Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Religion Must Never Be Used To Justify Discrimination

The response last week to Indiana's "religious freedom" bill was swift and strong. Public opinion overwhelmingly opposed using religion as justification for discrimination. One of those voices, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, used this opportunity to school the Obama administration on religious freedom!
"I was pleased that President Barack Obama's press spokesman Josh Ernest was not happy either and on behalf of his boss called it an "open ended piece of legislation that could reasonably be used to discriminate against somebody because of who they love." He added that it "flies in the face of the kinds of values that people all over the country strongly support."
This was a strong and welcomed statement from the Obama Administration. I just wish that the president would apply this sentiment to the "religious freedom" provisions maintained by his own administration. Indeed, for the last six years, it has somehow failed to correct the blatant, religiously-motivated hiring discrimination built into the "faith based initiative," which the administration inherited from President George W. Bush."
It is well past time for President Obama to rescind executive orders put into place by George W. Bush that allow for discrimination in hiring.
"Why would any group hiring for an ostensibly "secular" job (even Bush claimed groups could not use funds to proselytize) need to hire on the basis of religion? Surely, cooking, cleaning, bed-making and typing are not done differently based on theological considerations. Should we be comfortable giving taxpayer funds to a group like Worldvision that refuses to hire any non-Trinitarian Christians even in predominantly Muslim or Hindu countries? Is it really acceptable to allow a religious charity in Salt Lake City to bar Jewish applicants? If the answer is "no" then the only argument left is one that boils down to "comfort level." We like to associate and work and eat with people that are "just like us." Sound familiar? This is the same ignominious standard that was used for decades to justify racial bias in services at places of lodging and lunch counters against African Americans and other persons of color. This utterly reprehensible argument in regard to race has now been relegated to the scrapheap of bad ideas."
The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed in 1993 in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Constitution Daily writes:
"Here is the back story: In Employment Division v. Smith (1990), two American Indians who worked as private drug rehab counselors ingested peyote as part of religious ceremonies conducted by the Native American Church, and they were subsequently fired. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the firing, with Justice Antonin Scalia saying that using a religious exemption in conflict of a valid law “would open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.”
"A near unanimous Congress passed RFRA in 1993 and President Bill Clinton signed the law. RFRA said that “governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification” and “the compelling interest test as set forth in prior Federal court rulings is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests.
"The compelling interest test dated back to another Supreme Court decision, Sherbert v. Verner, from 1963. The Sherbert test said that if a person claimed a sincere religious belief, and a government action placed a substantial burden on that belief, the government needed to prove a compelling state interest, and that it pursued that action in the least burdensome way."
In other words, RFRA was intended as a shield, to protect religious liberty -- not as a sword.