100 Faith Leaders To Obama: Religious Liberty Shouldn’t Be Used To Discriminate Against LGBT People
A group of more than 100 religious clergy, theologians, and faith leaders sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday urging him not to include religious exemptions in a forthcoming executive order prohibiting federal contractors from using hiring polices that discriminate against LGBT people.
Soon after President Obama announced in June his intention to issue an executive order protecting the rights of LGBT Americans who work for federal contractors, some religious organizations began pressuring the administration to include an exemption for faith groups with government contracts. They argued that because some faith traditions have yet to fully embrace LGBT equality, they should be able to opt out of the executive order while still using federal funds. But the 100 religious signers of Tuesday’s letter rebuked this position, insisting that the government is called to a higher standard of inclusiveness — especially when taxpayer money is involved.
“As faith and civic leaders dedicated to affirming the sacred dignity and equal worth of every person, we are grateful for your upcoming executive order ending discrimination against LGBT people in hiring by federal contractors,” the letter read. “We urge you not to include a religious exemption in the executive order. In keeping with the principle that our government must adhere to the highest standards of ethics and fairness in its own operations, we believe that public dollars should not be used to sanction discrimination.”
“Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.”
The letter’s signers included several prominent Christian voices and clergy such as the Very Rev. Gary Hall, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, Bishop Melvin Talbert of the United Methodist Church, and Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Organizers of the letter also noted that among the signers were four former members of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and five members of a presidential taskforce to reform the office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
“It is not right for any person or any corporation to use their religious beliefs, no matter how sincerely held, to trample the rights and beliefs of others,” Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church and a signer of the letter, said in a press release. “Nothing could be more contrary to the Golden Rule, articulated in every world religion.”
The letter also listed the names of many non-Christian leaders who oppose an exemption, such as Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and Imam Daayiee Abdullah of the Light of Reform Mosque in Washington, D.C.
The move is a counterpoint to several other letters penned by faith leaders who favor a religious exemption. On June 25, a group of 140 conservative religious leaders asked the president to include an exemption to assist groups who “simply desire to utilize staffing practices consistent with their deep religious convictions.” The following Tuesday — the day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that closely held for profit corporations could ignore the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate on religious grounds — another group of 14 Christian leaders relatively close to the administration sent a letter to the White House favoring a way for faith groups to ignore the executive order. Then, last Thursday, Buzzfeed reported the existence of a private letter to the president penned by Jim Wallis, head of Christian activist group Sojourners, that was circulated among many prominent clergy and also endorsed an exemption.
Despite these efforts, progressive people of faith remain firmly opposed to a religious exemption. An online petition blasting the proposed exemption posted last week by Faithful America, a progressive Christian online advocacy group, has already garnered more than 30,000 signatures by people of faith. Many prominent religious voices — including several that signed today’s letter — have also publicly opposed any religious exemption that would allow for the discrimination of LGBT people. In addition, a February 2014 poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that solid majorities of both political parties and every major religious group support workplace nondiscrimination laws for gay and lesbian people.
And while many religious and secular groups endorsed similar religious exemptions written into the Employee Nondiscrimination Act, LGBT groups such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund are now opposing those as well. This mirrors the increasingly pro-LGBT perspective of the general public: a June poll conducted by the First Amendment Center found that a majority of Americans do not see an inherent conflict between recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples and “religious freedom.”
Mississippi Business Owners Protest State’s Anti-Gay Law
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — In conservative Mississippi, some business owners who support equal treatment for gays and lesbians are pushing back against a new law that bans government from limiting the free practice of religion.
Critics fear the vaguely written law, which takes effect July 1, will prompt authorities to look away from anti-gay actions that are carried out in the name of religious beliefs — for example, photographers refusing to take pictures for same-sex couples because they believe homosexuality is a sin.
Hundreds of businesses, from hair salons to bakeries and art galleries, have started displaying round blue window stickers that declare: “We don’t discriminate. If you’re buying, we’re selling.”
The sticker campaign started this month in response to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant’s signing the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The law says government cannot put a substantial burden on religious practices, without a compelling reason. While it does not specifically mention gays or lesbians, “People are going to take it as permission, if you will, to discriminate against people they don’t necessarily agree with or like,” said Jackson hair salon owner Eddie Outlaw, 42, who went out of state to marry his husband.
“We have a long and well-documented history of discrimination in this state,” Outlaw said. “To think there won’t be any discrimination is laughable.”
Outlaw is among the leaders of the “We don’t discriminate” campaign, and he displays one of the stickers in the window of his salon in Jackson’s eclectic Fondren neighborhood. Organizers say the first 500 decals were distributed in about two weeks to businesses from the Tennessee state line in the north down to the Gulf Coast. Another 1,000 stickers were on order.
Bryant won praise from national conservative groups, including the Family Research Council, by signing the legislation that was backed by the state’s Pentecostals and Southern Baptists. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who traveled from Washington to Jackson for a private bill signing ceremony April 3, is among Bryant’s backers.
“Those who understand the importance and cherish the historic understanding of religious freedom are grateful for leaders who respond to fact and not fictitious claims of those who are trying to quarantine faith within the walls of our churches or homes,” he said.
Bryant said the Mississippi act mirrors a federal law President Bill Clinton signed in 1993 and that 18 other states have enacted since the mid-1990s. The governor also said he does not believe Mississippi’s law, which also adds “In God We Trust” to the state seal, will lead to anti-gay discrimination.
“I would hope that people will realize that the law has no element in it that the federal law does not have in it,” Bryant told The Associated Press in his Capitol office. “It is the same discussion of not burdening someone’s religious freedom — that the government, government should not burden someone’s religious freedom without a compelling interest.”
In 2004, 86 percent of Mississippi voters approved a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The state has a hate-crimes law, but it does not cover acts committed against gays and lesbians.
Mitchell Moore owns Campbell’s Bakery, which is just up a hill from Outlaw’s salon. Moore helped create the “We don’t discriminate” sticker campaign, though he jokingly calls himself an “interloper” because he’s not gay. Moore, a Republican, said he’s angry because he believes Bryant and legislators are presuming to speak for the business community, and he said emphatically that they’re not.
“I am a straight, white, Southern, Christian conservative male,” Moore said. “I don’t understand why Christians consider one sin worse than another sin.”
Joce (pronounced JO-see, short for Jocelyn) Pritchett, 46, grew up in north Mississippi’s Webster County and lives and works in the Jackson area. She displays one of the “We don’t discriminate” stickers in the window of the civil-engineering business she owns.
Pritchett and her wife wed in 2013 in Maine, which legalized same-sex marriage, and they have two young children. She said she’s tired of hearing religious people say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” while speaking of gays and lesbians.
“We don’t consider it a sin,” Pritchett said. “They pat you on the head and say, ‘I love you, honey. I’ll love you all the way to hell.'”
She said when the Mississippi House and Senate passed the bill on April 1, she heard from a friend who told her: “‘Oh, my God. We’re going to be Arizona.'”
Arizona is among the states that has had its own Religious Freedom Restoration Act on the books for years. It drew national attention earlier this year with a bill that would have altered the existing law by allowing businesses to refuse service to gays. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill after companies said it would hurt the state.
An early version of the Mississippi bill was similar to the one vetoed in Arizona. The final version, however, had been changed to only specify that government could not put a burden on religious practices, without a compelling reason. Portions that would’ve allowed private businesses to refuse service were removed.
While the Mississippi law angers him, Outlaw said he sees it as backlash from religious conservatives who are resisting equal treatment for gays and lesbians, including the right to marry. “The rational part of me realizes this is just the death rattle of the old way of life.”
Marriott Hotels and American Airlines have both written letters to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) requesting that she veto the pending anti-gay legislation SB 1062. The bill, which passed both houses of the state legislature last week, would allow businesses to refuse to serve same-sex couples on the grounds of “religious freedom.”
BuzzFeed legal editor Chris Geidner tweeted what he said was a copy of Marriott’s letter Monday. In the letter, the hotel chain said the law would have “profound negative impacts” both on hotels operating in Arizona and the state’s economy as a whole. Marriott did not immediately return The Huffington Post’s requests for comment.
Breaking: @Marriott urges AZ Gov. Brewer to veto #SB1062. pic.twitter.com/52C0MAU3t7
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) February 24, 2014
American Airlines sent a separate letter Monday expressing similar sentiments. If enacted, the airline said, the law would “jeopardize” Arizona’s economic recovery by “reducing the desire of businesses to locate in Arizona.”
Brewer has until next Friday to decide whether or not she will veto the bill.
news article by Harry Bradford with the Huffington Post
‘Dear Abby’ Shuts Down Homophobic Couple With Gay Neighbors
Beloved advice columnist “Dear Abby” received a letter this week from an anti-gay couple who have a pressing question: “Who is the true bigot here?”
The couple, penned as “Unhappy In Tampa,” tell Abby that they recently relocated to Florida and seem to be having a bit of trouble navigating the ins and outs of their neighbors’ social circle. According to the distressed couple, the neighborhood group also contains two gay couples, and the new husband and wife wrote they “did not include them when it was our turn to host because we do not approve of their lifestyle choices. Since then, we have been excluded from neighborhood gatherings, and someone even suggested that we are bigots!”
The shocked couple just can’t seem to understand their neighbors’ aversion to anti-gay exclusion — to the point that they felt the need to seek the perspective of an advice columnist. Luckily, Abby seems to have a bit of a better head on her shoulders and helps to put this indignation in perspective.
After shutting down the “lifestyle choice” argument, Abby tells the couple that she “find[s] it interesting that you are unwilling to reciprocate the hospitality of people who welcomed you and opened their homes to you, and yet you complain because you are receiving similar treatment.”
She then informs the perplexed couple that perhaps they chose the wrong place to live, but also that “if you interact only with people like yourselves, you will have missed a chance for growth, which is what you have been offered here. Please don’t blow it.”
The “Dear Abby” column can be read in full here.
This isn’t the first time that an advice columnist offered the perfect response to a question from an anti-gay reader. Last November, columnist “Ask Amy” responded to a mother who was attempting to change her son’s sexuality, telling the concerned parent that “If you cannot learn to accept him as he is, it might be safest for him to live elsewhere.”