Nel's New Day

January 7, 2018

Evangelicals Aim to Control the U.S. People through Discrimination

The Alabama senatorial election is over, and the true “moral majority” won when Roy Moore lost. Religion is at a crossroads between those who use their beliefs as a guidepost to becoming more moral, generous, forgiving, and compassionate and others, supposedly religious, who oppose all those characteristics that Jesus espoused. Like David Brooks, they think that everyone should give up their rights to fundamentalist, evangelical Christian to be “neighborly” and for “community-building.”

Fundamentalist Christians are using the judicial system to force the 75 percent of non-evangelical people in the U.S. to follow fundamentalist Christian believes through a legal army called Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). This group of “freedom” advocates in ADF has trained thousands of lawyers and sent many of them to government levels where they work to establish control. Its over 3,000 attorneys litigate cases pro bono. Its international presence fights LGBTQ equality in the European Union and advises Romanian parliamentarians.

AG Jeff Sessions consults with ADF in drafting DOJ religious-freedom issues, ADF Noel Francisco is DDT’s solicitor general, 18 ADF lawyers work in 10 attorney-general offices, and DDT has appointed at least four ADF judges. Trenton Garmon, the attorney representing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore after women accused him of sexual assault, belongs to ADF’s “Honor Corps” for donating more than 450 pro bono hours to ADF.

ADF was created almost 25 years ago to protect Colorado’s Amendment 2, a state constitutional amendment allowing discrimination against LGBTQ people. The Supreme Court overturned Amendment 2 in Romer v. Evans (1996) on the basis that it violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal-protection clause. ADF’s co-founders maintained that rights for other people threatened them as Christians, and ADF burgeoned, now receiving largely anonymous $50 million donations annually and placing 58 staff attorneys in its Arizona headquarters and Washington, DC offices.

All ADF “allied attorneys” must agree with an 11-point statement of faith, including a belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, marriage for only one man and one woman, and homosexuality as “sinful and offensive to God.” Their ideology opposes secular government and law with the belief that conservative Christians face persecution. Only five appellate cases involved non-Christian religious plaintiffs; the others supported religion in the schools and during legislative sessions, anti-choice, anti-abortion activities, and, most recently, campus free-speech wars maintaining that a student counselor could refuse to counsel LGBTQ clients.

As LGBTQ people earned the right to marry and have some other federal benefits, ADF shifted from the unworthiness of same-gender couples to marry to the position that same-gender marriage violates Christian rights, an argument in Masterpiece Cakeshop. ADF declares that Christians are victims if LGBTQ people have rights. The current Supreme Court case is about limiting LGBTQ from equal access to public accommodations by declaring that county clerks, website designers, florists, photographers, and bakers are persecuted by civil rights laws.

In 2004, ADF claimed that “public officials must follow the laws—even laws with which they disagree” when same-gender couples were issued marriage licenses in California. A decade later ADF is claiming that Christians have the right to violate the law in refusing service and goods. Now ADF purports that “free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs”—and persuaded AG Jeff Sessions to install this position into official policy. Their arguments are consistently designed to give Christians the ability to disregard, disobey, and dismantle laws that they see as persecuting them. In September, Sessions argued in favor of restricting a state civil-rights law.

Kristen Waggoner, the ADF lawyer supporting the Colorado baker in the current Supreme Court case, has represented a pharmacist who used religious beliefs to not fill prescriptions for emergency contraceptives and a Washington state florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-gender wedding. Although Waggoner’s argument is that the baker doesn’t object to his gay customers, over one-fourth of the 146 ADF appellate briefs argue for restricting LGBTQ rights. ADF has used terms such as promiscuous and unfit to parent to describe LGBTQ people in briefs against marriage equality.

A former ADF allied attorney, Noel Francisco, DOJ Solicitor General, argued before the Supreme Court in his defense of the baker that the law should allow some “breathing space” for “a small group of individuals” and not compel them “to engage in speech” at events “to which they are deeply opposed.” In his questionnaire for his confirmation, he did not list his membership in ADF because his impartiality in ADF cases might be questioned. DOJ refused to comment about Francisco’s participation undergoing an ethics review. While in private practice, Francisco had given a speech at the Heritage Foundation calling for lawyers representing religious groups to “build powerful cases” with “sympathetic plaintiffs” and to “focus on the florist, on the baker, the sincere small businessmen under attack.” The Southern Poverty Center has declared ADF a hate group; thus a member of a hate group is arguing for the government against the people of the United States before the Supreme Court.

In arguing for the baker, ADF asked for vast exemptions from civil-rights laws for conservative Christians, a 180-degree turn from seven years ago in its amicus brief regarding a case about a public school’s use of a church for graduation ceremonies violating the Constitution’s establishment clause. The ADF dismissed the possible objections of Jewish and Muslim students who could not enter a church. The state, ADF argued, “cannot possibly organize its affairs to comport with the subjective views of all potentially religious groups.”

The Supreme Court case brought by a baker will determine whether businesses can turn away people because of who they are. A common response from conservatives is that people should just go elsewhere when they are refused. It’s easy for people who don’t risk rejection to give this solution because it makes the discrimination seem trivial and it assumes that there will be equal services in the same vicinity. Beyond the fact that LGBTQ people, especially those who do not live in a metropolitan area, cannot always find alternative services, searching for these services after rejection has a negative affect on both psychological and physical well-being.

This discrimination results in humiliation and diminishment of lives. People always wonder if someone will refuse to serve them no matter where they go. According to a report by Caitlin Rooney and Laura E. Durso, “discrimination, prejudice, and stigma can lead to negative health outcomes, including higher rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse as well as an increased risk for physical health problems, such as cardiovascular disease…. LGBT people who had experienced discrimination had higher average stress levels than LGBT people who had not.” The impact is permanent because the anticipation of discrimination always exists. After a florist turned away a gay couple, they had the wedding in their home with only eleven guests instead of the celebration that they wanted. A recent survey showed that one-third of LGBTQ people experiencing discrimination were seven times more likely to avoid public places such as stores and restaurant as LGBTQ people who did not.

Recent research shows that pervasive discrimination continues to negatively impact all aspects of LGBTQ lives as they are forced to change their everyday lives. LGBTQ people change their persona and dressing style to avoid bias, hide personal relationships, and commute long distances to work. Even trying to “pass,” eleven to 28 percent of LBG workers lose promotions because of sexual identity, and 27 percent of transgender workers are fired, not hired, or denied promotions. Discrimination causes LGBTQ people to lose homes, access to education, and participation in public life as well as to suffer a sense of well-being. Before the Affordable Care Act in 2010, over half LGBTQ people faced discrimination by healthcare providers. Even in 2014, More recently, a pediatrician refused to care for a child with lesbian parents.

LGBTQ people no longer have support from the Department of Justice. Earlier this year, the DOJ argued in a federal court that employers should be able to fire an employee because he is gay.  Last July, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit ruled that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the Texas Supreme Court ruled that married same-gender couples do not have the same rights as married heterosexual couples.

Evangelical Christians have separated themselves from Christ when they support the election of a pedophile while claiming that businesses should not serve LGBTQ people. The baker and the ADF are not arguing about freedom of speech or religion; they are arguing for the right to discriminate against anyone in all ways—to refuse to rent to someone or allow people to adopt children or give them health care. The culture of the time increasingly pushes the refusal of services to LGBTQ people, minorities—anyone who the religious right considers “unsuitable.”

In declaring “freedom,” ADF argues that government and business can violate the civil rights of marginalized groups. A Supreme Court that rules in favor of the baker can allow discrimination in other retail, housing, lodging, education, and medical needs. In another six months, the Supreme Court will tell the people of the world whether legalized discrimination is the law in the United States.

April 29, 2016

Thanks to the Bathroom Police, No One Is Safe

Thank you, religious conservatives. You have now given police the right to drag women out of a woman’s bathroom. Here’s a video showing this happening. Oxford (AL) has passed a law allowing transgender people who use the “wrong” bathroom—in the city’s eyes—to be jailed. That was after North Carolina passed draconian laws, including the one keeping transgender people out of facilities that match their gender identities, and then got it signed in less than 12 hours in a special session. That may be fastest that legislators have ever moved.

When North Carolina lawmakers came back into session last Monday, police arrested 54 protesters. People should use the ballot box for their protests, common wisdom has sometimes decreed, but that’s close to impossible in North Carolina because the GOP passed laws to keep progressives from voting. Judge Thomas Schroeder supported the conservatives, eviscerating voting rights for the state’s residents. In his ruling, George W. Bush’s appointee found “little official discrimination to consider” and left in place one of the most regressive and restrictive voting laws in the country that disenfranchised 218,000 North Carolinians, about five percent of registered voters, in the recent primary.

Voter ID laws were enforced differently across the state, polling workers were untrained or overworked, and some voters weren’t allowed to cast provisional ballots. In Durham, the county board of elections had failed to record the correct location of precincts.    Schroeder’s ruling will certainly be appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, but a solution may be too late for the 2016 general election. Another problem for overturning the North Carolina bathroom law is the GOP gerrymandering of election districts after the Tea Party took over in the Democratic rout of 2010.

The new law eliminates a Charlotte ordinance that expanded protections for LGBT people, but it goes far beyond just “bathrooms.” No city or county can extend state laws in eradicating discrimination in the workplace and public accommodations. In addition, the minimum wage of $7.25, required by the federal government, cannot be increased anywhere in the state.

North Carolina lawmakers filed legislation Monday to repeal the state’s law, which, since its passage last month, but GOP legislators, in the majority, oppose this attempt. Lawsuits such as the ones filed by the ACLU and Lambda Legal may have a better result as might written requests for the law’s repeal. Thus far, 180 businesses have joined to pressure Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature, and a coalition of civil rights, faith and business leaders delivered more than 150,000 signatures to the governor’s office, urging a repeal of the law.

The danger of going to North Carolina and Mississippi which has passed a similar anti-LGBT law under the guise of “religious liberty” has traveled far and wide. The British Foreign Office has updated its travel advisories to caution LGBT travelers about travel in these two states because businesses may refuse service to anyone based on personal beliefs. Small businesses in North Carolina have already started losing business. Outfitter Bicycle Tours reports that inquiries about Asheville area bicycle tours are down by one third. The owner has changed his advertising on social media to tours in California, France, and Italy.

Four conferences in Raleigh which would have brought in $3.5 million have been canceled or scaled back. Cancellation of these conventions and concerts, started by Bruce Springsteen, hurt restaurants, hotels, and small businesses. Twelve groups have canceled events in Wake County, and another 31 are reconsidering their plans, costing the area $36 million. The travel industry brings the state about $21 billion each year.

Recruiting employees is now another problem for North Carolina companies. A big industry in the state is craft beer brewing, but owners fear that people experienced in beer making will be more attracted to California and Colorado after the new law was passed.

The economy several years ago boosted North Carolina, the first Southern state to invest heavily in public and secondary education. By the election of the Tea Party in 2010 and McCrory in 2012, the legislature had raised its Moody’s rating to a triple-A bond because it balanced the state’s books and filled up the rainy day fund. The new GOP regime wiped out services for the poor, hacking away at unemployment benefits and reducing per-pupil-spending by $500 while refusing to expand Medicaid.

toilet paperIn a move reminiscent of the “Flush Rush [Limbaugh]” boycott five years ago, a North Carolina-based advertising agency wants to send the new law down the toilet. Durham-based agency McKinney explained that they are making this action “safer for city plumbing” by printing the law “on rolls of toilet paper.”

After one month of the law, $500 million in corporate investment and tourism dollars are at risk, and as many as 1,000 high-paying jobs, including 400 from a PayPal expansion, have been lost. The National Basketball Association announced that the 2017 All-Star Game won’t be played in Charlotte unless the law is overturned. Google refuses more venture capital in the state, movie-making will be moved out of the state, and the furniture market, an economic cornerstone, will lose thousands of buyers.

Tracking these laws shows that influence from a well-funded network of lawyers called Alliance Defending Freedom is coordinating the cross-country discrimination. Based in Arizona, the group has more than 3,000 allied attorneys and offices around the world headed by Alan Sears, a former Justice Department official under President Ronald Reagan. ADF claims involvement in 47 Supreme Court victories, including the Boy Scouts win in banning LGBT people as troop leaders. It describes gay sex as “a distinct public health problem” and defended business owners who deny services to same-gender couples.

Over a year ago, ADF sent letters to school districts recommending a policy that requires transgender students to use private bathrooms or those that correspond with their birth sex. Many lawmakers mirror or copy ADF’s draft in their own bills. North Carolina is one of those states. So are Nevada and Minnesota. Kansas state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook said that they used the ADF model legislation. ADF also offers free legal representation to any district sued for blocking trans students from bathrooms of their choice. The group also sent letters to school administrators in five states, pushing them to overturn policies that would permit trans students to use facilities corresponding with their gender identities.

ADF’s website states that the group “refrains from participating in or promoting any type of legislation” and “does not lobby government officials.” Yet its lawyers have offered testimony and legal analysis to state legislatures in Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Colorado in favor of restrictive bathroom bills and against legislation that protect gay and transgender people from discrimination. Perhaps not coincidentally, one of the first states to seriously consider a bathroom bill, back in 2013, was Arizona—where the ADF is headquartered.

A counter-backlash has evolved from individuals and organizations supporting the rights of transgender people. The Gill Foundation recently funded a study examining methods of changing voters’ minds about transgender people through door-to-door canvassing. Freedom for All Americans’ Transgender Freedom Project focuses on building support for transgender people and nondiscrimination laws that protect them. Organizations are collecting stories of transgender people and holding training sessions to use for media campaigns and rallying at statehouses. The Arcus Foundation and the NoVo Foundation have begun a multi-year $20 million project to increase visibility as well as the quality of life for transgender people globally.

Kendall BalentineKendall Balentine, resolved to live her retirement quietly in Deadwood (SD), spoke out after her state legislature passed a bill forcing transgender students into bathrooms wrong for their gender identities. The former Marine and deputy sheriff decided she would put herself into harm once again to fight for people without a voice. She has joined a movement to expand minority civil rights protections to transgender people.

Balentine met with Gov. Dennis Daugaard and told him that she compensated for her feminine feelings as a child by becoming an “uber male.” After her disciplinarian, Vietnam-veteran dad told her that her feelings about being a girl were unwelcome and unnatural, she dated many women, immersed herself in athletics, and volunteered for the riskiest assignments in the military and law enforcement. Her “wall of lies” made her “want to die.” She moved with her wife Pam to an isolated property near Mt. Rushmore and decided to transition. Her wife stayed with her, and her father accepted her. One week after Balentine talked with Daugaard, he vetoed the bill to discriminate against transgender people.

Tomorrow: How the new hate laws endanger the health and lives of transgender people.

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