws they disagree with? What happens, for example, if employers decide that paying their workers a minimum wage goes against their religious beliefs? Do we want to live in a society where your legal rights depend on the religious beliefs of others in the community?
Basic rights and equality should never yield to discrimination.
Other religious leaders here in Georgia aren't fooled, either. Working with a group of more than 160 clergy across the state, we have been asking our elected officials to abandon this misguided project, urging them not to pass any so-called "religious freedom" legislation that could lead to widespread discrimination. Handing people the "right" to use the mantle of religious liberty to harm others? Not in our name.
It's clear that rather than fixing a problem, as good public policy should, this bill would create problems, and often for those most vulnerable among us.
Even former state attorney general Michael Bowers, who once fought in favor of anti-gay "sodomy" laws, has called the bill "nothing but an excuse to discriminate," saying it is "ill-conceived, unnecessary, mean-spirited, and deserving of a swift death in the General Assembly."
I agree. My faith tells me that I should stand up for the marginalized. That I should speak out against proposals that could deny basic rights to others -- especially when it's being done in the name of religion.
Steve McConkey of the 4 Winds sports ministry, a group that resists moves toward LGBT rights in sports, issued a press release this weekend criticizing Bruce Jenner for “promoting sin” and sending a “very bad message to the kids of America.”
McConkey said that the Olympian-turned-reality-TV-star’s reported transition to a woman “is another indication of where sports is headed” after the International Olympic Committee allowed some transgender people to compete in the games, which he lamented “has directly or indirectly emboldened former and current athletes to proudly defy biblical standards.”
"Kids will have another sports hero who is confused and the saga will be broadcast throughout the world,” McConkey said. “Pray for Bruce Jenner and against television networks for promoting sin."
4 WINDS sports minister Steve McConkey believes this is another indication of where sports is headed after the International Olympic Committee allowed transgenders in the Olympics in 2003. The IOC decision has directly or indirectly emboldened former and current athletes to proudly defy biblical standards.
Thirty-three state high school organizations have already approved transgenders on sports teams. A boy now can compete as a girl and a girl as a boy. Jenner's decision will only increase the confusion as kids look up to athletes as examples. Steve believes Christians will face discrimination if they believe homosexuality is a sin.
Jenner won his decathlon gold medal at the 1976 Olympics with a world-record 8,616 points. He received the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. Jenner was also the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year in 1976.
"An athlete of Bruce Jenner's stature becoming a transgender will send a very bad message to the kids of America," says Steve McConkey. "Kids will have another sports hero who is confused and the saga will be broadcast throughout the world. Pray for Bruce Jenner and against television networks for promoting sin."
The Michigan House of Representatives today passed a bill explicitly designed by its sponsor to allow discrimination against LGBT people. The proposed law, the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would mirror the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) at issue in the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby case, would allow individuals to cite their own religious beliefs to bypass state anti-discrimination laws.
“Religious liberty is a core American value,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way, “but this law isn’t written to defend an individual’s right to practice his or her own religion: it’s designed to legalize discrimination. Even more disturbing is the fact that the sponsor of this law explicitly says that he proposed it in order to weaken anti-discrimination protections for gay people that are under consideration. That’s a gross perversion of what religious liberty actually is.”
In addition to allowing individuals to ignore essential anti-discrimination laws, the law potentially permits individuals to exempt themselves from other laws they disapprove of on the basis of their religion. As a result of the Supreme Court’s misinterpretation of the federal RFRA in Hobby Lobby, and provisions of the bill itself, individuals could effectively claim exemption based on general offense to their religious beliefs without showing a truly substantial burden on their actual exercise of religion. The results could range from pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control, to hotel owners refusing to provide rooms to unmarried couples, to landlords refusing to rent homes to single parents.
“Laws that truly defend religious liberty serve as shields to prevent the government from impinging on our essential First Amendment rights,” said Keegan. “This law is a sword that allows individuals to harm others.”
For more information or to schedule an appointment with an expert on religious liberty issues, contact Layne Amerikaner at 202-467-4999 or firstname.lastname@example.org.