Religious liberty or civil rights? How about both?

Supporters of a RFRA bill in Georgia, state Capitol, January 2015. (AJC Photo / Brant Sanderlin)

Supporters of a RFRA bill in Georgia, state Capitol, January 2015. (AJC Photo / Brant Sanderlin)

After three years of having religious-liberty bills on the Legislature’s agenda, there are three results:

Politicians and even many activists are tired of talking about it. I’m tired of writing about it. You’re probably tired of reading about it.

Like entrenched combatants, however, neither side is able to advance or willing to retreat. I see three possible outcomes: First, a court case that changes the legal, and thus legislative, landscape (which is what produced the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act). Second, nothing changes.

Or third, we stop treating this like war.

A state RFRA should have no effect on the LGBT community, as two decades of case law show. Yet some people — on both sides of the issue — speak as if it will. We are at a point where the perception of the issue means there will be economic consequences there needn’t have been if the bill is passed, and political consequences if it isn’t. Both sides need an acceptable partial victory.

The outlines exist. But filling them in will probably take us into uncharted territory, and it would be a large mistake to try that within the time constraints of this legislative session.

So we need an opening that leaves both sides unsated and ready to stay at the table. An appetizer, not a hushpuppy.

Let’s start with the main course, though, and work our way backward. What the LGBT side needs is freedom from discrimination. What the religious-liberty side needs is freedom of conscience for those who do not wish to be personally involved in same-sex marriages. The overlap of these interests is narrower than the rhetoric might indicate. It calls for a very narrow, specific and nuanced solution.

The place for crafting such a solution is the Legislature, not the courtroom. But again, the time for doing so is not a hurried, election-year session.

Rather, such a solution needs the attention, insulation and transparency of a small study committee, comprising legislators with credibility and respect from both sides of the issue. They need months, not days, to do that kind of work.

They also need a starting point in the law, something to build upon, but not something that gives either side so much it might be tempted to walk away from the table.

On the merits, that starting point would be the state’s incorporation, verbatim, of the federal RFRA and federal law prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations on grounds of race, color, religion or national origin. Georgia lacks both. But I’m a realist, and I’d expect the LGBT side to call that an unfair trade.

The public accommodations law is the right starting point, without adding sexual orientation as a protected class, which the study committee instead should evaluate. But what would replace RFRA?

One option is the so-called Pastor Protection Act. It’s not worth much on its own: You either believe existing law protects religious liberty, despite decades of erosion in the courts, or you don’t, but it makes little sense to further protect only those who are most clearly protected now.

As an explicit starting point for further discussion, however, it could work. That would require some good faith on both sides, which has been lacking. Then again, given the poor results of the past three years, maybe it’s time to try something different.

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137 comments
Spinoza
Spinoza

What is this guy talking about "decades of erosion in the courts" of religious liberty?  That is laughable.  John Witte Jr., who is the head of Emory's Center for the Study of Law and Religion and one of the leading experts in the United States on matters of religion and the state said, "We once had separation of church and state in this country. We don't have that anymore, we have affirmative action for religion." He is a Christian and his wife is a theologian.


Churches enjoy a raft of exemptions from laws and taxes that secular non-profits can only dream of.  The Catholic Church is even pressing for property tax exemptions on rental properties they run for profit. Receiving $3 billion a year from the federal government for its charities isn't enough. The Hobby Lobby decision allowed a married couple who own a for profit business with 13,000 employees an exception from the provisions of the Affordable Health Care Act when they had direct investments in the very companies providing the contraceptives they morally objected to. 


There have been no proposals introduced anywhere which would legally require religious institutions to perform same sex marriages over their doctrinal objections. It is nothing but a scare tactic. A for profit business is a different matter and they do not have the right to use the religious beliefs of the owners to discriminate against same sex couples anymore than they can refuse people on the basis of race.  What will they demand next?  No service to atheists or Muslims because it is against their "religious principles"?


Virtually nothing good has come from the involvement of religion in our political life and law but it does provide a mask for discrimination.  But fortunately that mask is transparent to most of us.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Franklin Graham appeared in Atlanta as state lawmakers are considering “religious liberty” bills critics worry could lead to discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Supporters of the legislation — there are at least eight such bills pending in the statehouse — describe it as a way to protect people of any religion from government interference, particularly if they oppose same-sex marriage.


Huh, People still seem to think that if RFRA doesn't provide "religious liberty", then other bills would. 


Yes, this is blatant attempts by Georgia legislators to allow discrimination against gays. 

Really, Kyle, You can't say RFRA isn't about gay marriage when everyone else says it is. 

KnottiBuoy
KnottiBuoy

Last July,  Judge Allen McConnell, in Toledo, Ohio refused to marry two women in his court “based upon my personal and Christian beliefs.” 

Some public employees seem to forget that taxpayers pay them to do their job. If doing that job violates their religious beliefs, the best solution is to find another job, as others have done in the months since  Obergefell.

Some same-sex marriage opponents argue that under state religious-freedom laws, a government employee’s beliefs should be accommodated so long as another official is available to carry out the task. But government employees do not have a constitutionally protected right to pick and choose which members of the public they will serve, no matter their religious beliefs.

Not so long ago, of course, government officials invoked religious beliefs to justify racial segregation and racial discrimination, including laws banning interracial marriage. The Supreme Court struck down that marriage ban in 1967.

It is impossible to imagine any county clerk or judge now claiming a right not to marry an interracial couple based on religious beliefs. And yet, that would be analogous to what these public employees are doing in refusing to serve same-sex couples. The Constitution’s protection of religious freedom simply does (and should) NOT include the right to discriminate against members of the public.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Go Trump Go !!!!


He will cruz to the nomination from here

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@FIGMO2 @Bruno2P.S. I'm not an agnostic, Fig.  I subscribe to the philosophy of Pantheism:  The Universe is identical with the Divine, they are one and the same.

Reverence for Nature and the wider Universe.

Active respect and care for the rights of all humans and other living beings.

Celebration of our lives in our bodies on this beautiful earth as a joy and a privilege.

Strong naturalism, without belief in supernatural realms, afterlives, beings or forces.

Respect for reason, evidence and the scientific method as our best ways of understanding nature and the Universe.

Promotion of religious tolerance, freedom of religion and complete separation of state and religion.

I'm okay with ^^^ that too, Bruno.

You're okay, I'm okay. 

KeepinItSimple
KeepinItSimple


The problem I have is that anyone that is against LGBT is automatically labelled as someone filled with hate.  IT's just not true.  In fact, I would go so far as to say the LGBT friends I have are filled with more hate towards common people, religions, and corporations than the other way around.  They are just very bitter people who want to bring everyone else down.  Why so much anger?  Why try to force a religion to marry you when you know their tenets are against it unless you are just practicing your own form of hatred?  If you believe in what you stand for then you should never want to get married in such a "hateful" setting.  As usual though, some people just want to make noise and impact the lives of others for no reason, only this time the public is starting to realize which group is really the one full of hate and bitterness and voting against you. 


LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

It's not about equality for LGBT activists, it's about forcing their beliefs on others and attacking religion.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@KeepinItSimple " the LGBT friends I have are filled with more hate towards common people, religions, and corporations"


Well, it's hard to be an unbiased gay person when so many common people, religions and corporations have done great harm to gays in the past. 

Sure, people are just now coming around to agree that gay marriage is acceptable. It'll still take a little bit of work for some others to accept their own friends or family members as gay; and some it'll take even more work to respect a gay coworker the same as any other coworker. 


LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@LilBarryBailout Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that it IS about equality. 

Would you at least support that? 

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Bruno2, EyeWonder, and intolerant, religiophobic liberal fascists.

Spinoza
Spinoza

@KeepinItSimple Your "experience" isn't much of an argument but it is a hasty generalization fallacy.  No one is trying to force a religious institution to marry same sex couples if it does not accord with their theology.  It is made up groundless claim.  A for profit business is another matter.  If you are in the public domain providing a service you must not discriminate.


I see a lot more hatred from the religious side.  The sole source of opposition to accepting gay marriage and gay people is religion.  The religious right in America despises gays, Muslims, and atheists, and usually ordinary liberals.  If you think not, I invite you to read a bit more and then identify yourself as a gay, atheist, or Muslim when you are around right wing evangelicals and see how well you are treated.




Bruno2
Bruno2

EyeWonder: "fIGMO is of the "I can impose my will on you if I want to variety."

I was going to let this thread go, but feel obligated to come back to defend Fig.

I don't know Fig personally, EW, but I've blogged with her long enough to have a feeling for her theology and for her heart. Differently from my perception of LBB and Kyle, I don't see Fig as someone who would put religious dogma ahead of compassion or common sense.  My guess is that she feels stuck between a rock and a hard place regarding fair treatment of gay people because, although her heart knows what's right, she's reluctant to call out her fellow "Christians" when they start embracing hate as a "Godly" value.

I look forward to the day when people have the courage to own their own opinions and decisions and stop trying to hide behind ancient documents which are of dubious veracity.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@Bruno2

I respect your opinion, Bruno.  But I have a different view of fIGGY and I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one.  To me, her heart seems filled with all kinds of hate.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Figured I'd toss this in here in response to the headline: Religious Liberty or Civil Rights?


Religious liberty is guaranteed by the first amendment. It's pretty important. It's the first thing that was thought of when Amendments were spelled out to clarify rights of the people. Civil Rights have been fought continuously, and generally won through court decisions to finalize the freedoms enumerated in the constitution.  I guess it helps if you explicitly name protected classes so that people know who they can or cannot discriminate against, because some people just want to discriminate because they're (insert unprintable item here) or because they are taught by others  (such as preachers, parents, friends) that it is okay to treat some people differently than others. 
To fully get civil rights for gays, along with the Supreme Court providing gay marriage, it seems there is a need to add LGBT (etc) into the protected classes such as race, gender, etc

Bruno2
Bruno2

@LogicalDude It's inevitable that Civil Rights will be extended to gay people.  Shame on us for not doing it sooner.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

As the comments below have demonstrated, when it comes to leftists and their genitalia, there is no compromise on anything, not even with the First Amendment. Everyone and every thing must bow before them and make any accomodation they demand.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@Lil_Barry_Bailout Nice try at victimhood, LBB.  As I mentioned below, true conservatives favor equal treatment under the law for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation.  It's only phoney-baloney religious whackos who wish to use the law to discriminate against people.

Which group are you in??

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Lil_Barry_Bailout "Everyone and every thing must bow before them and make any accomodation they demand."


Oh. My. God.  You mean treat gay folks like REAL PEOPLE!?!?   

Yeah. . . that's a hard thing to do.  Treat people equally. (eyeroll) 

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

I'm in the group that thinks folks on both sides of this issue can make accommodations. Leftists are determined not to compromise one bit--the epitome of intolerance.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Lil_Barry_Bailout So, you evidently have a problem treating everyone equally. Sorry. Wish you'd learn to treat everyone the same. Most others have learned this. 

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Real Americans are sorry you oppose free expression of religion. It goes along with leftist opposition to free speech and freedom of association, and of course the right to keep and bear arms.

Liberal fascism on full display.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@Lil_Barry_Bailout Here's my compromise:  Feel any way you wish toward gay people, but extend to them the same rights and privileges everyone else enjoys in our society.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Another late response for Bruno.

...you dodged my main point by once again attempting to separate the "Earthly" from the "Divine"

As I recall you're an agnostic. I have no problem with that.

You seem to have a problem Christians separating the "Earthly" from the "Divine" and yet that's what we've been instructed to do.

John 18:36.

Born of God, returned to God.

Sorry if that doesn't satisfy your need to have man's (government's) law reign supreme.

Surely there are some governmental dictates that you find difficult or impossible to abide by. Do you see your sister as property of the government. I don't. I see her as a child of God, regardless.

I wish her and her chosen partner the very best life on earth has to offer.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@FIGMO2 "John 18:36"

Until you can prove to me that the Bible wasn't written by men,  then I can give it no more credence than any other book of fiction on the market.  In the meantime, feel free to believe any crazy ideas you wish, just don't hold any of them out as reasons to change the law.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Bruno2 @FIGMO2

"Book of fiction"

"crazy ideas"

^^^ There it is! as Christie would say.

There's that rhetorical blog bite. 

Have a great day, Bruno and give Eye Wonder this

.

for me.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@FIGMO2 @Bruno2 P.S. I'm not an agnostic, Fig.  I subscribe to the philosophy of Pantheism:  The Universe is identical with the Divine, they are one and the same.

You might look into it one day, since it avoids all the logical pitfalls of claiming the Creator is a separate Being hovering somewhere in space.  Better yet, it allows no hiding places for crap opinions issued by people who wear funny outfits. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheism

Bruno2
Bruno2

LBB: Your rights end where mine begin. You don't have a right to vandalize my property.

Exactly, which is one more example in which "religious freedom" does not supercede societal laws.  You obviously grasp the principle, so all that I can figure is that you don't believe discriminating against gay people causes any real harm in the same way that trespassing on private property does.  As referenced in a link below, there are preachers out there who believe whipping children in church is Divinely ordered, and they have Bible verses ready to support their position.  And at one point in our history, society was probably on their side.

The bottom line is that values change over time.   Sorry if you don't embrace the change.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Bruno2

...there are preachers out there who believe whipping children in church is Divinely ordered...

There are also preachers out there who will accommodate gay marriages within their houses of worship.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@FIGMO2 @Bruno2 So, the fact that there are a certain percentage of preachers who will accommodate gay people is supposed to make up for the rest??

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Bruno2 @FIGMO2

You want IT ALL, Bruno?

Good luck with that.

When you receive all that you want, let me know how you went about it. There's a few areas where I've been left wanting, not that I dwell on them.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Lil_Barry_Bailout @Bruno2 Sure it is.  it's in the First Amendment. 

Nobody is making a church change their own rules. 

The request is that people be treated equally, and that the law should not allow discrimination of gays. It's exactly the same as the law should not allow for discrimination of interracial couples. 

Once you open the door to allow discrimination due to "religious convictions", then you open discrimination, not only of gays, but of pretty much anyone that anybody thinks can be considered "sinful". 


Spinoza
Spinoza

@LogicalDude @Lil_Barry_Bailout @Bruno2 It is absurd that in a country which has more religious freedom than any in the world that we see these whiners with their victimhood claims.


It's not enough that religious institutions pay no property taxes, cross over into partisan politics all the time without being investigated by the IRS, get laws passed which given them more and more exemptions from taxes and regulations which apply to all other organizations, and then they get boatloads of money from the federal government.  They want to make the laws which govern the rest of us in accordance with their religious doctrines.

Rubicon1
Rubicon1

The LGBT community in Georgia has not had the best support from the Legislature.  The religious community has been pretty heavy handed here for centuries.  There is a lot of distrust between the groups and I'm not surprised that we are where we are.  I hope something positive can come from this and not another national embarrassment like we saw in Indiana. 

Bruno2
Bruno2

 Kyle: "That would require some good faith on both sides, which has been lacking"

Final point for the evening, since you mentioned something about "good faith":  Homosexuality is here to stay, Kyle.  The presence of homosexuals in our society poses no special threat that I can detect, since the vast majority of homosexuals are fine, upstanding citizens who contribute in many ways.  As such, I can see no value in supporting laws which permit discrimination against them.  In my eyes, the "good faith" position is to treat all people equally.

On your side, I really don't see much "good faith", since I believe that using religious doctrine to support discrimination against others is crap.  Fortunately for you, current law does confer "private club" status to churches for the most part, so anyone who is homophobic can discriminate to their heart's content inside a church setting, however hypocritical it may be to do so.

If the law is changed one day, and churches are no longer able to legally discriminate against homosexuals, however, then it is well within the rights of society to enforce that requirement.  Religious liberty doesn't supercede societal laws, which you seemed to be questioning below, despite any added legal protections for restricting religious liberty such as "compelling government interest" and "least restrictive way" considerations.

The momentum in societal opinion is clear:  People are no longer in favor of permitting discrimination against gay people.  Like the Old South Confederacy, there appears to be a group in our midst who is unhappy about that change and is going to do everything they can to protect the old way of doing things, to the point of claiming Divine Justification for their cause.  Like the Confederacy, I see this group ultimately losing their battle, however.  Oh, well.


LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

"Religious liberty doesn't supercede societal laws"

-----

False. Free exercise of religion is a founding principle of this country and is, fittingly, part of the First Amendment. Like laws limiting speech, laws that limit free expression must serve some purpose that can't be satisfied any other way. A law requiring someone to bake a cake for a gay "wedding" doesn't meet that standard, because there are many cake-bakers from which to choose. A law prohibiting gay "weddings" on state property where other weddings are permitted would be unconstitutional.

The gay lobby isn't interested in preventing discrimination, it is interested in punishing people who have beliefs different from their own, and using the state to enforce their own brand of intolerance.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Your rights end where mine begin. You don't have a right to vandalize my property.

klusk
klusk

@Lil_Barry_Bailout What if my religion doesn't acknowledge land rights?  


A person's rights say that they can buy things from any licensed business.  You sell cake?  I can buy cakes.  


You don't like it, establish a cake "club" or don't sell cakes as an official business.

klusk
klusk

@LilBarryBailout What if my religion frees me to express myself by peeing on your lawn? Obviously absurd, right?  


So where does it stop?  Could I be able to not bake a cake for a black wedding because my religion disagrees?


Where is the list?  What religion?  

Spinoza
Spinoza

@LilBarryBailout 

I think you two are at cross purposes and you are stretching the notion of free speech which in fact has many legal restrictions apart from this issue. 

A for profit business has no legal right to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or sexual preference.  Churches can conduct their own marriages and ceremonies in accordance with their doctrines which will usually exclude same sex couples.  They can continue that practice as long as they choose.  Civil marriage gives same sex couples the rights they deserve  under law regardless of what religions may think of that. 

Your last paragraph is just a repetition of right wing propaganda.  A straw man in which you attribute the worst possible motives to people.  And explain how this notion of "punishment" is at work here?  How are they being punished? 

Spinoza
Spinoza

@klusk @LilBarryBailout I have a better way of making your point.  It seems from what I have read regarding these religious liberty laws in question that they would allow a for profit business to discriminate against any group that their religion found fault with. 

So they could refuse service to Muslims or atheists. They could even put a sign in the window saying "no gays, Muslims, or atheists will be served." 


One of these bills even wants to preserve tax exempt status for religious institutions who choose to refuse its charities for homeless people and others to gays.  If that isn't bigotry and discrimination under the color of religion then I don't know what is.