Who Is Weaponizing Religious Liberty?

From People For The American Way:  http://www.pfaw.org/report/who-is-weaponizing-religious-liberty/

It Takes a Right-Wing Village to Turn a Cherished American Principle Into a Destructive Culture-War Weapon

In 2016, for the second year in a row, more than 100 anti-equality bills targeting LGBT people were introduced in state legislatures, many of them described as measures to protect religious liberty. This flood of anti-LGBT and “religious liberty” legislation is not the result of isolated local efforts. It is part of a larger campaign by Religious Right groups to resist and reverse advances toward equality for LGBT Americans by portraying equality as inherently incompatible with religious freedom. That effort began well before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling, but it has kicked into overdrive since.

Religious Right organizations have long equated criticism with persecution, and portrayed legal and political defeats as attacks on Christianity and religious freedom. Efforts to frame opposition to reproductive choice and LGBT equality as religious liberty issues picked up steam with the issuing of the Manhattan Declaration in 2009. This manifesto, co-authored by right-wing Catholic intellectual Robert George, pledged that its signers would refuse to “bend” to “any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.” Since then, Religious Right groups, their allies at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and allied politicians have increasingly framed their opposition to marriage equality, nondiscrimination laws, reproductive choice, and the contraception coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act as questions of religious liberty.

Included in the recent anti-equality wave are various types of legislation, including state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs), modeled to different degrees on the federal law of the same name; so-called Government Nondiscrimination Acts (GNDAs), which do away with the federal RFRA’s balancing tests to give special legal protection to discrimination based on anti-equality religious beliefs; and anti-LGBT laws that don’t explicitly fly under the religious liberty banner, like bills barring transgender people from using the public bathrooms appropriate for their gender identity.

Some of those bills have been defeated, thanks to mobilization by equality advocates and their allies in progressive, religious, and business communities. Others have been approved by state legislatures but vetoed by governors, including Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia. Still others have been signed into law, including Mississippi’s “religious liberty” law and North Carolina’s now notorious HB2, a law overturning local nondiscrimination ordinances and banning transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity. Inflammatory rhetoric about transgender people has fed an increasingly ugly climate in which states and localities are literally making it a crime for a transgender person to go to the bathroom.

All of these approaches are being promoted by a network of national Religious Right organizations that oppose legal recognition for the rights of LGBT people. These organizations are part of a larger infrastructure of colleges and law schools, think tanks, media outlets, and advocacy groups that has been built over the last few decades. They work together to promote the false and destructive idea that legal equality for LGBT Americans is incompatible with religious freedom for those who oppose it — just as early civil rights opponents claimed that eliminating enforced racial segregation was an attack on southern white Christians’ religious beliefs.

This network of anti-equality groups is engaged in a high-stakes effort to convince Americans that preserving religious liberty requires giving individuals and corporations the power to disobey laws that promote the common good and protect other constitutional principles like equal treatment under the law.

Together these organizations constitute a powerful cultural and political force that will not disappear after a few losses in the courtroom or at the ballot box. Indeed, in the wake of their marriage equality defeat at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, they have redoubled their efforts. They are eagerly creating folk heroes out of public officials and business owners who refuse to provide services to same-sex couples. And they are pushing Republican officials to enact legislation at federal as well as state levels that would further weaponize religious liberty, turning it from a shield meant to protect individual religious practice into a sword to be wielded against individuals and groups disfavored by Religious Right leaders.

Continue reading at:  http://www.pfaw.org/report/who-is-weaponizing-religious-liberty/

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