Archive for April, 2015

A post at Lawyers Guns & Money goes a long way, I think, toward explaining why the recent proposed and passed laws like Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act have received greater backlash than they might have just a few years ago. While the author acknowledges that “liberals” (and others, in my view) may not support religious freedom laws like they did back in the 1990s, he points to the “weaponization” of religious exemption laws as a driver in that shift.

To summarize, previously the primary purpose of religious exemption laws has been “to protect a practice or tradition or community, and little more. These exemptions are political but not in the sense that their exercise is directed toward the larger community in any concrete, meaningful sense. In these cases, the end sought in pursuing the exemption is, more or less, the exemption itself.”

Later, these laws began to be used as “license for religious groups to evade general laws when inconvenient.” An example is an exemption that was sought to modify a church in a Historical District where such modifications were not permitted. In other words, there was no religious issue at play; the church simply wanted to bypass local laws and attempted to do so by invoking a religious exemption.

Now, though, we see religious exemption laws being used as overt political weapons, the quintessential example being the Hobby Lobby case. “Obamacare was to be the subject of a blitzkrieg, to be hit with any and every weapon imaginable, and that’s what the RFRA provided.” The upshot is:

The backlash against the Indiana bill–a bill that, private torts provision aside, isn’t that different from something that once passed the house unanimously and the senate with 97 votes–not to mention even conservative Republicans vetoing similar legislation in Arizona and Arkansas–suggests something very real has changed. The assumption on the right is that it’s liberals who’ve changed; we don’t support religious freedom like we did back in the 90’s. They’re not entirely wrong about that, but it’s an incomplete view about what has changed. Insofar as liberals changed their minds about the proper scope of religious exemptions, they didn’t do so in a vacuum, they changed their mind about it because the context we’re now in—facing an utterly shameless political movement that treats any conceivable political tool as fair game to achieve its political ends—is just simply not the kind of environment that fits well with an expansive approach to religious exemptions. The personal, faith-based nature of religious conviction makes it clearly inappropriate for the state to question the sincerity of the professed belief, even when that insincerity is obvious and barely concealed; which in turn makes exemptions easier to support in an environment where there’s some degree of trust that this process won’t be routinely abused. As noted earlier, which approach to exemptions best serves the interests of justice and freedom depends to a significant degree on the details of the society in question. We may have been something closer to that kind of society suited for expansive religious exemptions in the past, and we may someday be that kind of society at some point in the future, but it’s becoming difficult to deny we’re not such a society now.

I’ve just paraphrased the article and quoted the conclusion. It’s worth reading the whole thing.

In light of the current uproar regarding Indiana’s new law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it’s always perplexing to me when conservatives say that their anti-Gay bigotry (they don’t use the word “bigotry,” but let’s call it what it is) is not a civil rights issue. Um, yes, it is. That’s the entire point. But we’ve heard this all before from conservatives 40, 50, 60 years ago. Back then, the issue wasn’t sexual orientation, but skin color. To make the point, we need look no further than Jerry Falwell, the evangelical Southern Baptist pastor and televangelist who became nationally known as the co-founder and leader of the Moral Majority. Some say he was largely responsible for launching the conservative Christian political movement.

His anti-gay venom is well-known. He once called a church accepting of gays “a vile and Satanic system.” As Max Blumenthal once wrote, “Falwell initially denied his statements, offering Jerry Sloan, an MCC minister and gay rights activist $5,000 to prove that he had made them. When Sloan produced a videotape containing footage of Falwell’s denunciations, the reverend refused to pay. Only after Sloan sued did Falwell cough up the money.” Hmmm. I thought the Ten Commandments had something to say about lying.

Falwell also said, immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.'” Nice chap, that Falwell.

But as Blumethal and others have written, before Falwell turned to Biblically-based attacks on abortion and homosexuals, he used the Bible as the basis for racial bigotry. George Curry summarized Falwell’s segregationist attitudes in a 2007 article entitled Jerry Falwell’s Racist Past:

Like many Southern White ministers, Falwell didn’t sit on the sidelines at the outset of the modern civil rights movement, he joined the opposition.

“Decades before the forces that now make up the Christian right declared their culture war, Falwell was a rabid segregationist who railed against the civil rights movement from the pulpit of the abandoned backwater bottling plant he converted into Thomas Road Baptist Church,” Max Blumenthal writes in an insightful article in The Nation magazine. “This opening episode of Falwell’s life, studiously overlooked by his friends, naively unacknowledged by many of his chroniclers, and puzzlingly and glaringly omitted in the obituaries of the Washington Post and New York Times, is essential to understanding his historical significance in galvanizing the Christian right. Indeed, it was race–not abortion or the attendant suite of so-called ‘values’ issues–that propelled Falwell and his evangelical allies into political activism.”

Four years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education outlawing segregated public schools, Falwell gave a speech titled, “Segregation or Integration.”

His message was unmistakably clear: “If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn the line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.”

The argument that God ordained segregation and White supremacy was advanced by many southern White ministers. We should not forget that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written to his colleagues of the cloth. The letter, written April 16, 1963, said, in part: I have been disappointed with the church…When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt the white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies.

“Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.”

Jerry Falwell was not silent behind his stained-glass windows. He said, “The true Negro does not want integration…he realizes his potential is far better among his own race.”

As usual, Falwell was wrong. Autherine Lucy, a “true Negro” applied to and was accepted as a student at the University of Alabama. Once the university discovered she was an African-American, however, officials said state law prevented her from enrolling. With the legendary Thurgood Marshall as her attorney, she sued and gained admission. When she arrived in February 1956, a mob threw eggs at her and issued death threats. The university expelled her, purportedly for her own safety.

The following year, nine Black students attempted to desegregate the all-White Central High School. Segregationist Gov. Orval Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the Little Rock Nine from attending the school. A federal judge overruled Faubus and ordered the students admitted. When the Black students reported to class, a mob formed and president Dwight Eisenhower dispatched the Army’s elite 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock. The nine students were allowed to attend classes, though they were subject to abuse from White students.

Does that sound like the “true Negro” did not want integration?

But Falwell didn’t stop there.

Claiming that integration “will destroy our race eventually,” Falwell said, “A pastor friend of mine tells me that a couple of opposite race live next door to his church as man and wife.”

Not as an unmarried couple, not as gays or lesbians, but “man and wife.” That was too much for Falwell to stomach.

As late as 1964, Falwell was attacking the 1964 Civil Rights Act as “civil wrongs” legislation. He questioned “the sincerity and intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations.” Falwell charged, “It is very obvious that the Communists, as they do in all parts of the world, are taking advantage of a tense situation in our land, and are exploiting every incident to bring about violence and bloodshed.”

Few written documents from Falwell’s 1950s and ’60s preaching survive today. As Susan Friend Harding writes in The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics, “In an interview in 1984, O. C. Cardwell, a black Civil Rights leader in Lynchburg [Virginia] during the 1950s and 1960s, told me that Falwell was known at the time as a spokesman for ‘race separation.’ It is, however, difficult to document this from written sources inside Falwell’s community. Liberty Archives [at Liberty University, founded by Falwell in 1971], which has dozens of printed sermons by Falwell from the 1970s and 1980s on file, had none, apart from ‘Ministers and Marchers,’ from the 1950s and 1960s. I was told by two members of Falwell’s staff that he had recalled written texts of his 1950s and 1960s sermons to prevent their being used against him. The only three sermons I was able to locate from that earlier period, all of them from 1958, were at the Jones Memorial Library in Lynchburg. One of them, ‘Segregation or Integration, Which?,’ was entirely devoted to defending racial segregation, citing Genesis 9:18-27, Noah’s curse on Ham, as its biblical basis. The other two sermons addressed “Marriage, According to God’s Word,” and Falwell’s ‘Elim Home for Alcoholics.'”

Eventually, defending racial segregation and attacking mixed race marriages because they violated “the Lord’s will” became unacceptable during Falwell’s lifetime. Hence, the sanitized Liberty archive. So he and others turned their attacks to homosexuality, again using the Bible as their source. Different verses, but the same story. Had Falwell lived a little longer, he would have found that even those attacks would become unacceptable by American society at large. Quick: Somebody start expunging the rest of the sermons at the Liberty Archives.