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Trump and the Republicans Are Redefining “Religious Freedom” to Favor Christians

They want to turn religious belief into a license to discriminate, and to tear down the wall separating church and state.


February 16, 2017

As foreshadowed by his campaign, Donald Trump has spent his presidency fear-mongering over imaginary or exaggerated problems, toward sinister ends. Trump claims of widespread voter fraud are a pretext for cracking down on voters who favor Democrats. He invents crime statistics to lay the groundwork for authoritarian law-and-order policies. And he routinely calls the mainstream media “FAKE NEWS” to delegitimize accurate reporting that makes him look bad.

Republicans in Congress haven’t joined Trump on these particular crusades, but on Thursday, they will take up an issue where they and the president are equally unmoored from reality: Religious freedom.

The House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing Thursday on “The State of Religious Liberty in America,” featuring three GOP witnesses: Kim Colby, director of the Center for Law and Religious Freedom at the Christian Legal Society, which in 2010 argued unsuccessfully at the Supreme Court that one of its public law school chapters should receive university recognition and funding while excluding gay students; Hannah Smith, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which The American Prospect dubbed “the leading advocate for corporations’ religious rights” after its central work on the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case; and Casey Mattox, senior counsel for the Center for Academic Freedom at the Alliance Defending Freedom, whose leading legal role in a host of socially conservative causes over the decades led Think Progress to call it “The 800-Pound Gorilla Of The Christian Right.”

Given this lineup, it’s safe to assume the hearing will resemble previous ones on the subject, where Republicans have argued that religious freedom is under unprecedented attack in the United States. What they’ll really be arguing for, though, is the right to use religious beliefs as a license to discriminate, and to provide special protections for Christians that fly in the face of the First Amendment.

Trump, a declared Presbyterian, may not be a man of deep faith. But after winning the GOP nomination, he won over the religious right and now, he’s delivering on his promises with the help of Republicans on Capitol Hill. In doing so, these supposed defenders of religious freedom are instead waging a war on it, further blurring the separation of church and state in America.

When the House Judiciary Committee held a religious liberty hearing in 2014, Representative Trent Franks from Arizona accused the Obama administration of “flippant willingness to fundamentally abrogate America’s priceless religious freedom in the name of leftist social engineering,” citing Obamacare’s birth control mandate. Franks added that “every individual has the right to religious freedom and First Amendment expression so long as they do not deny the constitutional rights of another.”

But as that hearing wore on, it became clear that Republicans and their conservative witnesses did, in fact, want to impinge on the rights of others. They argued that, for religious reasons, companies should be allowed to deny their employees contraception coverage and wedding photographers should be allowed to turn away same-sex couples. Matthew Staver, founder of the conservative Christian law firm Liberty Counsel, even defended the legality of counseling “to reduce or eliminate same-sex sexual attractions, behavior, or identity”—otherwise known as conversion therapy.

Barry Lynn—a Democratic witness and the executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State—argued in his testimony, “Ironically, the single greatest threat to religious freedom comes from a radical redefinition of the idea itself…I think the Framers of the Constitution would be appalled at the radical revisionism of the First Amendment being advocated by some. More importantly, I think the America of the future will look askance at efforts to elevate majority faiths or subject not so traditional believers to the status of an orphan class to be denied genuinely equal treatment in this diverse country.”

If Lynn was concerned about Republicans’ redefinition of religious liberty three years ago, he’s more worried today, now that the GOP controls Congress and the presidency.

Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch, is an anti-choice arch-conservative who sidedwith Hobby Lobby in the (ultimately successful) lawsuit against the aforementioned birth control mandate. Trump has tappedLiberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. to head an education task force. He wants to enact a $20 billion school voucher program that would use taxpayer dollars to fund religious education. He’s pledged to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law banning churches from political campaigning. And his ban on immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries was halted by a federal judge for discriminating based on religion.

“When you take vouchers, politicking from the pulpit, the trumping of laws by claims of religion, and the immigration order, that is just a smorgasbord of terrible ideas,” Lynn said in an interview this week.

There’s more. As Michelle Goldberg wrote in The New York Times last month, Trump is “assembling a near-theocratic administration, his cabinet full of avowed enemies of church-state separation.” Vice President Mike Pence believes school should be allowed to teach creationism, that condoms provide “very poor protection,” and has argued that federal AIDS funding should go to organizations that “provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said church-state separation is “unhistorical and unconstitutional.” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos supports taxpayer-funded vouchers for public school students to attend religious schools. And so on.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are readying to reintroduce Trump-endorsed legislation that “would limit the federal government’s ability to punish individuals and organizations who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds,” according to PBS NewsHour. Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, told PBS that the bill, as first introduced in 2015, “is very radical, and would startle and scare middle-of-the-road Republicans”:

Olson argued that the law, as it was originally written, would protect people like Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who grabbed headlines in 2015 when she denied a marriage license to a same-sex couple. The bill also extended protection to pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control prescriptions for unmarried women if they cite that “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

“Everything we hold as being real constitutional freedoms and protections is under assault right now,” Larry Decker, executive director of the Secular Coalition For America, said in an interview.

In addition to legitimizing discrimination under the guise of religious freedom, Trump is further enhancing the privilege of Christianity in America. He’s pledged to prioritize Christian refugees, drawing condemnation from Christian leaders who rightly see the idea as discriminatory. More fundamentally, he’s advancing the politically expedient lie that Christianity itself is somehow under attack in the United States. “Christianity is under tremendous siege,” he said on the campaign trail last year.

“They don’t have a damn clue what religious freedom means. They have bastardized the expression and the definition of it.”

Though Christians face legitimate religious persecution and slaughter for their beliefs around the world, America retains a “dizzying level of religious freedom for Christians,” Lynn told me. Much of Trump’s most passionate campaign rhetoric on this issue last year revolved around his pledge to bring back “Merry Christmas,” the seasonal greeting supposedly endangered by the rise of “Happy Holidays.” This is classic conservative Christian grievance politics, revealing that the religious right’s anxiety is not that their faith is genuinely threatened, but that it no long occupies a privileged place in an increasingly multicultural society.

“They don’t have a damn clue what religious freedom means,” Decker of the Secular Coalition said. “They have bastardized the expression and the definition of it to suggest the only thing that creates real religious freedom is privileging Christianity in this country.”

Deep down, Trump probably regards the religious right with only slightly more esteem than your average Manhattanite. But conservative Christians, evangelicals especially, are a key part of his political coalition, and he’s clearly willing to do almost anything to keep them in his column. He’ll worship them so long as they worship him, happy to politicize religion if it serves his needs.

Decker said it wasn’t for him to question Trump’s faith, but joked that Trump clearly believes in one deity above all. “I do believe that Donald Trump probably is a believer,” he said. “I think he’s a believer in Donald Trump.”

Lawrence Lessig wants to run for president — in a most unconventional way

By Philip Rucker – August 11

Presidential candidates usually don’t run on promises to vacate the White House once they get in office, but that’s what Lawrence Lessig said he might do as he begins exploring a protest bid for the 2016 Democratic nomination.

Lessig, a Harvard law professor and government reform activist, announced Tuesday morning that he was launching a presidential exploratory committee to run as what he called a “referendum president” with the chief purpose of enacting sweeping changes to the nation’s political system and ethics laws.

“Until we find a way to fix the rigged system, none of the other things that people talk about doing are going to be possible,” Lessig said in an interview with The Washington Post, borrowing a phrase that has become Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s rallying cry. “We have this fantasy politics right now where people are talking about all the wonderful things they’re going to do while we know these things can’t happen inside the rigged system.”

In the interview, conducted by phone on Monday ahead of his announcement, Lessig said he would serve as president only as long as it takes to pass a package of government reforms and then resign the office and turn the reins over to his vice president. He said he would pick a vice president “who is really, clearly, strongly identified with the ideals of the Democratic Party right now,” offering Warren as one possibility. He said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whom he considers a friend and has drawn huge crowds in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, was another option.

Lessig said he would spend the next month testing the waters to determine whether he would have enough support and resources to wage a credible campaign. If he raises $1 million by Labor Day, he said, he will formally launch his candidacy. If not, he will return the money to donors and go home.

“I’m absolutely competing to be the nominee, but obviously there’s a bunch of big hurdles to get over to make that possible,” Lessig said.

Another hurdle is making the debate stage with the other Democratic candidates, including former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Democratic National Committee has established a 1 percent national polling threshold for candidates in the debates, which begin Oct. 13 in Nevada. Lessig said he is confident he would make the cut.

“That one percent of America has watched my Ted Talks,” Lessig said. “If we can be in the debates and frame this issue in a way that becomes compelling, then I think there’s a chance to see it take off.”

Lessig has developed a following in liberal circles with his activism against big money in politics. He launched Mayday PAC to much fanfare in the spring of 2014, billing it as the “super PAC to end super PACs.” But it failed to play a decisive role in any race that year. The group spent more than $10 million going after candidates opposed to measures that would lessen the impact of wealthy donors, but in the end could not point to a single race in which it turned the outcome.

Lessig argued after the November midterm elections that the group still had influence, saying that Mayday’s late campaign against Rep. Fred Upton forced the powerful Michigan Republican to plow millions of dollars into what most expected was going to be an easy reelection.

If he moves forward, Lessig said, he would “run a full campaign.” He already has about six aides helping with his effort, led by Ryan Clayton. The public relations firm Fenton Communications also is involved and Lessig said he is in talks with two pollsters.

The singular focus of Lessig’s campaign would be passing the Citizens Equality Act, a package of reforms that would guarantee the freedom to vote with automatic registration, end partisan gerrymandering and fund campaigns with a mix of small-dollar donations and public funds.

But, Lessig said, “It’s not like the one issue I care about is way off to the corner and nothing else is important to me. Everything is important to me — from Wall Street to climate change to the debt — all of those are tied to this particular problem.”

The other Democratic candidates have been addressing political reform issues as well. Clinton, Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley have said they want to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums of money on independent election activities.

But Lessig said Clinton “hasn’t addressed the real reform we need.”

“Even if she did say exactly the right things, I don’t think it’s credible that she could achieve it because she – and the same thing with Bernie – would be coming to office with a mandate that’s divided among five or six different issues,” Lessig said. “The plausibility of creating the kind of mandate necessary to take on the most powerful forces inside of Washington is zero. This is what led me to recognize that we have to find a different way of doing this.”

Matea Gold contributed to this report. Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

In: washingtonpost

“Under God’s authority”: The case of clerk Kim Davis

meme secular state

Not for winning or being appointed in clerk position, this will belong to her and, from that post, she can decide who deserves a service and who does not. The exercise of public service is not about choices (It’s Not About what you believe) because is a duty, and she can´t have that discriminatory behavior against any person in relation with the goods and services that the state provides to its citizens.

Public service is mandatory for all civil servant. Public administration and the civil service is characterized by the objectivity and impartiality that is embodied in the fact prevent personal or individual elements affect the civil servant criteria when making decisions.

Public and civil servants must be objective in the line of duty. It’s like saying “think with reason and not so much with the heart”. It’s like going to a restaurant and the customer orders to the waiter “I would like to order biscuits ’n’ gravy” and the waiter answers to the consumer “sorry I don’t like biscuits ’n’ gravy, so you don’t deserve it, too”.

Finally, rule of law is a principle in public administration and because of that she can´t deny the marriage service even more if the SCOTUS ruled the same sex marriage as a right nationwide. The public servants develops their duties inside a secular state.


See: The Kentucky clerk who won’t issue marriage licences, and all her deputy clerks have been called to appear at a federal court hearing

Supreme Court says Kentucky clerk can’t deny same-sex marriage licenses

Considero que no es que por ganar o haber sido designado en el puesto, este le pertenezca a ella y, desde esa nueva posición, ella pueda decidir a quien atender y a quien no. El ejercicio del servicio público no se trata de opciones (It’s not about what you believe), sino un deber y como tal no debe discriminarse a ninguna persona respecto de los bienes y servicios que el Estado brinda a sus ciudadanos.

El servicio público es imperativo para todo servidor civil. La administración pública y el servicio civil se caracterizan por la objetividad que se materializa en el hecho de evitar que elementos personales o individuales afecten el criterio del servidor civil al momento de tomar decisiones.

Es como se dice: “pensar con la razón y no tanto con el corazón”. Ello no obsta que el servidor civil tenga un espectro de acción que le lleve a hacer lo correcto pero sin afectar negativa e injustificadamente la situación jurídica del Estado o los derechos del ciudadano.



The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned down a Kentucky county clerk’s request for an emergency order allowing her to continue to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples while she appeals a federal judge’s order requiring her to do so. USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court refused Monday to let a Kentucky county clerk deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of what she said were her religious beliefs.

The ruling, made without comment or any apparent dissents, is an early indication that while some push-back against gay marriage on religious grounds may be upheld, the justices won’t tolerate it from public officials.

In one of the first tests of the court’s June 26 decision upholding the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis had argued that her Christian faith prevented her from recognizing such marriages.

Rather than deny only same-sex couples, which the high court had said would be unconstitutional, she chose to stop issuing marriage licenses altogether — and was sued by same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

Davis argued that her refusal was not a major burden for the couples, since Kentucky has about 136 other marriage-licensing locations. But federal district and appeals court judges had refused to grant her wish, forcing Davis to seek the Supreme Court’s intervention. Her petition was filed late last week by the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel.

“If a (same-sex marriage) license is issued with Davis’ name, authorization, and approval, no one can unring that bell,” the petition said. “That searing act of validation would forever echo in her conscience.”

The high court’s ruling doesn’t end Davis’ challenge, still pending at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit — the same appellate court that previously allowed Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee to block same-sex marriage before being overruled by the Supreme Court. But it means that in the meantime, her office must issue marriage licenses.

En: usatoday