Commentary Religion

Dolan is Right: It is a Matter of Religious Liberty – and He’s Against It

Lon Newman

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in a March 16th Milwaukee Journal Sentinel opinion column, correctly characterizes the contraceptive insurance coverage debate. He says: “This is first and foremost a matter of religious liberty for all.” But fact is that when it comes to religious freedom, he’s against it.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in a March 16th Milwaukee Journal Sentinel opinion column, correctly characterizes the contraceptive insurance coverage debate. He says: “This is first and foremost a matter of religious liberty for all.” But well-hidden under his rhetorical robes is that when it comes to religious freedom, he’s against it.

The Cardinal, in an ecclesiastical lift worthy of Samson, invokes the Declaration of Independence to prove that freedom of religion is “God-given.” With that jawbone, the Cardinal smites the Philistines of insurance coverage for contraceptives, which he misleadingly refers to as “abortion-inducing” drugs.

  • The Cardinal hopes the readers will accept his point-of-view that drugs which prevent pregnancy cause abortions. Most people, faithful or not, do not accept the theology that a woman can have an abortion before she is pregnant.
  • The Cardinal hopes his faithful Catholic readers will forget the First Commandment (which forbids ‘religious freedom’ outside Jehovah) in his defense of the First Amendment.
  • The Cardinal hopes that readers will accept his explanation of the bill of rights. When he says: “Catholics and other people of faith and good will are not second-class citizens,” he invokes a constitutional interpretation under which a woman employed by self-insured employers (most people), or a business owned by someone who objects to contraception, or a religiously-affiliated insurance company can be denied the guaranteed preventive care coverage that other citizens have been granted.

Cardinal Dolan asks readers to accept a first amendment under which people of faith are not second-class citizens – unless, of course, they are women.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

News Human Rights

Watchdog Group to Fight ‘Religious Freedom’ Efforts in Wake of Marriage Equality

Sofia Resnick

Americans United for Separation of Church and State launched an initiative Tuesday to fight back against attempts by social conservatives to use the notion of religious freedom to deny services to people, especially to same-sex couples.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a self-described religious liberty watchdog group, launched an initiative Tuesday to fight back against attempts by social conservatives to use the notion of religious freedom to deny services to people, especially to same-sex couples.

This initiative—called Protect Thy Neighbor—will involve lobbying, litigation, and a public-education campaign, Americans United leaders announced during a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

This multi-pronged campaign is an effort to curtail what the nonprofit predicts will be a relentless backlash from religious right groups against the Supreme Court’s momentous marriage equality ruling last month.

“Same-sex couples may have won the right to marry, but that doesn’t mean that extreme fundamentalist zealots who oppose any expansion of LGBT rights are going to sit by quietly,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn, Americans United’s executive director. “I expect to see a plethora of bills, regulatory changes, executive orders from governors, policy changes and so on designed to resist the Supreme Court’s ruling.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The right-wing backlash has already begun.

In recent years, several states have proposed laws broadening citizens’ and businesses’ ability to discriminate—by, for instance, refusing to place a baby with a same-sex couple or denying even third-party insurance coverage of contraceptives—citing religious freedom. Americans United has represented plaintiffs challenging such claims at the state and federal level.

Thirty-three states this year proposed or amended Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs), and already 21 states have so-called religious freedom laws on the books.

Recently Arkansas, Indiana, and Louisiana’s Republican-majority state legislatures faced heavy backlashes after trying to codify discrimination through so-called religious freedom laws. Taking matters into his own hands, GOP presidential candidate and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in May issued an executive order to “prevent the state from discriminating against people, charities and family-owned businesses with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

As an example of the kind of work Americans United plans to do through Protect Thy Neighbor—in an effort to challenge these new policies—the group’s legal department plans to send out memos to officials in every county in Texas, cautioning them that they have no legal right to deny wedding licenses to same-sex couples, in contradiction to what Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said.

Bills and lawsuits invoking religious beliefs to deny services social conservatives disapprove of is nothing new. What is new, Americans United legislative director Maggie Garrett said, is “the quantity, boldness, and heightened rhetoric that accompanies these bills.”

Less than two weeks have gone by since the Supreme Court justices ruled 5 to 4 that it is unconstitutional for states to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying (and that states must recognize all legal marriage licenses issued by other states). National social conservative nonprofits have already declared war on the ruling, telling their supporters that the marriage equality decision infringes upon their faith.

“Activists and governments throughout the country will use the Court’s ruling as a basis to punish people who stand for the truth about marriage,” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) President Alan Sears wrote in a recent fundraising email. “The goal will be to silence you—and prohibit you from living out your faith in the world.”

“Make no mistake about it,” National Organization for Marriage (NOM) President Brian Brown said in a statement shortly after the Supreme Court announced its decision, one he called “immoral and unjust.” “The [NOM] and countless millions of Americans do not accept this ruling. Instead, we will work at every turn to reverse it.”

Protect Thy Neighbor is a three-tiered strategy: Americans United’s team intends to lobby state and federal lawmakers to oppose what Lynn described as “dangerous legislation”; challenge these laws in court if they do pass; and educate the public through its brand-new website, which will track so-called religious freedom bills and lawsuits.

One piece of legislation that Americans United will lobby against is a federal bill that groups like ADF and NOM are pushing as a first step to resisting marriage equality.

Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) re-introduced the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) about a week before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. FADA is similar to Louisiana’s new executive order and states that “the Federal Government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

The law specifies that, in this context, discrimination includes withholding or terminating contracts, grants, loans, or accreditation to taxpayer-funded institutions, such as schools, homeless shelters, adoption agencies, or churches. Garrett said Americans United opposes this bill—which has 69 co-sponsors in the House and 21 in the Senate, including GOP presidential candidates Sens. Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio—because it would “sanction government-funded discrimination.”

Garrett told Rewire in an email that because the bill applies to government employees, it could effectively permit a government employee at the Federal Emergency Management Agency from refusing to provide help to a same-sex couple who lost their home in a natural disaster.

Lynn, who is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, said he supports Americans’ right to believe and worship as they see fit and to speak their minds. He pointed out that the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell cannot force ordained religious leaders or houses of worship to participate in same-sex weddings (or anyone’s wedding), which is a claim opponents of marriage equality have argued.

Where Americans United’s view of religious liberty radically diverges from social conservative groups’ is in the belief that private businesses or taxpayer-funded groups do not have the right to refuse to serve LGBT patrons and then claim their religious values preclude them from participating in ceremonies like same-sex marriages.

And this is the semantic game groups like ADF have played in their efforts opposing LGBTQ equality. These groups have adopted the narrative that it is not OK to deny service to a person for being gay but that it is fine to refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because that would amount to an endorsement of their marriage, which would go against their religious beliefs.

Rewire recently reported that an ADF attorney made this case at an Arizona Chamber of Commerce event last year, shortly after the Supreme Court ruled in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods that these companies have religious freedom rights and can thus deny insurance coverage of certain forms of contraceptives to their employees.

“Even if you have certain rights, I just think it’s a lot clearer for people when the objection is, ‘I don’t want to be a part of a ceremony that my religious beliefs prohibit,’” ADF senior attorney Joseph Infranco said in a recording that Rewire obtained.

Lynn, reflecting on this notion of participation, recalled the Indiana pizzeria that made headlines during the controversy over Indiana’s initial so-called religious freedom law earlier this year, declaring it would refuse to cater a same-sex couple’s wedding due to the owners’ religious beliefs.

“Participants in weddings—and I do a couple weddings every year—they’re the bride and the groom and the flower girl and the best man and on and on, and maybe the parents and the officiant, whether that’s a humanist officiant or whether it’s a member of the clergy,” Lynn said. “I don’t think you can claim to be the participant merely because you drop off the pizza, or even a more elaborate food product.”

Commentary Human Rights

Prison Sex Doesn’t Prove Homosexuality Is a Choice—and It’s Offensive for Ben Carson to Argue as Much

Martha Kempner

Our newest potential presidential candidate, Ben Carson, apparently believes that inmates having sex with each other in prison is proof that homosexuality is a choice—and that it's OK to discriminate against those who supposedly made that decision.

Ben Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, announced on Tuesday that he is forming an exploratory committee and considering throwing his hat into the 2016 Republican Presidential Primary. In one of his first interviews as a potential candidate, however, Carson told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he believes being gay is a choice. While this isn’t a new justification for denying same-sex couples rights, Carson’s reasoning for it—that prison sex proves people have control over their sexual orientation—is a somewhat novel spin on an old offensive argument.

Carson explained that, in his view, states should individually legislate the issue of same-sex marriage. Even if states passed discriminatory laws, Carson said, it would not necessarily be a violation of equal protection because people have control over their sexuality. When asked if being gay was a choice, Carson said “Absolutely.” He went on to give what he sees as proof:

A lot of people who go into prison, go into prison straight but when they come out they’re gay. So did something happen while they were in there, ask yourself that question.

Carson then used this to justify a system in which same-sex couples would be entitled to everything but marriage.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Late Wednesday evening, Carson apologized for his comments, saying that his words did not reflect his “true heart” on gay issues. In a statement, Carson said: “I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation. I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended.” Yet even in his apology, he argued there’s no definitive research to say that sexual orientation is not a choice: “Some of our brightest minds have looked at this debate, and up until this point there have been no definitive studies that people are born into a specific sexuality.”  

Though he clearly regrets them after the fact, Carson’s remarks—and even his apology—still show a disturbing level of misunderstanding about sexual orientation that is very dangerous when combined with his willingness to discriminate against same-sex couples. Our discussions about marriage equality have come so far since even the last presidential election; it’s unfortunate that Carson would take such a giant leap backward on his very first day in the field of hopefuls.

Perhaps now, while he is reflecting on his first major foot-in-the-mouth moment of the upcoming campaign, would be a good time to provide a quick lesson on sexual orientation and explain to Carson why his remarks were offensive on so many additional levels.

So here’s some 101-level reminders: Sexual orientation refers to a person’s physical and emotional attraction to others. And it is about far more than just whom a person has sex with. It also has to do with sexual fantasies, emotional attachments, and lifestyle preferences. Moreover, it’s not always an either/or situation; people are not necessarily exclusively heterosexual or exclusively homosexual. As sex researcher Alfred Kinsey wrote in 1948, “The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats … The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.”

Most importantly, though, sexual orientation is an identity that each person gets to decide for themselves. And the bottom line when it comes to dealing with Carson’s argument is that regardless of their past or present sexual behavior, every person (prisoners included) can identify as gay, straight, or something else. It’s up to them.

Carson himself admitted Wednesday night that it was not up to him to label others’ sexualities. But the second half of his prison argument may be even worse—because he concluded that prison sex means a man has chosen to be gay. Overall, research on prison sex has been scarce; inmates are often wary of telling the truth, for fear of retribution. However, we do know that a lot of the sex that takes place in prison is non-consensual or coercive, and that rape is common. A 2012 Justice Department report, for example, found that nearly one in ten inmates in state prisons, local jails, and post-release treatment centers suffer sexual abuse while incarcerated, at the hands of both fellow prisoners and facility staff. Even consensual prison sex is more complicated than it might be under other circumstances, and decisions to engage in it likely take into account far more than the gender of the other person.

Prison sex is a serious human rights issue and bringing it up in relation to gay marriage shows a lack of understanding about sexual orientation, consent, and human rights. The existence of prison sex cannot be used to prove that homosexuality is a choice; it can only be used as a proof that our prison system is failing.

There’s also the fact that Carson is, according to most scientific and medical studies, just plain wrong about whether sexual orientation is biologically predetermined. A 1991 study published in the journal Science, for example, found that one section of the hypothalamus (a part of the brain which controls sex hormones), is bigger in heterosexual men than in gay men. Other brain studies have found that the brains of homosexual men and heterosexual women are more symmetrical than in heterosexual men and homosexual women. Research has also focused on the corpus callosum—which connects the two halves of the brain—with varying results.

In my mind, however, these studies, and the others done on genetic explanations for sexual orientation, don’t actually matter. Whether or not orientation is biologically determined or a “choice,” everyone deserves access to the same rights—and the only time anyone brings up the debate is when they are trying to advocate homophobic practices, such as “reformative therapy” or discriminatory policies against LGBT individuals.

And that’s exactly what Carson is still using this argument for: discriminating against marriage equality. In the interview with Cuomo, he said it was fine for a same-sex couple to seek the legal rights and property benefits that come with marriage—but marriage itself should be saved for one man and one woman.

Despite his assertions of fairness, this position shows Carson’s willingness to treat same-sex couples as second class citizens. After all, few people accuse heterosexual couple of getting married just so they can file joint taxes come April 15. Heterosexual couples are said to be marrying for love, commitment, or a desire to start a family. This may be news to Carson, but same-sex couples have the same motivations and deserve the same respect.  

Offering rights short of marriage to same-sex couples is a position that politicians on both sides of the aisle were espousing not that long ago. Thankfully, though, many have now come around and evidently realized that “separate but equal” is never truly equal. Today, 37 states allow marriage equality as a result of laws or court rulings, and the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. The Court is expected to give a ruling on the matter by the end of the summer.

Carson’s first day in the field, however, should remind us that bigotry and homophobia are not gone from our country’s politics, and that the struggle for LGBTQ rights will not end if and when we secure marriage equality rights in every state. People face prejudice based on their sexual orientation on a daily basis and some states are even attempting to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in the name of religious freedom. This is not the time to be complacent—and it’s not the time for candidates who display such clear homophobia.