Michigan House Republicans just passed a religious "license to discriminate" bill, which would allow anyone to refuse service to anyone and claim their "religious beliefs" require them to discriminate.
The Michigan House of Representatives, led by Speaker Jase Bolger (photo, above, left, with Gov. Rick Snyder,) just passed a bill that would allow discrimination to become sanction by the state. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, akin to one that made nationwide headlines in Arizona but was vetoed, appears to merely force the government to step aside if a person's "deeply-held religious beliefs" mandate they act, or not act, in a certain manner.
Supporters of these bills claim they allow people of faith to exercise their religion without government interference, but in reality, they are trojan horses, allowing rampant discrimination under the guise of religious observance.
For example, under the Religious Freedom law, a pharmacist could refuse to fill a doctor's prescription for birth control, or HIV medication. An emergency room physician or EMT could refuse service to a gay person in need of immediate treatment. A school teacher could refuse to mentor the children of a same-sex couple, and a DMV clerk could refuse to give a driver's license to a person who is divorced.
Michigan Speaker Bolger fast-tracked the bill, which passed on partisan lines, 59-50. It now heads to the Michigan Senate, and if successful, to Republican Governor Rick Snyder. It is not known if Gov. Snyder would sign it.
“I support individual liberty and I support religious freedom,” Bolger said today. “I have been horrified as some have claimed that a person’s faith should only be practiced while hiding in their home or in their church.”
MLive reports that Michigan's RFRA is "modeled after a federal version that the Supreme Court has said should not apply to states."
“The idea that we need to ‘restore’ religious freedom — rights that are already enshrined in the U.S. Constitution — is a farce created by conservative lawmakers for the sole purpose of appeasing their far-right donors and the religious-right,” Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said in a statement.
Earlier today a Michigan House committee failed to pass an LGBT non-discrimination bill after a local anti-gay pastor delivered scathing testimony.
"No one from the LGBT community has ever had fire hoses turned on them by the police department, they have never had to drink out of an LGBT water fountain," Stacy Swimp told the committee. "There is no record of LGBT — homosexuals, lesbians being forced to sit at the back of the bus in an LGBT section."
(Washington, D.C., Oct. 14, 2014)—Today the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to officials at East Gurnsey Local Schools in Old Washington, Ohio, and at Buckeye Trail High School in Lore City, Ohio, on behalf of a student who was threatened with punishment when he exercised his right to refrain from participating in the school’s daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
The student, a sophomore who wishes to opt out of the Pledge exercise for religious reasons, was told by his teacher that he was being disrespectful when he attempted to remain seated quietly and non-disruptively at his desk. His teacher also informed him that he would be disciplined if he sat out the Pledge again. The letter states that this is a violation of the student’s constitutional rights.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed the right of students to opt out of the Pledge exercise for any reason,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, in reference to the 1943 case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. “Doing so is a matter of students’ freedom of speech and freedom of consciousness.”
The letter demands that the school district inform teachers and students that students have the right to refrain from participating in the Pledge of Allegiance for any reason and that teachers be instructed that they should not attempt to persuade students to stand for the Pledge if they choose to do otherwise. The letter also demands that teachers be notified that they are not to direct any disciplinary measures at students who opt out of the Pledge.
A copy of the letter can be viewed here.
(Washington, D.C., Oct. 15, 2014)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center applauds the Madison County School Board in Danielsville, Georgia, for deciding to modify a sculpture located at the Madison High School football stadium that prominently displays biblical references and Christian scripture.
“No public school should be promoting the majority religion,” said David Niose, legal director of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “We are pleased that the school board has decided to respect the constitutional separation of church and state and the rights of religious and nonreligious minorities.”
On September 25, the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to the Madison County School Board about the monument on behalf of a concerned citizen. The letter stated that the monument’s prominent inclusion of biblical scripture, combined with the high school’s logo, sent the message that the school district endorses religion, specifically Christianity, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The sculpture, which was highly visible and incorporated into the pre-game activities of the school’s football team, included religious language and Christian biblical references, such as quotations from Romans 8:31 and Philippians 4:13.
Yesterday evening, the school board voted unanimously to remove or cover the biblical references on the sculpture, according to reports. However, not all attendees at the meeting were pleased with the decision. One individual was quoted by reporters as saying, "It seems as if these groups are here as haters...to remove God from [our society], which means they are the antichrist by definition."
Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other non-religious Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
Why aren’t Republicans more afraid? The entire premise of both the government shutdown and the threats to force the government into debt default is that Democrats care more about the consequences of these actions than the Republicans do. Republicans may go on TV and shed crocodile tears about national monuments being shut down, but the act isn’t really fooling the voters: The only way to understand these fights is to understand that the GOP is threatening to destroy the government and the world economy in order to get rid of Obamacare (as well as a panoply of other right wing demands). Just as terrorists use the fact that you care more about the lives of the hostages than they do to get leverage, Republican threats rely on believing they don’t care about the consequences, while Democrats do.
So why aren’t they more afraid? Businessweek, hardly a liberal news organization, said the price of default would be “a financial apocalypse” that would cause a worldwide economic depression. This is the sort of thing that affects everyone. Having a right wing ideology doesn’t magically protect your investments from crashing alongside the rest of the stock market.
The willingness of Republicans to take the debt ceiling and the federal budget hostage in order to try to extract concessions from Democrats is probably the most lasting gift that the Tea Party has granted the country. More reasonable Republican politicians fear being primaried by Tea Party candidates. A handful of wide-eyed fanatics in Congress have hijacked the party. The Tea Party base and the hard right politicians driving this entire thing seem oblivious to the consequences. It’s no wonder, since so many of them—particularly those in leadership—are fundamentalist Christians whose religions
have distorted their worldview until they cannot actually see what they’re doing and what kind of damage it would cause.
The press often talks about the Tea Party like they’re secularist movement that is interested mainly in promoting “fiscal conservatism”, a vague notion that never actually seems to make good on the promise to save taxpayer money. The reality is much different: The Tea Party is actually driven primarily by fundamentalist Christians whose penchant for magical thinking and belief that they’re being guided by divine forces makes it tough for them to see the real world as it is.
It’s not just that the rogue’s gallery of congress people who are pushing the hardest for hostage-taking as a negotiation tactic also happens to be a bench full of Bible thumpers. Pew Research shows that people who align with the Tea Party are more likely to not only agree with the views of religious conservatives, but are likely to cite religious belief as their prime motivation for their political views. White evangelicals are the religious group most likely to approve of the Tea Party. Looking over the data, it becomes evident that the “Tea Party” is just a new name for the same old white fundamentalists who would rather burn this country to the ground than share it with everyone else, and this latest power play from the Republicans is, in essence, a move from that demographic to assert their “right” to control the country, even if their politicians aren’t in power.
It’s no surprise, under the
circumstances, that a movement controlled by fundamentalist Christians would be oblivious to the very real dangers that their actions present. Fundamentalist religion is extremely good at convincing its followers to be more afraid of imaginary threats than real ones, and to engage in downright magical thinking about the possibility that their own choices could work out very badly. When you believe that forcing the government into default in an attempt to derail Obamacare is the Lord’s work, it’s very difficult for you to see that it could have very real, negative effects.
It’s hard for the Christian fundamentalists who run the Republican Party now to worry about the serious economic danger they’re putting the world in, because they are swept up in worrying that President Obama is an agent of the devil and that the world is on the verge of mayhem and apocalypse if they don’t “stop” him somehow, presumably be derailing the Affordable Care Act. Christian conservatives such as Ellis Washington are running around telling each other that the ACA will lead to “the systematic genocide of the weak, minorities, enfeebled, the elderly and political enemies of the God-state.” Twenty percent of Republicans believe Obama is the Antichrist.Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner argued that Obama is using his signature health care legislation to promote “the destruction of the family, Christian culture”, and demanded that Christians “need to engage in peaceful civil disobedience against President Obama’s signature health care law”.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined in, demanding that the Republicans shut down the government rather than let Obamacare go into effect. The excuse was their objection to the requirement that insurance make contraception available without a copayment, saying ending this requirement matters more than “serving their own employees or the neediest Americans.”
The Christian right media has been hammering home the message that Christians should oppose the Affordable Care Act. Pat Necerato of the Christian News Network accused the supporters of the law of committing idolatry and accused people who want health care of being covetous. The Christian Post approvingly reported various Christian leaders, including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, saying things like the health care law is “a profound attack on our liberties” and lamented “Today is the day I will tell my grandchildren about when they ask me what happened to freedom in America.”
Some in the Christian right straight up believe Obamacare portends the end times. Rick Phillips, writing for Christianity.com, hinted that Obamacare might be predicted in Revelations, though he held back from saying that was certain. Others are less cautious. On the right wing fundamentalist email underground, a conspiracy theory has arisen claiming that Obamacare will require all citizens to have a microchip implanted. While it’s completely untrue, many Christians believe that this means the “mark of the beast” predicted in Revelations that portends the return of Christ and the end of the world.
In other words, the Christian right has worked itself into a frenzy of believing that if this health care law is implemented fully, then we are, in fact, facing down either the end of American Christianity itself or quite possibly the end times themselves. In comparison, it’s hard to be too scared by the worldwide financial collapse that they’re promising to unleash if the Democrats don’t just give up their power and let Republicans do what they want. Sure, crashing stock markets, soaring unemployment, and worldwide economic depression sounds bad, but for the Christian right, the alternative is fire and brimstone and God unleashing all sorts of hell on the world.
This is a problem that extends beyond just the immediate manufactured crisis. The Christian right has become the primary vehicle in American politics for minimizing the problems of the real world while inventing imaginary problems as distractions. Witness, for instance, the way that fundamentalist Christianity has been harnessed to promote the notion that climate change isn’t a real problem. Average global temperatures are creeping up, but the majority of Christian conservatives are too worried about the supposed existential threats of abortion and gay rights to care.
Under the circumstances, it’s no surprise that it’s easy for Christian conservatives to worry more about imaginary threats from Obamacare than it is for them to worry about the very real threat to worldwide economic stability if the go along with their harebrained scheme of forcing the government into default. To make it worse, many have convinced themselves that it’s their opponents who are deluded. Take right wing Christian Senator Tom Coburn, who celebrated the possibility of default back in January by saying it would be a “wonderful experiment”. Being able to blow past all the advice of experts just to make stuff up you want to believe isn’t a quality that is unique to fundamentalists, but as these budget negotiations are making clear, they do have a uniquely strong ability to lie to themselves about what is and isn’t a real danger to themselves and to the world.
Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and journalist. She's published two books and blogs regularly at Pandagon, RH Reality Check and Slate's Double X. More Amanda Marcotte.
Dispelling the myth of a ‘Christian nation’
Culture warriors, pseudo-historians and opportunistic politicians have spent the last several decades peddling the myth that America was founded as a “Christian nation.”
The propaganda appears to be working.
A majority of the American people (51%) believes that the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation, according to the State of the First Amendment survey released last month by the First Amendment Center.
Because language about a Christian America has long been a staple of Religious Right rhetoric, it’s not surprising that acceptance of this patently false interpretation of the Constitution is strongest among evangelicals (71%) and conservatives (67%).
But even many non-evangelical Christians (47%) and liberals (33%) appear to believe the fiction of a constitutionally mandated Christian America is historical fact.
Forgive me for being snippy, but read the Constitution.
Nowhere will you find mention of God, Christ or any intention to found a Christian nation.
On the contrary, the only reference to religion in the Constitution – before the addition of the Bill of Rights – comes in Article VI:
“No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
This means that political power in the United States may never be limited to people of one faith – a necessary condition for a “Christian nation” – but must be open to people of all faiths or none.
Barring a religious test for office sparked widespread outrage in 1787, especially in states with religious tests designed to make sure that only Protestants or Christians would ever be allowed to hold elected office.
But in their wisdom, the Framers in Philadelphia knew that the time had come to break from the precedents of history and bar any religious group from ever imposing itself on the nation using the engine of government.
Even this wasn’t good enough for Thomas Jefferson and other founders who wanted to prohibit any and all entanglement of government and religion in the new nation.
In 1791, the opening words of the First Amendment – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” – were added to the Constitution, further ensuring a fully secular state with a guarantee of religious freedom for all.
Of course, some of the founders (not unlike some Americans today) worried that “no establishment” might lead to a breakdown in Christian values in American culture. Alexander Hamilton, for example, contemplated the creation of a “Christian Constitutional Society” to promote Christian virtues and principles among the people.
But in spite of this anxiety, drafters of the Constitution took the radical step of founding the first nation in history with no established religion.
Truth be told, they had little choice.
Religious divisions among the many Protestant sects in 18th century America were deep and abiding. Anglicans, Quakers, Baptists, Congregationalists and many others fought bitterly over what it meant to be “Christian” – although almost all could agree that “Papists” (Roman Catholics) were followers of the anti-Christ.
In other words, religious diversity at America’s founding made a necessity of religious freedom because no one group had the power or the numbers to impose its version of true faith – Christian or otherwise – on all others.
It is worth remembering, however, that principles as much as practical politics inspired many of our founders to define religious freedom as requiring no establishment of religion.
Roger Williams, to cite the earliest and best example, founded the colony of Rhode Island in 1636 out of his conviction that only by erecting a “wall or hedge of separation” between the “garden of the church” and “the wilderness of the world” would it be possible to protect liberty of conscience as required by God.
Religious freedom, Williams argued, is itself a Christian principle.
Any attempt to establish a Christian nation, therefore, always has been and always will be unjust, dangerous and profoundly un-Christian.