Religious Liberty

Donald Trump’s Religious Bigotry Isn’t New, But It’s Still Dangerous

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

A disloyal religionA religion that mandates violenceA religion incompatible with freedomA religion intent on overthrowing the governmentA religion that’s not a religion but a political movement.

Such smears were used for years in American politics to attack Roman Catholics, and Catholic immigrants in particular. In the 19th century, rioters attacked Catholic churches and homes, and an entire political party was created based on the fear of a Catholic plot to undermine America. The Ku Klux Klan reorganized in the early 20th century in part by using anti-Catholicism to recruit members

While John F. Kennedy’s 1960 Houston speech on the separation of church and state and his subsequent election were seen as turning points, religious bigotry never went away in American politics; the targets simply shifted, as the very same attacks once hurled against Catholics are now being used to demonize and marginalize Muslims. 

This year, Donald Trump showed once again that religious bigotry remains an effective and destructive way for politicians to foment hate and win political power.

Muslims were among Trump’s top targets of scorn and ridicule in his successful presidential bid. He falsely claimed that Muslims took to the streets by the thousands to celebrate 9/11; declared that “Islam hates us”; repeated a debunked story about Muslims refusing to report the terrorists behind the San Bernardino attack; proposed banning all Muslims from entering the U.S.; considered a Muslim registry and databasebaselessly alleged that around one out of three Muslims were ready to go to war against the U.S.; and praised a general who he said massacred his Muslim detainees with bullets washed in pigs’ blood. 

Trump’s attacks against America’s Muslim community capitalized on existing anti-Muslim bigotry that has been diligently spread by a network of far-right groups. But he brought those bigoted ideas to a far wider audience, feeding anti-Muslim conspiracy theories directly into the national media. Unsurprisingly, his election has led to a spike in attacks against Muslim-Americans.

On the campaign trail, Trump surrounded himself with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists like Michael Flynn, who is now set to be his national security adviser, and Steve Bannon, whom he has named his top White House strategist.

Flynn, a board member of the anti-Islam group ACT for America, has described Islam as “a cancer” and “a political ideology” that “hides behind this notion of it being a religion.” If Islam isn’t a religion, activists like Flynn believe, then Muslims shouldn’t receive First Amendment protections.

On his Twitter page in August, Flynn posted a video that said “ISIS is practicing Islam to the letter.” He has tweeted that Muslim leaders must “declare their Islamic ideology sick.” “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” he said in one tweet promoting a video that said Islam “wants 80% of humanity Enslaved or EXTERMINATED.” 

Before joining Trump’s team, Bannon ran the ultraconservative website Breitbart, which he boasted was the “platform for the Alt-Right,” a racist and xenophobic movement. Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart was dominated by stories about the purported dangers of Muslims, and promoted the Alt-Right narrative that the West is engaged in a civilizational war with the Islamic world.

This rhetoric, incidentally, plays into the very message that terrorist groups like ISIS are attempting to promote: that their version of Islam is the only true one and that they are engaged in a civilizational battle against the West. Mara Revkin and Ahmad Mhidi noted in Foreign Affairs over the summer that Trump’s rhetoric had the potential to be a valuable recruiting tool for these groups. Both ISIS and Al Qaeda celebrated Trump’s win by claiming that it validated their claim that the U.S. hates Muslims.

Even before his inauguration, Trump’s religious bigotry is wreaking real damage on America, undermining national security and giving the green light to a wave of assaults against Muslim-Americans.

Perhaps Trump can learn from Abraham Lincoln, a man he claims to admire, who called out as hypocrites politicians who claimed to believe in liberty while seeking to exclude Catholics and immigrants from fully taking part in American society.

Judging by his pick of advisers, however, it seems unlikely that President Trump will be that much different than the man we saw on the campaign trail, a man willing to sow divisions and ratchet up bigotry no matter the cost.

PFAW

First Win in a Trump Era: Georgia Rejects Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Following the shocking election results, hate, bigotry, and xenophobia are now on the rise again, and American Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslims, have become some of the first targets. President-elect Trump appears to be seriously considering a registry targeting Muslims in the United States and staffing his administration with anti-Muslim leaders. Last week, Republican state Representative Jason Spencer from Woodbine, GA, proposed legislation that would ban Muslim women from wearing the hijab or niqab (burqa) in public.

Fortunately, progressive leaders and policy makers did not sit idle; they decided to take action against attacks that degrade our American values. Georgia leaders took a stand against hate, including a minister in PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action network, the Reverend Dr. Merchuria Chase-Williams, who drafted a letter speaking out against the proposed bill and a member of YEO Action in the Georgia House, Rep. Keisha Waites, who released a statement against anti-Muslim bigotry.

On Thursday, only one day after Representative Spencer introduced the anti-hijab legislation, the bill was dropped. This victory is crucial because it shows that progressive lawmakers, community leaders, and the American people can stop the normalization of hate and bigotry. This could be considered the first real win in the Trump era, and it is a reminder to progressives from around the country that we must join forces against racism, divisiveness, and policies that undermine the core values of the United States: liberty, freedom of religion, and equal justice under the law.

PFAW has already been active in the fight to combat Islamophobia and will continue to do this work. For the past three months, in a coordinated effort between PFAW’s Young Elected Officials Network Action (YEO Action) and Local Progress, more than 500 elected officials from around the country have signed onto an open letter pledging to fight against hate and anti-Muslim bigotry. As part of this effort, nearly 40 school board and city council resolutions have been passed nationwide to denounce hate and protect American Muslims—an effort that U.S. Representative Keith Ellison has called “essential work” that “will strengthen our country and help protect the Constitutional rights of all Americans and immigrants to practice their faith and live dignified lives in our great country.”
 

PFAW

House GOP Follows Orlando Tragedy with a License to Discriminate

On July 12, the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, an odious anti-LGBT bill that would redefine and hijack the Constitution’s protection of religious liberty.
PFAW

“Hobby Lobby II” Distorts the Principle of Religious Freedom

The following is a guest blog by Rev. Faye London, a member of the VASHTI Women’s Initiative within People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council.

The Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell case – which has now been consolidated with similar cases under the name Zubik v. Burwell – is a continuation of a strategy by the Right to gut the Affordable Care Act since they have been unable to repeal it. All of these cases are framed as "religious freedom" cases, yet trying to limit women’s reproductive freedom is based on a twisted understanding of what the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was meant to address.

Congress passed RFRA more than 20 years ago when the Supreme Court refused to protect native and indigenous individuals from being denied government benefits because of drug tests detecting peyote, a substance that was used in their religious ceremonies. RFRA was passed to protect people from having their free exercise of religion violated by the government.

Like so many others, this law has become a victim of targeted reinterpretation. In 2014, the Hobby Lobby decision made it legal for a corporation to act as an individual with regard to religious freedom. It also redefined religious freedom, so that people and corporations could use RFRA to avoid obeying laws that offend their religious beliefs, but don’t actually limit their free exercise of religion. Several states also considered laws intended to make it legal for any person or business to cite religion in order to ignore laws prohibiting discrimination against same gender loving people. And while that aspect of the debate was all over the news, the threat to women’s health posed by laws like this grew quietly in the background.

The case now at the Supreme Court attacks a vital piece of the puzzle by which ACA protects women's health by requiring health insurance to include contraception coverage without charge. There is an accommodation already in the law that sets an alternative route to coverage for women who work for nonprofit religious organizations that disapprove of contraception. All the organization has to do is fill out a very short and simple form or write a letter stating that as an organization they do not want to provide contraception, and they are relieved from that responsibility and the government takes over, directing the insurance company to pay for the contraception rather than the religious nonprofit. The Little Sisters of the Poor organization and others are saying that signing a one-page form is an "undue burden" on them morally, as it still constitutes participation in opening the way for women to access "sinful" contraceptive care.

This new trend is just another way to strip rights from poor people who depend on these services for survival. It is not about religious freedom. The accommodation is sufficient to protect the Little Sisters' religious freedom. This is about controlling women's bodies (and particularly poor women's bodies, since women of means can afford to pay out of pocket), in order to make space for those who would relieve themselves of any responsibility for ethical treatment of their employees or the public.

PFAW Foundation

Time to End a Bush-Era Error on RFRA

130 groups urge Pres. Obama to revisit a Bush Administration memo allowing religious discrimination with federal grant funds.
PFAW

Hobby Lobby: One Year Later

This post is written by YP4 intern Christina Tudor.

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) recently released a report listing all the ways in which the year old Hobby Lobby decision has opened the door to allowing religious exemptions for all sorts of things. NWLC’s report “The Hobby Lobby ‘Minefield’: The Harm, Misuse, and Expansion of the Supreme Court Decision,” highlights how the decision has set the stage for perpetuating discrimination beyond limiting access to birth control and placing restrictions on coverage.

The distortion of “religious liberty” and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that informed the Hobby Lobby case has led to a paramedic student claiming his religious beliefs should exempt him from vaccination requirements and some religious groups refusing to provide health care services to sexually-abused refugees. It’s even been used as a defense to try to avoid criminal prosecution for a violent kidnapping.

One Supreme Court decision can do all that damage?

Seriously?

Unfortunately, yes.

As Justice Ginsburg warned in her dissent, “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

It turns out that she was very right.

According to NWLC’s report, in the last year, there have been “attempts to use RFRA to challenge laws that: protect women, LGBTQ individuals, and students from discrimination; protect employees by allowing them to unionize; promote public health by requiring vaccinations; and require pharmacies to fill lawful prescriptions.”

Distorting the true meaning of religious liberty, the Supreme Court ruled that employers and businesses can use RFRA to justify their incompliance with the ACA. In other words, this decision gives bosses the freedom and the power to discriminate against their employees, and this disproportionately impacts women and their families.

The Hobby Lobby ruling has an even greater impact on working class women and their access to affordable, readily available birth control and health care services that they are entitled to and need. Lack of birth control access can also greatly increase economic instability, therefore further increasing inequality.

Equally troubling are objections to D.C. anti-discrimination laws by The Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Alliance Defending Freedom, USCCB and eleven other organizations based upon the distortion of religious liberty.

Clearly Hobby Lobby will continue to have a serious impact on men and women across the country, especially women of color and low-income women, as more individuals and companies try to deny basic rights under the mantle of “religious accommodations.” 

PFAW Foundation

Why The Right's Response To Marriage Equality Is Anything But Principled

This post by PFAW and PFAW Foundation Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon was originally published in the Huffington Post. 

Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and other conservative leaders have recently lashed out against the Supreme Court's decision on marriage equality by proclaiming that local clerks who don't personally agree with marriage equality should not be required to issue marriage licenses or perform weddings for same-sex couples - even though it's their job to provide that service to the public.

Their logic is fundamentally flawed. Civil marriage is a civil function, not a religious one. Government employees allowing someone to access their legal rights are not doing anything religious, nor are they condoning the actions being licensed any more than with any other type of license.

That's why when government employees in our country have had religious objections to divorce and remarriage, they have still had to do their jobs. And when government employees have had religious objections to interracial marriages, they have still had to do their jobs. So, too, have government officials with other religious objections to whether or how certain couples get married.

But when the particular religious belief in question is opposition to lesbians and gays, that's apparently a different matter altogether. Now, suddenly, we're told that government employees need to have their religious liberty "protected."

A principle of religious liberty that is invoked only in the context of one particular religious belief is no principle at all. It is a pretext.

The far-right movement that is coalescing around these "protections" allowing civil servants to impose their religious beliefs on others and deny them service does not have clean hands in this regard. While they proclaim loudly that they just want to "live and let live," the policies they have pursued vigorously for decades have aggressively sought to prevent LGBT people from having basic human rights. The Right's new clamor for "protections" is just another form of homophobia.

If the religious right simply wanted to "live and let live," they would not have spent these past decades seeking to impose their religious beliefs about homosexuality on others both through custom and through force of law. They would not have boycotted television networks for airing shows portraying LGBT people as ordinary people. Nor would they have screamed bloody murder when popular celebrities came out of the closet. They would not have fought to prevent us from raising children. They would not have battled to ensure that surviving members of couples be denied Social Security survivor benefits. They would not have opposed letting us serve our country in the intelligence services or in the military. They would not have put so much energy into convincing Americans that we are sexual predators going after their children. They would not have tried to bar us from teaching in public schools. They would not have threatened us with criminal prosecution just for our private, consensual sexual conduct.

Whether it's religious refusals specific to marriage, more general Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in a post-Hobby Lobby world, or Sen. Mike Lee's misleadingly named "First Amendment Defense Act," the Right is yet again attacking LGBT people. With a growing number of Americans - and now the Supreme Court - affirming that the right to marry is a right guaranteed to all regardless of sexual orientation, some on the Right have come to understand that their best tactic to fight marriage equality is to couch their homophobic goals with the language of "religious liberty" instead of explicitly speaking out against LGBT rights. But it's up to all of us to make sure that they do not succeed in these efforts to portray themselves as virtuous defenders of religious liberty, because in reality they're just waging another war against LGBT people.
 

PFAW

Activists Join Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton to Protest Bogus ‘Religious Liberty’ Objections to DC Anti-Discrimination Law

The right-wing tactic of pushing discriminatory policies under the guise of religious freedom is nothing new -- we’ve already seen it used to hurt LGBT people in North Carolina, Louisiana, and elsewhere across the country. But now Republican lawmakers are going a step further, by attacking anti-discrimination legislation meant to protect Americans who aren't even represented in Congress.

The legislation is Washington, DC’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA), which would protect workers from being fired or punished by their employers for things like using birth control, getting pregnant without being married, or having an abortion. DC’s City Council recently passed RHNDA, and now Congress is using its (fundamentally undemocratic) authority to reverse DC’s local laws to repeal it on the grounds that it violates the religious freedom of employers. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved a rider that would block DC from using local funds to enforce RHNDA.

Today, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) held a press conference in DC, where she denounced these congressional attacks and praised the DC employers who have vowed to embrace RHNDA’s protections anyway.

“Republicans do not understand how united this city is against discrimination, and they do not need to; they just need to let the District be the District... Our Republican opponents claim that the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act will allow pro-choice employees of anti-choice organizations to espouse their own personal pro-choice beliefs.  That falsehood must be met with the truth that employees must carry out the mission of their employer.”

Nearly 33,000 people have already signed PFAW’s petition telling Congress not to meddle with DC’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act.

PFAW

North Carolina Pastor Speaks Out About Discriminatory 'Religious Freedom' Marriage Law

In response to a bill authorizing public officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages becoming law in North Carolina this morning, Dr. Terence K. Leathers – a pastor at Mt. Vernon Christian Church in Clayton, North Carolina and a member of People For the American Way's African American Ministers In Action – released the following statement:

“Shame on our legislature for making this harmful and unnecessary bill become law. As a pastor, I believe this is not only a blow for the dignity of all North Carolinians but also a blow for true religious liberty.

“Governor McCrory did the right thing when he vetoed this bill, and the fact that our legislature overrode it shows just how far they will go in misusing the principle of religious liberty in order to discriminate. This is a sad day for our state.”

Last week, Dr. Leathers published an op-ed in The Huffington Post calling on the legislature not to misuse religious freedom to license public officials to discriminate.

PFAW

Rebuffed by Republican Legislators, Bobby Jindal Issues Executive Order on 'Religious Liberty'

In a Republican presidential field crowded with far-right candidates, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is trying to distinguish himself as the far-rightest candidate, especially on issues relating to marriage equality and its supposed threat to the religious freedom of conservative Christians.

Jindal’s latest came at the end of the day on Tuesday. Unwilling to accept the legislature’s failure to pass a so-called “religious liberty” bill (it was voted down 10-2 in a House committee), Jindal issued an executive order designed to protect any person who “acts in accordance with a religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.” The order explicitly defines “person” to include for-profit corporations and well as nonprofit organizations.

Jindal has adopted the rhetorical strategy promoted by the National Organization for Marriage and other opponents of LGTB equality: try to turn conversation about anti-gay discrimination “on its head” by declaring that laws protecting gay people are actually a form of discrimination against Christians. His statement about the executive order said it was designed to “prevent the state from discriminating against persons or entities with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

Jindal’s order invokes the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby, making it the latest sign that the decision – which granted corporations a right to claim legal exemptions based on the religious beliefs of company owners -- poses a threat to nondiscrimination measures and potentially a wide range of laws protecting the interests of workers. Jindal declared that his order is “not about discrimination,” even though its clear intent is to give legal cover to companies, government officials, and others who discriminate against same-sex couples.

Louisiana does not currently give legal recognition to same-sex couples, but Jindal is concerned that the state’s ban on marriage equality may soon be struck down by the Supreme Court, a potential ruling which his order seems to be a legally questionable effort to pre-empt. Jindal should be asked to clarify exactly what actions his legislation is designed to “protect”: a courthouse clerk who refuses to process marriage license paperwork? Religious schools getting tax dollars under Jindal’s education policy refusing to accept children of gay parents? Catholic hospitals refusing to recognize the spousal or parental rights of gay couples during medical emergencies?   

Jindal’s “religious liberty” bill had been opposed by business and tourism leaders as well as civil rights groups. The New Orleans Times Picayune reports that the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Stephen Perry had called the bill “a radioactive, poisonous message.”

But Jindal’s primary audience is no longer his Louisiana constituents; it's right-wing activists nationwide. Jindal boasted about the executive order by stopping by the radio program hosted by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, an anti-gay activist who once suggested that LGBT non-discrimination measures would lead to the Holocaust perpetrated against Christians.

Right-wing pundit and Iowa GOP activist Steve Deace reacted rapturously, proclaiming Jindal his “winner of the week” for standing up to “Republicrats.”

Jindal immediately stepped in and ordered that while he’s governor the state government is not going to be a tool of the Cultural Marxists’ Rainbow Jihad against religion — particularly Christianity….

This action by Jindal is an example of what will be required of the next president if he’s going to truly honor his oath of office to defend our Constitution against all enemies — “both foreign and domestic.”

Let’s face it, the vast majority of alleged conservatives won’t stand up to the Democrats. And almost none of them will stand up to the Republicrats. On perhaps the most important issue of them all — the First Amendment that allows us the freedom to peacefully and publicly stand on principle for everything else — Jindal has done both.

But he didn’t just stand up to them rhetorically, he actually did something about it. There are several potentially exciting presidential candidates this cycle. There’s even a couple that like Jindal have shown they will tell the Republicrats bleeding us dry to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.

PFAW

Arkansas Governor Does Only a Partial Retreat on RFRA

Gov. Hutchinson's call for a RFRA bill paralleling the federal one still leaves the door open to discrimination, thanks to the Hobby Lobby ruling.
PFAW

Gov. Pence's Claims Ignore Indiana "Religious Freedom" Law's History

Indiana's Mike Pence is less than convincing in his claims about that state's new RFRA law.
PFAW

Alabama's Shame Grows with Bill to Make It Harder for Gays to Marry

No one should be fooled for a moment that this has anything to do with religious liberty.
PFAW

Unpacking Hobby Lobby & Other SCOTUS Decisions: PFAW Member Telebriefing

Yesterday, People For the American Way members participated in a special telebriefing to discuss the Supreme Court term that wrapped up this Monday and to unpack some of the critical decisions handed down by the Court this year. The call, which was kicked off by PFAW President Michael Keegan and moderated by Director of Communications Drew Courtney, featured Senior Fellows Jamie Raskin and Elliot Mincberg, as well as Executive Vice President Marge Baker.

Discussing Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Raskin explained the case and the damaging implications of the 5-4 decision. Highlighting the “extreme and extravagant” claim made by Hobby Lobby that its religious rights were violated, Raskin described the court’s decision that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act covers “closely held” corporations and noted that this creates a “dangerous expansion of corporate personhood.” Raskin described how this exemplifies the Court in the Citizens United era, where the far right Justices regularly find ways to rule so they can enhance the power of corporations.

Mincberg also provided background on RFRA and explained how the law was distorted and expanded in this decision far beyond what anyone had in mind when it passed by an enormous bipartisan majority 20 years ago.

Members wanted to know what actions can be taken to help address the imbalance in the Court and the troubling decisions made by the Roberts’ Court in the last few years. Baker addressed the issue of rebalancing the Court, emphasizing the importance of presidential elections on the Court’s make-up.

The telebriefing also covered the recent decisions in McCullen v. Coakley, NLRB v. Noel Canning, and Harris v. Quinn, underscoring the Court’s decisive move to the right.

Listen to the full audio of the telebriefing for more information.

 

PFAW