Democracy Tree: RFRA is political wedgie that keeps on giving

DSCN0444-150x150by Amy Kerr Hardin

Last week’s crucible of intra-party warfare sent the Republican Party reeling over the schism between social and fiscal conservatives which, wedgiemuch to the left’s delight, culminated in an epic self-inflicted political wedgie.
The “clarification” amendment to Indiana’s RFRA law isn’t the end-all though — not by a long shot. The vector of religious freedom laws will predictably continue to produce clashes over civil liberties, particularly during the run-up to the U.S. Supreme Court’s much-anticipated decision on same-sex marriage later this year…. and beyond, as 2016 nears.
[NOTE: Michigan State Rep. Gary Glenn (R-98) has filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the American Family Association-Michigan in support of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. His effort will get lost among the thicket of amicus briefs — currently numbered at 130, and counting. Court clerks will likely be the only ones to lay eyes on it.]
In the interim, the battles are both large and small.
War on Discrimination:
During the latest RFRA kerfuffle, there were numerous articles insisting that the Indiana and Arkansas laws were considerably worse than those enacted elsewhere — in fact, some went so far as to claim there’s little comparison between them and other statutes, specifically those modeled after the federal RFRA of 1993. This argument neglects the fact that the federal code has already been pressed into service to obstruct civil rights. Most recently, to deny women basic health care.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) took issue with the apologist approach of some journalists which, albeit inadvertently, gave cover to standing RFRA laws through leaving readers with the impression that the problem was limited to just the two states. The distinction being made was that the Indiana and Arkansas statutes gave corporations the express right to refuse service based on religious beliefs, and further protected them from civil litigation. All true. The Atlantic posited that these new laws were additionally more troubling because their obvious intent was to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals, and the other RFRAs were not crafted with that specific language. True again. But as FFRF points out, that doesn’t mean the standing laws haven’t also been applied with the intent to discriminate.
The muddy reasoning of last week prompted FFRF to take out an ad in the Sunday New York Times pushing back on that line of thinking. They demand the wholesale repeal of the federal RFRA:
While repeal of the federal statute is unlikely any time soon, the FFRF point-of-view should be well taken, and voiced by the political left as conservatives ratchet-up on their self-inflicted wedge issue.
Smaller Skirmishes:
My alma mater, Marian High School, in toney Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, is again in the spot light over their discriminatory LGBT policy position.
A predominately conservative community, they’ve been split over the all-girl Catholic school’s decision to terminate a teacher last fall. School administrators pink-slipped Barb Webb, a respected chemistry teacher, who just happens to be gay, and was expecting a baby. Marian officials never offered a specific reason for her termination, but it is widely believed to be due to her unconventional pregnancy. The Detroit Free Press reported:
“Webb told the Free Press that her termination letter did not give a reason for her dismissal, but previous conversations with administrators pointed to a morality clause allowing firing over public conduct of ‘lifestyle or actions directly contradictory to the Catholic faith.'”
Over the months, supporters rallied around Webb, as pressure on school leadership mounted. The administrative decision to terminate her doesn’t square with the teachings of Pope Francis, who was named 2013 Person of the Year by The Advocate for his inclusive stance on LGBT individuals.
Webb has since delivered her baby, and Marian administrators have agreed to review their policy, though change has yet to become a reality, and no rapprochement appears to be in the works.
Marian’s policy inertia led one Oakland County official last week to offer an amendment to a proposal allowing the school to re-issue bonds to lower their interest rates. Commissioner Dave Woodward, a Democrat from Royal Oak, wanted to tie the school’s policy position on basic civil rights to their ability to issue the bonds. The Oakland Press reports:
The amendment stated that the county would issue the bonds only if the school agreed “to adopt a policy prohibiting discrimination based upon religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, marital status or sexual orientation.”
Republican Caucus chair, Shelley Taub, shot down the amendment and told Woodward to go “talk to the Pope.” Woodward quipped back with a quote from the Pontiff:
“If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”
Amen to that.

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