discrimination

YEO Leads Fight Against ‘Right to Discriminate’ Law in Mississippi

In the wake of the recent uproar about an expansive “right to discriminate” bill that was vetoed in Arizona, on Thursday Mississippi governor Phil Bryant quietly signed similar legislation, the so-called Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, into law.

Mississippi State Senator Derrick Simmons, a member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, has been a vocal opponent of the distressing law. On the floor of the state Senate last week, Sen. Simmons, who is African American, said:

If you have never been discriminated against, you don't know how that feels…. I urge you to vote against this bill because it legalizes discrimination.

On Friday he spoke out again in a powerful op-ed outlining some of the negative repercussions his state may see now that, in Simmons’ words, “the worst outcome has occurred”:

Businesses wishing to discriminate against any person under state law could use “religious exercise” as a defense to justify their actions.

Federal and state laws do not let business owners with religious objections to “mixing the races” refuse service on religious grounds. We do not let business owners with traditional views of sex roles refuse to sell certain products to women or not hire married women for full-time jobs on religious grounds. Yet the way this bill is written could open the doors to many other types of discrimination.

…The Jim Crow laws ended in 1965. I was born 11 years later. I never witnessed those horrible years. I don’t want to see any shadow of the Jim Crow era, but this bill could turn back the clock. Arizona stopped it from happening when Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill in her state. I was praying for the same here; however, Mississippi just doesn't have the will to do what is right. Mississippi is burning again.

The worst outcome has occurred - Governor Bryant has signed the discriminatory bill into law. Yes, we can hope the Mississippi court system will recognize the importance of enforcing protection from discrimination, but we can act locally. We must ask our counties and cities to pass non-discrimination ordinances so our friends of all races, colors, creeds and orientations can find oases from prejudice in the great state of Mississippi.

PFAW

People For the American Way and Allies Tell Congress, "Stand up for Safe Schools"

Today People for the American Way sent a letter to every member of Congress urging their support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA). We are joined by twenty-four other safe schools supporters also sending letters to Congress. Each of us has taken a day to tell the House and Senate that this issue is not forgotten, that quality education means education without discrimination.
PFAW

Mississippi Tries to Redefine Southern Hospitality With Proposed 'Right to Discriminate' Bill

The following is a guest blog from Zane Ballard, a Fellow in affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.

In spite of the nationwide outcry over Arizona’s SB 1062, the “Turn Away the Gays” bill vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer last month, some far-right legislators across the country have continued to claim that gay rights present a threat to their religious freedom. In my state of Mississippi, conservative legislators have pushed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 2681), which is similar to the vetoed Arizona law. When the Mississippi State Senate passed SB 2681 on January 31, some senators said they did not even realize its implications. Mississippi Sen. David Blount, for example, said he “was not aware…of this intention or possible result” when he voted – that is, the result of legalizing discrimination.

The version of the bill passed by the Senate would have allowed businesses to deny service to individuals based upon the belief that “state action or an action by any person based on state action shall not burden a person's right to exercise of religion.” It would have allowed broad, almost unchecked discrimination by any business that claimed its “exercise of religion has been burdened or is likely to be burdened” by serving a customer. This could have included refusal to serve LGBT persons, people of color, or those of non-Christian or no faith, all on the basis of an individual exercising their religion.

Yesterday the discriminatory bill faced a major setback when the House voted to replace most of the text of the bill with language establishing a committee to study the issue. The study committee will be examining the bill closely in search of any possible way that the language could be usable without promoting discrimination.  But according to the Mississippi ACLU, “Senate Bill 2681 remains a looming threat. The results of the study committee that was established by the amendment that passed the House today may go to conference. If the conference committee reaches an agreement, its report must be approved by both houses by April 2nd.”

In the meantime, advocates on the ground in Mississippi will continue to watch closely as the process unfolds. Last week, I joined students from Mississippi State University and Millsaps College, representatives from Equality Mississippi, and other concerned Mississippians on the steps of the state capitol to demonstrate against the bill. Protestors had also planned to be present during a House Judiciary Committee meeting that day, in hopes that they would be duly represented by those they had elected. However, these concerned Mississippians were unable to sit in on the committee meeting, which ended seven minutes before it was even scheduled to even begin. 

Even though the bill has been stalled, the work to keep this discriminatory law off the books continues. The Gulf Coast Lesbian & Gay Community Center in Mississippi has organized an action on the steps of the state capitol for March 26 at 12 pm, to once again draw attention to the bill and to highlight the general lack of protections for LGBT people in our state. In the wake of momentum generated in response to SB 2681, it would not be surprising to see the pro-equality energy of those in the state carrying over into other channels. This could include support for non-discrimination ordinances in cities across Mississippi, or even a statewide piece of legislation preventing discrimination and preserving the real ideal of southern hospitality.
 

PFAW

Why the Defeat of Arizona’s “Right to Discriminate” Bill Matters

Ryan Hurst is the membership services program coordinator for affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.

Last week, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062, a bill that would have made it legal for businesses and employers to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people if it was due to a “deeply held religious belief.” Many Arizonans and national leaders on both sides of the aisle vehemently opposed it, including members of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network.  US Representative Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09) and Arizona State Senate Democratic Leader Anna Tovar spoke out on MSNBC. Tovar also said in a statement:

SB 1062 permits discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. With the express consent of Republicans in this legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation.

Supporters of SB 1062 and legislation like it have argued that it is necessary to protect the “right” of business owners to deny services to LGBT Americans. Why does fighting this flawed assumption matter? Why would LGBT Americans want to patronize a business that is trying to discriminate against them?

It matters because our values define who we are as a people.  Do we want to be an America that permits discrimination because we disagree with someone? An America that legislates away the dignity of a group of our fellow citizens? The desire to have and feel dignity is something that reaches into our very core. It is why African American students refused to get up from lunch counters during the civil rights movement. Though the circumstances behind those heroic acts were different, at least one of the core motivating factors is the same – the desire to have dignity and be valued as a human being.

We as a nation decided to set precedent as a result of the civil rights movement, that we would not allow ourselves to be defined by hate and ignorance, and that discrimination based on race, gender, disability, national origin, and religion would not be tolerated. Why would we hold love to a different standard? Like religion, it is deeply personal and central to who we are, and our freedom regarding that area of our lives is recognized as basic to the very concept of liberty. And we can no more change who we love than change our race, sex, or national origin.

Unfortunately Arizona was not alone in proposing a bill that would allow businesses to deny services to LGBT Americans. In all, 12 states had similar bills simultaneously working their way through their state legislatures. In the fallout from SB 1062, most of these states quietly killed these bills with little fanfare. But a few states like Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota are still considering similar legislation, and Oregon is even considering a ballot initiative.

It is time for us as a country to be bold and unapologetic about our rejection of discrimination. It is important for us to have conversations about why our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and neighbors and friends deserve dignity and equality. We must not be afraid to speak out in opposition to these bills if they are introduced in our state, and we must exercise our right to vote by removing elected officials from office that choose to support legislation that diminishes the dignity of others.
 

PFAW

Bad News for Workers in the Supreme Court's Vance Case

The Corporate Court ignores the realities of the workplace and frustrates the goals of Title VII in narrowing the definition of a supervisor.
PFAW Foundation

Supreme Court to Review Voting Rights Act

A lynchpin of protecting the right to vote may fall before the altar of "states' rights."
PFAW Foundation

The Circuit Court's DOMA Decision and the 2012 Election

Mitt Romney has made clear that his judicial nominees would not protect Americans' rights like the Second Circuit did yesterday.
PFAW

Court Rejects Florida's Efforts to Curtail Early Voting

In an opinion affecting 5 counties, a federal court rules that Florida's curtailed early voting would disproportionately harm African Americans.
PFAW Foundation

The Commerce Clause and American Progress

In the Tea Party, it’s all the rage these days to declare everything unconstitutional – Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, disaster relief, federal civil rights laws, health care reform, basically any law that enables the federal government to take on national-scale problems.

One of the main strategies that the Tea Party has been using to push this extreme and regressive view of the Constitution is pushing aside the Commerce Clause, the clause in the Constitution that gives Congress the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.”

The Commerce Clause, long recognized by courts as the rationale for important progressive economic programs, has come under fire from opponents of health care reform, who are arguing in the courts – with mixed success -- that the clause does not allow the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate.

In a new report, People For the American Way Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin argues that “a powerful case can be made “that the Commerce Clause is “the most important constitutional instrument for social progress in our history.”

Without it, Congress could not have passed the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Clayton and Sherman Anti-Trust Acts, the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s prohibition of race discrimination in hotels, restaurants and other places of public accommodation, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and dozens of other federal statutes protecting the environment and establishing the rights of citizens in the workplace and the marketplace.


Why, then, does the Commerce Clause seem pale and dull next to the Free Speech and Equal Protection Clauses?
Perhaps it is because these provisions clearly declare radiant principles of liberty and equality that translate into easily understood and intuitively attractive protections against arbitrary government power.

Because the Commerce Clause has been a powerful instrument of social reform over the last century, its meaning has periodically provoked deep jurisprudential controversy. This is ironic since the Court routinely and unanimously upheld congressional assertion of a comprehensive federal commerce power before broad democratic purposes entered the picture. The commerce power became the target of virulent attack by corporate conservatives when progressives and labor gained political influence and used this power as the constitutional basis upon which to regulate and improve the character, terms and conditions of the American workplace and marketplace in favor of large numbers of the American people.


Raskin follows the Commerce Clause from its origins at the Constitutional Convention, through the Lochner era, when an activist court “put the Commerce Clause in a straightjacket” to strike down federal worker protection laws and other attempts to regulate interstate commerce, to the late 1930s, when the court returned to a more expansive view of the clause, allowing progressive economic programs and civil rights reforms to flourish, to the Rehnquist Court, which again began to narrow down the scope of Congress’s constitutional regulatory power, to challenges to the Affordable Care Act, which threaten to take us back to the Lochner era.
 

You can read the full report here.

PFAW

Saving the Constitution From the Tea Party

What if our federal government didn’t have the power to provide for emergency disaster relief? To prevent children from being put to work at an early age…without even the protection of a minimum wage? To prohibit discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and public schools? To help struggling states fund public education?

These are the logical ends of the radical, regressive vision of the Constitution that has become popular among the Tea Party -- and that for the first time is enjoying serious consideration in the halls of Congress and in federal court rooms.

The Center For American Progress’s Ian Millhiser released a paper today outlining some of the ways the Tea Party’s selective worship of parts of the Constitution threatens to derail the success of the hard-won protections contained in the whole Constitution. Millhiser brainstorms a list of some of the things that would be unconstitutional under the Tea Party’s Constitution:

  • Social Security and Medicare
  • Medicaid, children's health insurance, and other health care programs
  • All federal education programs
  • All federal antipoverty programs
  • Federal disaster relief
  • Federal food safety inspections and other food safety programs
  • Child labor laws, the minimum wage, overtime, and other labor protections
  • Federal civil rights laws

 

You can add to that the basic definition of citizenship and the concept of separation of church and state. And that doesn’t even include the progressive amendments to the Constitution that Tea Party activists want to roll back, such as the amendment providing for the direct election of U.S. senators.

PFAW examined the Tea Party’s dangerous cherry-picked Constitution in a report last year, Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party’s Really Serving America , which demonstrates that the Tea Party’s supposed allegiance to the Constitution deliberately ignores the text and history of the original document and the progressive amendments that have extended its freedoms to more and more Americans.

Earlier this week, PFAW Foundation, CAP and the Constitutional Accountability Center launched an effort called “Constitutional Progressives,” aimed at protecting and defending the whole Constitution – it’s its text, history and more than 200 years of amendments. You can sign a pledge to support the whole Constitution at constitutionalprogressives.org.

 

PFAW

New York Couple Denied Marriage Rights; PFAW Foundation Helps them Fight Back

When Katie Carmichael and Deirdre DiBiaggio went to their town clerk in Ledyard, New York recently to obtain a marriage license, they were met with an unwelcome surprise. The town clerk, Rose Marie Belforti, refused to grant them a license because she objected to New York’s new law legalizing same-sex marriages. She told Carmichael and DiBiaggio to come back on another day to obtain a license from a subordinate officer.

Marriage equality loses some of its “equality” when same-sex couples are forced to jump through hoops that weren’t there before in order to obtain a marriage license. Carmichael and DiBiaggio contacted People For the American Way Foundation to help them fight back against this clear instance of discrimination. PFAW Foundation recruited the law firm Proskauer Rose, LLP to provide pro bono counsel to the couple, and the firm sent a letter to town officials urging the town clerk to follow the laws of the state or resign her position.

In a town meeting on Monday night, the issue of the clerk’s refusal to do her job was not addressed. In response, PFAW Foundation launched a petition demanding that Belforti to perform her job duties, follow the laws of New York and grant same-sex marriage licenses or resign her post.

You can sign the petition here.
 

PFAW

Fox News’ Misinformation Campaign on Muslims a Rousing Success

The Brookings Institution today released a new extensive poll on American attitudes toward racial and religious diversity in the ten years since 9/11. There are a whole lot of interesting themes in the study, but one thing that stood out was the amazing success of Fox News’ concerted misinformation campaigns on race and religion.

When Brookings asked participants about their views on American Muslims, those who trust Fox News -- along with those who trust public television -- were more likely than those who trust other news sources to “report knowing a lot about the beliefs and practices of Muslims." But Fox News viewers were far more likely than other subgroups or the general public to say “that the values of Islam are at odds with American values” and to agree that “American Muslims want to establish shari’a law in the U.S.”


Those who trust Fox News were also more likely than other groups to agree that “discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.”

Some of this can probably be contributed to self-selection – those who think that Muslims want to establish Sharia law and that white people face greater discrimination than minorities are more likely to want to watch news that affirms their views. But what Fox News does so well is to present its audience with a closed world of right-wing “facts” – on Muslims, on race, on economics – and repeat those "facts" over and over until they seem to be unquestionable truths. It’s no wonder, then, that Fox News viewers were the most likely to report being Islam experts, while having wildly off-base views on American Muslims.

For more on how Fox News and other right-wing media outlets have succeeded in making up and popularizing their own “facts” on American Muslims, check out PFAW’s report The Right Wing Playbook on Anti-Muslim Extremism.
 

PFAW

For Rick Perry, Fighting "Over-Taxation" Is A Testament Of Faith

Cross-posted on Right Wing Watch

Texas Gov. Rick Perry raised eyebrows yesterday when, while campaigning in South Carolina, he likened the struggles of corporations resisting paying their fair share in taxes to the civil rights movement. When told that he was visiting a town where civil rights advocates held a sit-in fifty years ago, Perry mused that the corporate fight against taxes and regulation is an extension of the civil rights movement: “I mean we’ve gone from a country that made great strides in issues of civil rights,” Perry said, “And as we go forward, America needs to be about freedom. It needs to be about freedom from over-taxation, freedom from over-litigation, freedom from over-regulation.”

Immediately, critics rightfully questioned how the fight against “over-taxation” and “over-regulation” could be seen as an outgrowth of a movement that fought for social and economic justice.

But it is important to remember that Perry’s fight for lower taxes and regulations for corporations (on the backs of low-income families) is not just an economic position but also a spiritual issue. Before his Response prayer rally earlier this month, Perry told The 700 Club that he would be praying to end “government’s over-taxed, over-regulated, over-litigated” policies that have “caused roadblocks to economic prosperity.”

In an interview with televangelist James Robison in May, Perry claimed that the current economic crisis was God’s way of ending our “slavery” to government. Like civil rights leaders who used the story of Exodus in their struggle against discrimination, Perry contended that “Pharaoh” exists today in the form of government and “we’ve become slaves to government”:

PFAW

DHS Announcement on Deportations Marks Significant Step Toward Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Work Remains

On August 18, the Department of Homeland Security announced a major shift in its deportation priorities, monumental news and a very encouraging first step toward comprehensive immigration reform in America. DHS will now focus its deportations on only the highest priority cases, primarily those with criminal records or who pose threats to national security.  Low priorities will include veterans, those brought to the US as children, and spouses and families, where the administration’s understanding includes LGBT families. All 300,000 cases currently pending are up for review, as are future cases.

This change in policy is a significant victory for advocates of comprehensive immigration reform, including supporters of the DREAM Act and the Uniting American Families Act, but much more work remains to be done. The change only applies on a case-by-case basis: as José Antonio Vargas, founder of DefineAmerican.com, pointed out on his blog, broad policy change will have to come out of Congress. It seems the Obama administration has done as much as it can while Republicans continue to move the goal-posts on what they deem acceptable, as Rachel Maddow argued last night. Indeed, the Obama Administration has met Republican demands in increasing enforcement: 2009 and 2010 saw a continued increase in the number of people deported, despite a sharp decline in border apprehensions, meaning the Administration is deporting more people even while fewer are trying to get into the country illegally. We must continue to push for change that comprehensively addresses the needs of millions more immigrants not affected by this announcement.

You can read more about the new deportation policy here, and be sure to check out our fact sheets on the DREAM Act and the Uniting American Families Act.

PFAW