It's about time! Prompted by ever-vigilant bloggers, leading LGBT advocates have sounded a belated alarm about the steady stream of proposed state laws designed to deny basic human rights to LGBT Americans. If enacted, these self-proclaimed "religious liberty" laws would reduce every gay American to second-class citizenship. The attempt by the right wing to create special privilege for fundamentalist, mostly Christian, religious groups has been going on for years, if not decades, unabated and mostly unchallenged. While many of us have been shouting from the rooftops about the strategy of these fundamentalists claiming to be persecuted for their religious beliefs, many in the LGBT community and their progressive allies appear to be unconcerned about these developments. I am reminded of I Corinthians 14:8, "And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?" (New Revised Standard Version)
The recent despicable and unconstitutional legislation, SB 1062, passed by the Arizona legislature, and awaiting the signature of Governor Brewer, is the latest in series of attempts by state legislatures to legalize outright discrimination cloaked in the veil of "religious liberty." But this is not something new. In 1994, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a law that was aimed at preventing any legislation that substantially burdened a person's right to the free exercise of religion. In 1997, when the United States Supreme Court found RFRA to be unconstitutional as applied to the states (it still applies to the federal government), many states, including Arizona passed their own version of RFRA. It is the Arizona RFRA that is being updated by this legislation. It expands the definition of a person and no longer requires the government be party to any lawsuit. If this bill becomes law, then basically anyone in Arizona can, with absolute impunity, refuse to do business, or provide services, to anyone who offends their sincerely held religious beliefs.
I accuse the LGBT community and other progressives of complacency because many apparently only recognize the threat when this blatant discrimination becomes a potential reality in their own home state, or a state where they plan to visit, take a vacation or do business.
The same fundamentalists who are advocating for these ant-LGBT laws in state legislatures have used a similar strategy in the post "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"(DADT) military. Each year since repeal of DADT, conservative Republican members of Congress introduce the Military Religious Freedom Act. When this stand-alone legislation gains no traction, they cleverly include so called "conscience protection" language in the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Just like their counter parts in the Arizona legislature, those members of Congress who have successfully included expanded "conscience protection" provisions in the past two NDAA's, also claim to be advancing "religious liberty." In reality, they are providing a license to discriminate and bully service members-creating special rights for those who want immunity to say and do anything so long as they claim their actions are as a result of sincerely held religious beliefs.
It is not merely the conservative politicians in Congress and Arizona who want to carve out special rights for religious fundamentalists. Even more appalling are the restrictions placed on some of those who are entrusted by the American people to provide care and comfort for our service members-military chaplains. Just recently, in response to the repeal of DADT and the finding by the Supreme Court that part of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, two major faith groups have placed limitations on their military chaplains. Like conservative members of the Arizona legislature and Congress, the Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics claim these restrictions on their endorsed chaplains advance "religious liberty." These two faith groups have instructed their chaplains not to participate in any family support programs that have gay or lesbian married couples, not to provide pastoral care or any counseling to LGB service members or their families, and not to participate in any worship service or event with an LGB affirming chaplain, volunteer or contractor.
The claim by these fundamentalists to be protecting "religious liberty" is true-these proposed laws and restrictions are indeed their attempt to create special rights to advance their religious beliefs at the expense of others who disagree with them. From the repeal of DADT, to the advance of marriage equality, these religious conservatives find our society, by vote and judicial decisions, rejecting their narrow view of what America should be. For many of those advancing this discriminatory legislation, the Constitution should be supplanted by the inerrant and literal words of their holy scripture. It should now be clear to all that these fundamentalists are using the guise of "religious liberty" as the final bulwark in their losing battle to maintain their privilege and special rights.