The Watering Hole; Thursday April 23 2015; Religion in 21st Century America

There’s been a lot of religious chit-chat of late, mostly centered around complaints that LGBT people are being granted the right to (horror of horrors) participate in same-sex marriage. The (fundamentalist Christian) OUTRAGE has been, to say the least, extremely vocal and for the most part — to the rational ear, at least — completely irrational. It’s as if allowing others to live their lives in a manner not approved of by those of loud voice and particular “belief” is not only an abrogation of the rights of those who disapprove, but is also an assault on the first amendment’s clause that reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” an assault on the very foundation of the ‘Christian Nation’ aka the United States of America.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always thought that religion — no matter its name — had as its centerpiece a combination of generosity, of caring, hope, charity, and peacefulness, and that hate, fear, discrimination and their consequences were alien. To Religion. To practitioners thereof.

Pondering that notion reminded me that several years back I found — somewhere, can’t recall where — a brief synopsis of the world’s various religions, taken from appropriate quotes which more or less spell out at least the underlying and driving thesis for each. It’s interesting to read, also to wonder — while listening to today’s highly audible “religious” screamers (i.e. American right wing fundamentalist voices, aka Republicans) — what is it that’s gone so terribly wrong?

Brahmanism: “This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” ~Mahabharata 5:15-17

Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” ~Udana Varga 5:18

Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowmen. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.” ~Talmud, Shabbat 31:a

Confucianism: “Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not unto others that you would not have them do unto you.” ~Analects 15:23

Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” ~T’ai Shag Kan Ying P’ien

Zoroastrianism: “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good: for itself.” ~Dadistan-i-dinik 94:5

Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what which he desires for himself.” ~Sunnah

Christianity: “Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and . . . know nothing but the word of God.” ~Martin Luther

It almost seems as if Martin Luther’s comment has not only caught on, but may even define the attitude of today’s American right wing fundies, especially when viewed in context with most any religious right statement on most any event or policy with which they disagree. Here are just a couple of recent links that point toward their embedded fears and hatreds, as linked to their “fundamentalist” religious dogma.

Janet Porter: Gay Marriage To Blame For Noah’s Flood, Will Usher In End Times

Bryan Fischer: Tell A Gay Couple They Are Going To Hell On Their Wedding Day

Philosopher David Hume seems to have pretty much summed the enduring fundamentalist core dilemma when he noted that “Men dare not avow, even to their own hearts, the doubts which they entertain on such subjects. They make a merit of implicit faith; and disguise to themselves their real infidelity, by the strongest asseverations and the most positive bigotry.” Is that a fair summation of we’re seeing today? Probably not, but at least Hume points toward the “doubts” which must surely drive “faith” in the hate/fear realm. “Bigotry” in Hume’s context.

Abrahamic faiths seem to be most burdened. Judasim, Christianity, Islam — each acknowledges essentially the same God, each is convinced that it is the “true” religion, each is, in result, similarly burdened by the events common to life itself. As David Hume put it, “. . . the first ideas of religion arose not from a contemplation of the works of nature, but from a concern with regard to the events of life, and from the incessant hopes and fears which actuate the human mind.” Or perhaps, as historian Edward Gibbons suggested, “The theologians may indulge the pleasing task of describing religion as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian. He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption which she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a weak and degenerate race of beings.”

Whatever be the case, the world today is beset by religious irrationality, and ordinary people suffer in result. Why is such nonsense tolerated, much less praised and worshiped by so many? Why can’t we all simply get along? Why does mythology occupy such a prominent pedestal in the human passage?

Gautama Siddharta — Buddha — perhaps spoke the best solution to religious fears when he said,

“Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it. Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held. Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books. Believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin. Believe nothing just because someone else believes it. Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true.”

Imagine what the world could become — if only . . . Meanwhile, ‘Homosexual Armageddon!’ Anti-Gay Activists Decry ‘Satanic’ Gay Rights. The beat goes on but the question remains: whereto from here, America?

OPEN THREAD

The Watering Hole, Monday, April 13, 2015: Guess Their Home Planets

Ben Carson is afraid. That’s not unusual for a Conservative, since fear is the primary thing that motivates them to action of any kind. But in Carson’s case’s case that fear is not warranted by anything happening on this planet. Carson is among the many conservatives who believe that all manner of terrorists will cross our border with Mexico with the express purpose of killing them, and only them, on account of we on the Left being their bestest buddies in the world. Courtesy of our friends at Right Wing Watch, at the recent NRA annual circle jerk meeting

Likely GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson told the NRA’s annual meeting today that Americans need guns more than ever since the southern border has been exposed to infiltration from “radical extremist Islamic terrorists” whom President Obama doesn’t intend to fight.

“When they get here,” Carson said, “we need to be able to fight them, particularly if we have an administration that won’t fight them, we need to be able to fight them ourselves.”

He added that guns are necessary for people to “defend themselves against an overly aggressive government that wanted to exact tyranny in this country.”

But he is also among the delusional right wingers who feel Obama hasn’t done anything to fight terrorists who exploit a perverted version of Islam as a justification to kill innocent people, primarily those who are non-Muslim. Apparently these right-wingers are so caught up in their own bubble of mis-information that they didn’t notice all the complaining from the Left about Obama’s drone strike program and how it keeps killing innocent people. Obama, along with several other countries in the Mid-East, has been attacking these guys. He just isn’t committing huge numbers of ground troops to the operation like the right wing wants. And that’s because in the Conservative universe, military power is the only kind of strength anyone respects (because it’s the only kind of power they respect.) There are many planets where right-wingers like this can be found, but in Dr. Ben Carson’s case, that planet would likely be Sigma Draconis VI. This is the home planet of the woman who boarded the Enterprise and removed Spock’s brain while leaving his body alive and functioning. This was possible because of a powerful computer capable of giving someone temporary knowledge beyond their normal intellectual abilities, but whose effects are sadly temporary. The result is when the effects of the intelligence enhancements wear off, the person is left being so stupid they don’t even understand what a brain is, let alone how to successfully remove one. This is clearly what happened to Dr. Carson after he left his home planet and the effects of the machine that gave him the ability to be a brilliant pediatric neurosurgeon wore off.

Donald Trump is also afraid, but the only thing that frightens him is the thought that people may one day see just how irrelevant, meaningless, and buffoonish he really is. Trump, who understands nothing of nuclear power, foreign diplomacy, or when to keep one’s mouth shut, badmouthed the recent framework for a deal negotiated with Iran by Secretary of State Kerry and five other nations. And, naturally, since the historic framework for a deal did not involve bombing Iran’s current nuclear facilities, the right wing thinks it’s a totally bad deal. It’s not even a final deal yet, just the framework for a deal that will keep Iran from being able to enrich the kind of uranium that can be used to make a nuclear weapon. And right now, this negotiations for this framework have been the only thing stopping the Iranians from making that bomb. But Trump thinks it’s a terrible deal.

“The deal is terrible, this deal is going to lead to nuclear all over the place and everyone’s going to want to have it and it’s a disaster for Israel, I can tell you, it’s a disaster for this country.”

And we should listen to Trump because he wrote (what he claims is, and what may be, but which I don’t care if it is) the top-selling business book, “The Art of The Deal.” And as everyone in the Conservative Universe knows, Capitalism and International Diplomacy are interchangeable. If you’re good at one you must automatically be good at the other. Herbert Hoover was a Capitalist, and his economic policies led to the Great Depression. George W. Bush was an MBA from Harvard, but that didn’t mean he was the smartest person in the room when it came to foreign policy. Even his Secretary of State, who was supposed to be an expert on the Soviet Union, failed to see its impending collapse. These people know nothing about running a government, let alone how to negotiate with people from another culture. The Conservative Universe has many right wingers who don’t know what they’re taking about, but the Donald Trumps of Earth orginally came from Iota Geminorum IV. This is the home planet of the tribbles, small furry creatures whose purrs have a calming effect on humans. The pelt of one has been resting on Trump’s head for many decades.

As a country, we need to stop listening to people like this. I’m not suggesting they be silenced, just ignored. Many people say there’s no difference between the two major political parties. That is completely false. That doesn’t mean that one works for the benefit of the top 1% and the large multi-national corporations and the other doesn’t. But one party doesn’t have nearly as many crazy people holding crazy viewpoints that they think the rest of us are crazy for not heeding. And it is also not true that Liberalism and Conservatism are just two sides of the same coin. It’s more like two sides of the same circle – the inside and the outside. Conservatism is rooted in Selfishness, in looking out for oneself over the needs of strangers, in asking “What’s in this for me?” of anything new, and in preserving the status quo as much as possible. Like the inside of a circle, there’s a core set of not-always-well-defined principles intended to keep things from changing too much. Liberalism, on the other hand, is rooted in Altruism, in looking out for all of us rather than just some of us, in asking, “How does this benefit the most of us?” of anything new, and in changing things that don’t work for everybody. The two philosophies are in no way equal, so when trying to find solutions that would benefit the nation as a whole, why would anyone believe Conservatives have the best ideas? That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Conservatives don’t care about you. So stop voting for them.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Ben Carson, brain surgery, Donald Trump, Tribbles as fashion accessories, or anything else you wish to discuss. Just don’t vote for any Conservatives.

The Watering Hole, Monday, April 6,2015: Conservatives Think About Gay Sex A Lot

Pat Robertson is a frightened man. That’s not any new insight, we’ve all known that for years. But with the outcry over Indiana’s RFRA law (which was neither the first, nor was it identical to the early versions), and their subsequent “acquiescence” to those protests, Old Man Pat has come to believe his worst nightmares are coming true: Gay people will be accepted into Society as equals. And when that happens, somehow they’ll take over the world.

“They’re going to force you into their mold, they’re going to make you conform to political correctness, they’re going to make you do what the Left thinks is right, they’re going to make you acknowledge homosexual marriage, they’re going to make you embrace lifestyles that you think are anti-biblical despite your religious belief.”

There’s a lot wrong with those few sentences, including both projection and cognitive dissonance. Whether or not they realize it, Conservative Christians want everybody to be compelled by law to follow their religious beliefs. When you talk about making our laws conform to the Bible, you are imposing your religion on everyone else. If you can’t understand that, then perhaps you should sit back and let the rest of us talk. It is a fact. It is what they want. As for “political correctness,” I ignore that term. It was created by a right wing misanthrope named David Horowitz, and it only makes sense within the framework of an extremely conservative mind. Essentially, it’s a complaint conservatives have when they get called out for saying the kind of hateful, ignorant, bigoted things they’re known for saying. As for making people do things that anybody says is right, that’s what laws are for. Our entire system of laws is based on somebody’s (often a lot of somebodies) idea of what the right way to behave in our society is. So, yes, we on the Left think there’s a certain way you should behave toward your fellow citizens. If people on the right have a problem with it, it’s because they want the legal right to mistreat, abuse, demean, or otherwise put down people different from themselves. Are we going to make you acknowledge homosexual marriage? Only in the sense that we want you to see it as “marriage,” and not anything different than what you’re used to. If you define a marriage by the style of sex you have, then your definition of marriage is the problem. As for the last part, “they’re going to make you embrace lifestyles that you think are anti-biblical despite your religious belief,” exactly what does that mean? Homosexuality is not a “lifestyle choice,” no matter how much the frightened straight people claim it is. And nobody is asking anybody to “embrace” homosexuality, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. As for it being “anti-Biblical,” that’s just too fucking bad. Lots of things are “anti-Biblical.” Lots of those same things are perfectly fine according to other people’s religious beliefs. Why should things that are “anti-Biblical” be singled out for being banned by law? Why should some particular interpretation of “The Bible” become the basis for the way the rest of us live? Why does it matter so much what kind of sex people have? As long as it’s consenting adults participating (of any gender and number), why should it be any of our business? If you want to claim people should live by the Bible, then prove it. Pick up a stone and start stoning all those people who work on the Sabbath. Stone the farmer who plants two different crops in his field. Stone that woman wearing a dress made from two different cloths. They’re just as deserving as the two men who love each other and want to live as a loving married couple just like anybody else. (I almost never hear anti-marriage equality people complain about lesbians getting married, except for Ellen, it’s always the guys getting married that bothers them. “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” You never hear, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Alice and Eve.” I tell you, they think about gay male sex a lot more than they want to admit.

And Old Man Pat Robertson is definitely one of them. After going on that rant he came back the next day to continue thinking out loud.

“It doesn’t matter what custom you’ve got, it doesn’t matter what holy thing that you worship and adore, the gays are going to get it,” Robertson said. “They’re going to make you conform to them. You are going to say you like anal sex, you like oral sex, you like bestiality, you like anything you can think of, whatever it is. And sooner or later you are going to have to conform your religious beliefs to the group of some aberrant thing. It won’t stop at homosexuality.”

One more time, Conservatives. Bestiality has nothing whatsoever to do with homosexuality. And homosexuals aren’t the only ones engaging in anal sex or oral sex. Many, many straight couples enjoy them, too, and nobody says we should deny service to straight married couples who engage in, what are legally called, acts of sodomy. And “liking” homosexuality does not equate to liking “anything you can think of.” That is just ignorant bigotry talking there, and why anybody would value the opinion of a man who believes such things is beyond me. Old Man Pat began this rant talking about the owners of Memories Pizza in Indiana, saying they should have kept their mouths shut. But if they did, there wouldn’t have been $842,387 raised on their behalf. The pizza owners claim their viewpoints (which they did not have to give) were misrepresented in the media. They claim they would be happy to serve gay people, but they just wouldn’t cater to a gay wedding. I hate to admit I agree with Pat, so I’ll just say that coincidentally enough, Pat agrees with me on this. This was an issue that would rarely, if ever, come up, because hardly anybody serves pizza at a wedding. But here’s the thing – by specifically saying they wouldn’t serve their pizzas to a couple holding a gay wedding, without specifying any other Biblical violations for whom they would deny service, they are admitting that the Bible has nothing to do with their viewpoint. The fact that they would be willing to serve gay people, just not their weddings, shows they are not adhering to Biblical principles. If the Bible is the reason they would deny wedding services to gay people, then they should be denying all services to gay people. After all, I’m sure they don’t question every woman who comes in to see if she is on her period. So the Bible can’t be the reason for their policy. But the Indiana law, as originally passed, would have given them the right to deny service to anybody they chose by citing their religious beliefs. It doesn’t have to actually be their religious beliefs, they just have to say it is. THAT’S what’s wrong with religious freedom laws like that – you are allowed to openly lie in court and claim something completely false led you to do what you did (or not do what you didn’t do.)

But Old Man Pat is not the only one confused about gay people. Mike Huckabee apparently has gay people confused with atheists. After insisting in an interview with Tony Perkins that the whole discussion about how far people can go to oppress the rights of gay people is a “manufactured crisis” (Huckabee insists the “war on woman” is a manufactured crisis, and that there is no war on women. Of course, what we call a “war on women” is just, to the Conservatives, Christians exercising their freedoms), Mikey went into full Conservative Defensive Projection mode. “The left has gotten very good on creating a crisis, something to divide the country, something to create this sense in which ‘we’ve got to go after these conservatives because they are trying to trample over our rights.'” Really, Mike? Can you say, “Benghazi”? He then went on to make the remarkable comparison:

“It is a classic example of — really a page out of ‘1984,’ when what things mean are the opposite of what they really are. And that’s what I’m seeing here is that in the name of tolerance, there’s intolerance. In the name of diversity, there’s uniformity. In the name of acceptance, there’s true discrimination.”

Let me stop you right there, Mikey. Never mind the fact that “1984” was about a lot more than just words meaning the opposite of what they really mean, about this whole “tolerance” thing. Conservative Christians simply do not understand the concept of tolerance. They seem to think that tolerant people are supposed to tolerate intolerant behavior, such as that exhibited by people who say the kinds of anti-LGBT things Conservative Christians are always being quoted saying. And we aren’t asking for uniformity in the name of diversity. Where the hell did you get that stupid idea? Frank Luntz? And, again, how is not accepting your discriminating behavior an example of discrimination on our part? You are the ones twisting words around, and projecting your own feelings onto us. Perky suggested that gay people who are denied service by one business should just go find another? But what if there are no others because your state law says places open to the public do not have to accommodate the public? He asks Mikey, “Where will it stop?”

“It won’t stop until there are no more churches, until there are no more people who are spreading the Gospel, and I’m talking now about the unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth.”

What Mikey ignores is that there is quite a lot of disagreement over what constitutes the “unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth.” Does it happen, in his mind, to coincide with the version of Christianity that he thinks is “correct”? I would argue that precisely because there are so many different flavors of Christianity that there is, in fact no such thing as an “unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth.” As for where it stops? It stops, Perky, when guys like you stop using your Bible to insist that the rest of the country behave according to your religion’s rules. Your religion is just as false as all the other versions of your religion, and just as wrong as all the other deity-based, Creationist religions. Your belief system makes zero sense to a mind capable of critical thought. To insist that it’s correct if you have “faith” is the same as saying, “It makes sense if you don’t try to make sense out of it.” If that’s what your belief system comes down to, then it cannot and should not be the basis of anybody’s laws. And it cannot and should not be accepted as a valid argument against any law. Later, Mikey insisted that “unlike the gay community, conservative Christians would never boycott a business like Walmart.” Not only did Perky immediately say he was boycotting Walmart over their objections to Arkansas’ RFRA, but Mikey forgot about the conservative boycotts encouraged by Townhall.com a couple of years ago. Out of five companies being suggested for boycotts, only one was for anything to do with LGBT rights. The other reasons were unions, MoveOn.org, Alec Baldwin, and Obamacare. And I’ll say this again and for the record: Yes, I am an atheist, but I am not totally unfamiliar with the teachings of the Biblical character known as Jesus. And I do not believe that those teachings could at all be characterized as “Conservative.” Caring for the health and well being of strangers is antithetical to the philosophy of Conservatism, but central to the teachings of Jesus. So the term “Conservative Christian” must be an oxymoron. It is impossible to follow the teachings of Jesus and still be Conservative. And if you’re following the philosophy of Conservatism, then you cannot be following the teachings of Jesus. The two are incompatible. Besides, I’m pretty sure Jesus had nothing to say about whether or not gay people should be ostracized from society. I do remember hearing that, like many of us Atheists, Jesus encouraged you to treat other people the way you yourself would want to be treated.

This post is from a much longer one on my own blog. You are encouraged to read the original here.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss LGBT rights, Old Man Pat, Mikey, Perky, or any other closeted gay men you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, Monday, March 30, 2015: Indiana Wasn’t First, Connecticut Was, But Not For The Reasons You Think

Indiana Governor Mike Pence made headlines this past week when he signed into law Indiana’s version of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Proponents say the bill is necessary to protect the rights of Christians to practice their beliefs freely. There is a growing belief (entirely misplaced IMHO) on the right that Christians who wish to discriminate against certain customers on religious grounds are being denied the right to practice their religion under the First Amendment. Opponents say that’s precisely why the bill should not be passed, because it will be used as an excuse to discriminate against the LGBT community on alleged religious freedom grounds (even though there’s no evidence that Jesus said to discriminate against “teh gays”, but we’ll get to that later.) The opposition has been calling for a boycott of Indiana ever since, and there is speculation about how this would affect the NCAA March Madness Men’s Basketball Tournament, whose Final Four competition is to take place in Indianapolis, Indiana. The NCAA says it isn’t sure right now. (Fun Fact: Indianapolis is one of only four state capital names that begin with the same letter as their states. Can you name the other three? The answer is at the end.) The push for the boycott spread to other cities, as the mayors of Seattle and San Francisco joined in the boycott. The news came that Angie’s List, based in Indianapolis, announced it was cancelling its $40-million headquarters expansion project because of the RFRA.

Writing for The Washington Posts’s column, The Fix, Hunter Schwarz observed that nobody has been calling for a boycott of the nineteen (possibly more) states that previously passed some version of the RFRA. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), there are nineteen states that have passed some version of the RFRA. How did there get to be so many states passing what some see as an unconstitutional law? Simple, the Supreme Court said that the National RFRA passed in 1993 could not be applied to the states. Wait a minute, you mean there’s a National RFRA? You might be wondering when the Republicans got that first discriminatory bill through, and which Republican president signed it? One of the Bushes, right? Wrong. It was passed in 1993 by a Democratic-controlled Congress (my now US Senator Chuck Schumer introduced it), and signed into law by a Democratic President Bill Clinton. Was anybody calling for a boycott when Clinton signed the National RFRA law? No, and there’s why. It had nothing to do with protecting the rights of Christians to discriminate against gay people back then. The rights of Christians to practice their religious beliefs, yes. Sort of. But not the ones you’re probably thinking about. Actually, Jesus really had nothing to do with the story at all. Let’s step into the Way Back Machine.

The First Amendment says that Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion (which means for those who wish otherwise that The Bible can never be the foundation of our laws, as that would constitute establishing a religion), nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Technically, this meant that your state could still pass a law respecting establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Until the Fourteenth Amendment came along, which says

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This meant that no state could pass a law which violated your rights as a citizen of the United States. Or so you would think. It took a long time before the Incorporation Doctrine was applied to guarantee that states could not violate your gifts under the Bill of Rights, which are not the only rights you have. (Apparently there is debate over this doctrine.) But from time to time the question would arise, “Can the government compel someone to do something that violates that person’s religious beliefs, or can the government prohibit someone from doing something that is part of that person’s religious beliefs?” At what point, in other words, is the government prohibiting the free exercise of religion?

For a long time, religious objectors only got exemptions to laws if the statute provided for them. Judges could provide common law exemptions, but these could be overridden by state laws. The right of a clergy to keep confessions confidential was an exemption provided by state laws. Things changed in the early 60s. The blog The Volokh Conspiracy explains:

But then in Braunfeld v. Brown (1961) the Supreme Court seemed to suggest that the Free Exercise Clause might sometimes constitutionally mandate exemptions. And in Sherbert v. Verner (1963), the Court expressly adopted the constitutional exemption model, under which sincere religious objectors had a presumptive constitutional right to an exemption. Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) reaffirmed this, and the period from 1963 to 1990 is often labeled the Sherbert/Yoder era of Free Exercise Clause law.

Of course, a constitutional exemption model can never simply say “religious objectors get an exemption.” A wide range of generally applicable laws — murder law, theft law, rape law, and so on — must be applicable even to religious objectors. Even as to more controversial cases, such as bans on race discrimination in education, or generally applicable tax laws, the Court has found (even under the Sherbert/Yoder regime) that religious objectors’ claims must yield.

To distinguish cases where religious objectors win from those in which they lose, the Sherbert/Yoder-era Court used what it called “strict scrutiny” when the law imposed a “substantial burden” on people’s religious beliefs (e.g., when it banned behavior that the objectors saw as religiously compelled, or mandated behavior that the objectors saw as religiously prohibited). Under this strict scrutiny, religious objectors were to be given an exemption, unless denying the exemption was the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

But while the strict scrutiny test in race and free speech cases was generally seen as “strict in theory, fatal in fact” (Gerry Gunther’s phrase), almost always invalidating the government law, in religious freedom cases it was “strict in theory, feeble in fact” (Larry Sager and Chris Eisgruber’s phrase). The government usually won, and religious objectors won only rarely.

Then in 1990, the Court changed course: In Employment Division v. Smith, a 5-Justice majority returned to the statute-by-statute exemption regime, and rejected the constitutional exemption regime. So long as a law doesn’t discriminate against religious objectors, but generally applies to people regardless of their religiosity, it’s constitutionally valid. If religious objectors want an exemption, they need to go to the legislature. (This is an oversimplification, but let’s go with it for now.)

But before going with it, a little more background on the Smith, because it’s important to understand how it has nothing whatsoever to do with a business discriminating against someone based on religious beliefs. [From Wikipedia]: “The Court upheld the state of Oregon’s refusal to give unemployment benefits to two Native Americans fired from their jobs at a rehab clinic after testing positive for mescaline, the main psychoactive compound in the peyote cactus, which they used in a religious ceremony. Peyote use has been a common practice in Native American tribes for centuries. It was integrated with Christianity into what is now known as the Native American Church.” (See? Not the kind of Christians you were thinking about.) Back to the blog for more of the story.

Smith was broadly condemned, both by the Left and the Right. That coalition has since largely fallen apart, but it was strong back then: In 1993, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which gave religious objectors a statutory presumptive entitlement to exemption from generally applicable laws (subject to strict scrutiny). “Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person . . . is the least restrictive means of furthering [a] compelling governmental interest.” The vote in the House was unanimous, and in the Senate was 97-3.

RFRA was meant to apply to all branches of government, and both to federal and state law. In City of Boerne v. Flores (1997), the Supreme Court held that RFRA exceeded federal power when applied to state laws, but didn’t touch it as to federal law. Since 1997 (and in some measure before), about a dozen states enacted similar state-level RFRAs as to state law, and about a dozen more interpreted their state constitutions to follow the Sherbert model rather than the Smith model.

Therefore, the rule now is that there is a religious exemption regime as to federal statutes (under the federal RFRA), and as to state statutes in the about half the states that have state RFRAs or state constitutional exemption regimes. Religious objectors in those jurisdictions may demand exemptions from generally applicable laws that substantially burden the objectors’ practice, which the government must grant unless it can show that applying the laws is the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

All of that was written prior to the decision in the Hobby Lobby v. Burwell. Professor Volokh explains a bit about how the RFRA is supposed to be interpreted.

In interpreting the terms of RFRA — such as “substantial burden,” “compelling government interest,” and “least restrictive means” — courts look to Sherbert/Yoder-era Free Exercise Clause case law. The “findings” section of RFRA states that “the compelling interest test as set forth in prior Federal court rulings is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests” (emphasis added), and cites Sherbert and Yoder favorably. And the whole point of RFRA was to “restor[e]” a body of rulings that were overturned by Smith — rulings that recognized a constitutional right to presumptive exemptions from generally applicable laws.

Unfortunately, this body of preexisting case law is not terribly broad or deep. As we’ll see later, for instance, it tells us less than we’d like to know about what counts as a compelling interest. But what counts as a substantial burden is somewhat clearer; we’ll see this in more detail in a later post, but for now, note that the following all constitute a substantial burden:

1. The government’s compelling someone to do something that violates his religious beliefs, or prohibiting someone from doing something that is mandated by his religious beliefs.

2. The government’s denying someone a tax exemption or unemployment compensation unless he does something that violates his religious beliefs, or refrains from something that is mandated by his religious beliefs.

3. As to state and federal constitutional regimes, it’s not clear whether the above also applies when the objector’s conduct is merely motivated by his religious beliefs (e.g., the objector thinks it’s a religiously valuable thing for him to stay home on the Sabbath, rather than a religious commandment) and not actually mandated by those beliefs. The federal RFRA, many state RFRAs, and RLUIPA expressly apply to “any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by … a system of religious belief.”

4. The beliefs need not be longstanding, central to the claimant’s religious beliefs, internally consistent, consistent with any written scripture, or reasonable from the judge’s perspective. They need only be sincere.

Recall, though, that a finding of substantial burden on sincere religious beliefs simply shifts the burden to the government: The government may still justify the burden by showing that applying the law to the objectors is the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

As I said before, all of that was before the Hobby Lobby ruling. My first thought was that Hobby Lobby couldn’t argue that they had these rights under the RFRA because Hobby Lobby is a corporation, not a person. It turns out that I was wrong. Title 1, Chapter 1, Words denoting number, gender, and so forth:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise—
words importing the singular include and apply to several persons, parties, or things;
words importing the plural include the singular;
words importing the masculine gender include the feminine as well;
words used in the present tense include the future as well as the present;
the words “insane” and “insane person” shall include every idiot, insane person, and person non compos mentis;
the words “person” and “whoever” include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals;
“officer” includes any person authorized by law to perform the duties of the office;
“signature” or “subscription” includes a mark when the person making the same intended it as such;
“oath” includes affirmation, and “sworn” includes affirmed;
“writing” includes printing and typewriting and reproductions of visual symbols by photographing, multigraphing, mimeographing, manifolding, or otherwise.

And Justice Alito did indeed say the RFRA applied and that Hobby Lobby had standing as a person based on Title 1, Chapter 1. And despite the fact that Hobby Lobby was wrong in their beliefs, and despite the fact that they really weren’t sincere in their claims since they offered birth control coverage in their health care plans right up until the ACA became law, Hobby Lobby was granted their exemption. But that case had nothing to do with a business trying to deny services to people based on their sexual orientation. How did we get there by the time Indiana became the 20th state to pass their own RFRA?

When the Native Americans lost their centuries long-held right to use peyote in their religious ceremonies, everybody agreed this was wrong. Before the federal RFRA was passed, Connecticut and Rhode Island had passed their own versions of an RFRA, with the standard being the same as the one Smith reversed. Then Congress passed the RFRA, and in his signing statement, President Bill Clinton even mentioned that the purpose of this law was to reverse the Smith decision, which was about peyote use, not discrimination. This law was written to apply to both the federal government and to the states, so they stopped passing their own versions of the RFRA until the Supreme Court ruled it could not be applied to the states. Then in 1998 Illinois passed its own RFRA, with the language specifically saying it was in response to Smith (and to City of Boerne v. P.F. Flores, the decision which ruled the national RFRA could not be applied to states.) This was followed by Florida‘s RFRA law (which did not mention Smith or Flores), but Alabama‘s RFRA did mention them. BTW, an interesting thing about the Alabama legislation is its language that the bill be “liberally construed to effectuate its remedial and deterrent purposes.” That kind of talk from a very Conservative legislature? The following year saw a state RFRA law get vetoed. Arizona passed its own RFRA, but it was seen by many as being too broadly worded. In fact, the public outcry over how this bill could be interpreted (and the fact that Gov Jan Brewer wanted to address her state’s broken Child Protection System before anything else), led to Gov Brewer issuing a veto. This bill went further than its predecessors in that it contained a section that specifically allowed state licensed professionals to refuse their services to clients based on their own religious beliefs about anything, including sexual orientation. Remember, their beliefs do not have to be accurate, just sincerely held. After Arizona, South Carolina was the next to pass an RFRA. This bill is no more controversial than earlier ones in that it restores the standards put forth in the national bill that was intended to let Native Americans use peyote in their religious rituals. But pending legislation would allow clerks to deny marriage licenses to gay people based on the clerk’s personal religious beliefs. Idaho also has its own RFRA that’s harmless enough, but they also have legislation lending to amend the bill to include the right to discriminate based on bigotry. New Mexico passed just a basic RFRA bill, which declares the government must show a compelling interest in denying a presumptive right on a generic law. Oklahoma, on the other hand, also went pretty far in their RFRA bill, even specifying that nothing in the bill could be construed to “Authorize same sex marriages, unions, or the equivalent thereof.” But they don’t want to stop there, either. They also have bills pending that would allow anybody to deny doing anything for anybody else based solely on personal religious beliefs (however misguided, wrong, or not in accordance with the religion upon which they are supposed to be based.) I’m sure we’ll hear calls for boycotts of the Cowboy Hall of Fame when they pass. There was an eighteen-month lull in state RFRAs before Pennsylvania passed its version called the “Religious Freedom Protection Act.” This one should have triggered calls for boycotts, too, as it not only allows the same kind of personal discrimination based on personal religious beliefs the other bad bills did, but it also appears to directly refute the point of the national RFRA law that overturned Smith so Native Americans can legally use peyote. It would be hard for PA to argue this bill was in response to the Smith decision. Seven months later, in July of 2003, Missouri passed their basic RFRA. It did specify a number of ways in which the Act could not be used, such as supporting a defense to not pay child support, or as an excuse to harm anyone else. I’m glad one of the states thought about that. Their proposed amending legislation would apply religious freedom protection to students. Then things went quiet on the RFRA front for about four years.

In April 2007, the Commonwealth of Virginia showed all those religious bigots how to do it by re-passing a law originally passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1786, before we officially became the United States under our current Constitution, weird language and spellings and all. Don’t believe me? After declaring that the following was passed in 1786, here’s the first sentence:

“Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who, being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, have established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical, and even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labors, for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though, indeed, those are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet, neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he, being of course judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rules of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere, when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail, if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

As the Break-Up Song says, “They don’t write ’em like that anymore.” But as fancy and high-falutin’ as this was (and I’ll thank Virginia not to mention my burthens in public again), they still want to amend this law with a specific right to discriminate by saying no one can be denied a state-issued license just because something they refused to do something that “would violate the religious or moral convictions of such person with respect to same-sex marriage or homosexual behavior.” Once again, it’s only the gays against whom “religious freedom” can be sanctioned. No mention of people wearing tattoos, customers at Red Lobster, women wearing clothing made from two different fabrics, or people who work Saturdays, though they should all face the same Biblical punishments as gay people.

It was about another year before Utah passed its RFRA. If you looked at some of the previous links, you may have come across laws regarding religious land use. Utah’s bill took this form, primarily, but it also adds a protection for religious organizations or people acting on behalf of same if they wish to discriminate based on their alleged religious beliefs. Are you noticing a pattern here? In the beginning, the RFRAs were passed to make up for the SCOTUS saying the national RFRA could not apply to the states. And most of the early ones simply said that the government had the burden of proof if they wanted to infringe on religious freedom, such as banning the use of peyote in religious ceremonies like your ancestors did for centuries. But then the bills started to evolve into declarations that you don’t have to do anything that infringes on your religious beliefs, especially if it involves gay people. Again, not all sinners, just the gay ones. It’s hard for me to believe you can justify it as a religious belief when it’s the only such belief you have when it comes to who to discriminate against. More than a year after Utah, Tennessee passed its RFRA, and while it seems on the surface to be the same as the early RFRAs in that it sets the proper legal test for violations of religious freedom, it also defines “substantial burden” in a way that could be interpreted to mean “not all that substantial.” Almost a year to the day later, Louisiana passed its version of an RFRA. Like many of the overly-broad versions, this ones allows a person “the ability to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by a sincerely-held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or a central part or central requirement of the person’s religious belief.” The problem I have with this kind of language is the “sincerely-held” part. I don’t dispute that these folks think gay people should not have equal rights. I strongly dispute that it’s their religious beliefs that makes them feel this way. Three years after them, Kentucky passed something they claim to be some kind of RFRA, but it’s very short (compared to the other bills), and doesn’t go into as much detail. The KY legislature overrode the governor’s veto. I think the devil was in the details of other bills that set the parameters for when it’s okay to discriminate. Kansas followed up in July 2013 with its RFRA. As you’d expect from a hard-right state government, they allow people to refuse to act in a way that goes contrary to their supposedly deeply held religious beliefs. And, finally, Mississippi passed an RFRA law in 2014. Not only does it restore the Sherbert/Yoder compelling government interest test, it also has these two gems: 1) “Nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize any government to burden any religious belief.” (Notice they no longer mention “substantial burden.”); and, 2) “Nothing in this act shall create any rights by an employee against an employer if the employer is not the government.” In other words, the government can’t suppress your religious freedom, but your non-governmental employer can. Because unless you’re a business owner, your rights are meaningless.

When you go through these laws, it’s impossible not to notice the gradual transition from simply ensuring that the government applied the same legal test to claims of religious infringement that it did before Justice Scalia decided Native Americans had no constitutional right to do something they were doing before we invaded their land and stole it from them, to enshrining the right to discriminate based solely on claims of religious belief. You don’t have to actually believe these things to claim they permit you to deny service to people you don’t like. You just have to say they do, and it’s up to the government to prove why you shouldn’t be an exception to the rule. Despite being members of a Christian faith, the Oregon Native Americans weren’t claiming a right to deny another person their services because of their religious beliefs, they were claiming a right to do something their people were doing long before anyone came along, took their lands, and set up new laws. But the Christians who support RFRAs are undeniably using them to justify treating some of their fellow citizens in ways their Lord & Savior would undoubtedly disapprove (if he ever existed.) Nor can it really be argued that the original intent of the RFRA laws had anything to do with codifying a right to discriminate, yet that is clearly what was being done by Conservative legislatures that passed recent versions. And do not, for a moment, believe that this right to discriminate has anything whatsoever to do with religious freedom or beliefs. I call bullshit on that one. This has nothing to do with Religion and everything to do with Hate. Are any of these businesses who refuse to sell goods or services to gay people because of their religious beliefs refusing to sell their goods and services to any other category of people not living in accordance with Scripture? Are the ones who won’t sell wedding cakes to gay people also refusing to sell wedding cakes to divorced people looking to marry again? Are they open on the Sabbath, when many weddings take place? If there are things your religious beliefs compel you to do but you don’t, then you shouldn’t be allowed to claim your religious beliefs compel you to act in a particular way, especially if that particular way is a trivial aspect of your religious beliefs. It makes a mockery of the free exercise of religion. Nothing in the Christian faith compels followers to treat anyone the way Conservative Christians want to treat gay people, and only gay people. If these so-called Christians want to claim the Bible justifies their actions (a justification not supported by anything in the Constitution), then they should be required to be consistent and apply the same rules to other people they encounter. Or maybe they have to accept the fact that their religious beliefs are inconsistent with their Capitalistic beliefs. You cannot operate any business in accordance with Biblical Law without violating either the US Constitution or federal Civil Rights laws. It was one thing to simply restore the legal test in place before Smith, but as expert on religious extremism Marci A. Hamilton explains, these RFRA bills have gone too far. They are not about protecting religious freedom, they are about protecting religious bigotry. Too many people forget that before the United States came along, every nation had an official religion. And everybody was expected to practice that official religion, sometimes under severe penalty (death), and sometimes under threat of ostracism by the people around you. And, of course, in many countries you were not allowed to even think of practicing another religion. Our Framers said that was wrong. This continent was invaded by Europeans seeking a place to practice their religion their own way, which was a much more extreme version than that practiced back home. They didn’t think their fellow countrymen were religious enough. That’s right. The people who founded what the religious right claims is a Christian nation were religious extremists.

You can visit the Religious Freedom Restoration Act Perils site here.

Oh, and for those breathlessly waiting to find out who rounds out the Final Four of state capital names that begin with the same letter as their states, the other three are:
.
.
.
.
(look away if you want to work it out for yourself)
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
Dover, Delaware; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Honolulu, Hawaii. How many did you get right? And how many did you get right without Googling the answer? Let us know. Thanks for playing.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Religious Freedom, its Restoration, or anything else you wish to discuss.

Sunday Roast: Did I say that out loud?

via Raw Story

The current Bob Jones, who, unfortunately for the rest of us, seem to run in perpetuity, has regrets.  He now allows that gay people should not be stoned, although they are still sinners.

“I take personal ownership of this inflammatory rhetoric. This reckless statement was made in the heat of a political controversy 35 years ago,” Jones said in a statement. “Upon now reading these long-forgotten words, they seem to me as words belonging to a total stranger—were my name not attached.”

“I cannot erase them, but wish I could, because they do not represent the belief of my heart or the content of my preaching. Neither before, nor since, that event in 1980 have I ever advocated the stoning of sinners,” he added.

In other words, “I can’t believe I said that out loud.”

But, looking on the bright side, since it seems that we’re ALL sinners in the eyes of the mythical sky fairy, then that puts homosekshuls on equal footing with the rest of us — hence equal rights for everyone!!  Yay, Bob Jones III!

I’m sure he’s right onboard with the idea…right?

This is our daily open thread — Sorry so late!!

The Watering Hole, Monday, March 2, 2015: How The Right Gets Net Neutrality Wrong

This past Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to change the way the nation’s internet service providers are regulated. After their proposed regulation, Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet, is published on the federal register in a few weeks, it will take effect sixty days later. This has some prominent right wing luminaries upset, even though it’s apparent they have absolutely no understanding of what net neutrality is. All it means is that all internet content must be treated equally by the internet service providers (ISPs). Comcast can’t slow down your Netflix streaming video just because they would prefer you use their subsidiary company’s product, Hulu. The ISPs aren’t happy, but you should be overjoyed. Don’t listen to these people.

People like Pat Robertson. Like many Conservatives, Robertson calls the new FCC regulations a “takeover” of the internet, and he adds that this is all part of a socialist agenda to take control of everything. As with most things Pat Robertson says, nothing could be further from the truth. The government is not taking over the internet which it created (and which Al Gore helped bring into the civilian world.) The government is simply making sure no private corporation can take over the internet and deprive you of content that might come from a competitor, or charge you extra to get higher speed internet for some content, and slower speeds for content like the blog you’re reading right now.

Robertson says the government wants to regulate the internet using a law written in 1934. That is false. They are using a law written in 1996 which updated the law written in 1934. He’s also wrong about the PP/ACA being a takeover of the healthcare industry. Conservatives frequently mischaracterize things in order to scare you into thinking something is happening which isn’t. And the goal of the fear mongering is the fear itself. People who are afraid often make bad decisions, and one of those bad decisions is voting for Conservatives.

Don’t listen to people like Rush Limbaugh, either. Limbaugh also thinks the government is trying to take over the internet it once created, but for a completely different reason. He thinks the government wants to ban bullets. I know it just flows so logically. You see, Rush is afraid of ISIS, and he’s afraid because they’re recruiting from all over the United States and Rush says “the government must have control of the Internet if we are to be safe.” (Projection.) Rush thinks the government is going to resort to extraordinary measures to fight ISIS, and that will include the banning of bullets. Except the government is not trying to ban bullets, they are trying to regulate armor-piercing bullets. And they won’t ban the ones that are “primarily” used for sporting purposes, so if a bunch of sovereign citizens decide today is the day the government is coming for their guns, they’ll still be able to shoot them with armor-piercing bullets.

And don’t listen to people like Ted Cruz, either. (It could result in brain damage. For you, not Ted. He’s already gone.) Somehow, Ted has it in his tiny little mind that regulating the internet will deprive you of your freedom.

“We do that fundamentally by standing with the people and not with Washington.”

For all their talk about Freedom, Conservatives still do not understand the concept that our federal government IS “We the People.” Then again, they never liked that from the beginning. It was Conservatives, those heavy on the “States’ Rights” idea (even though the Articles of Confederation proved the concept unworkable), who objected to the first three words of the Constitution. They felt it should have read “We the States.” And they haven’t given up that fight since.

“Washington wants Obamacare. The people want liberty.”

Here, and in the subsequent sentences, Cruz is using the term “The people” to refer only to Conservative Americans, and “Washington” to refer to everyone else. Conservatives do not view non-Conservatives as being “true Americans.” In fact, they see us as the Enemy, much as they did in 1776 when Liberals decided they wanted to explore the freedom of not being British citizens. Conservatives wrongly believe the individual mandate is both unprecedented and unconstitutional. (This despite the fact that President John Adams wrote a law requiring all mariners to buy health insurance, and despite the fact that SCOTUS ruled the law constitutional.) They don’t like it precisely because it does bring us incrementally closer to having Single Payer which, in their minds, equates to a total loss of freedom for everyone. Completely untrue, of course. It would only deny corporations the right to cheat you out of your life savings. But since corporations are not really poeple, that shouldn’t matter.

“Washington wants amnesty. The people want rule of law.”

This is a reference to the president’s immigration policy, announced in the wake of House Republicans refusing to do anything (like pass the bill the Senate did.) It’s not an amnesty program, like the one announced under President Reagan, no matter how many times they say it is. And even if it was, it wouldn’t be unconstitutional because the president has the constitutional authority to grant amnesty. And it’s not illegal, which they’ll learn when the SCOTUS upholds it. They just hate seeing anyone get help from the government. They don’t believe government exists to serve the people of which it’s comprised.

“Washington wants power over the internet. The people want freedom online.”

Conservatives have a hard time believing that anyone in government would want to do something that protects people from unscrupulous corporations. That’s because they believe the purpose of government is to protect unscrupulous corporations from the people. They want ISPs to be able to set up a multi-tier system of various speed options. They want it to be possible for ISPs to block content that competes with their own. The only possible way one could interpret net neutrality as taking away your freedoms is if you think corporations are people with the same rights as people. But to believe that, you would have to believe that corporations should have the right to terminate the existence of a subsidiary corporation still in the process of being created without government interference. IOW, to have an abortion.

This our daily open thread. Thanks to Obama’s FCC, you’ll still have access to this blog at the same speed as the big name corporations get. Use it wisely, and talk about anything you want.

Sunday Roast: Ohhhhh, the poor poor widdle Christians

Seriously, how many ways is this just SO wrong?

These morons are giving “teh gay” so much power in their pitiful little lives, and it’s just pathetic.

OMG, allowing gay people the same human rights that the rest us so precariously enjoy will ruin EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!  If anyone voices an opinion or belief contrary to our own, we won’t be allowed to be “Christians” anymore!!!

drama-queen-i9063

Here’s your damn crown.  *eyes rolling*

This is our daily open thread —No I’m not dignifying the stupid film with commentary.