There were both cheers and tears as many in the Utah LGBTQ communityÂ celebrated the passageÂ of a workplace and housing nondiscrimination law in the conservative Utah legislature. But behind closed doors, I suspect it’s actually the leaders of the Religious Right who are cheering the hardest.
As someone who began as an activist in the Utah LGBTQ community, and fought for years alongside countless others for full workplace and housing protections, I was overjoyed at the possibility that 2015 might finally be the year we stepped closer to equality. Too many LGBTQ Utahns, myself included, have faced that discrimination firsthand. But once the legislation was unveiled, my heart sank. While there is much to be happy with in the legislation, and the protections it offers to some of the most vulnerable citizens in the Beehive State, the law also contains a tiny Trojan Horse individual religious exemptions clause.Â
The Utah bill is being called a â€œmodelâ€ to be used in states around the nation, but we must be forewarned. The individual religious exemption in the law, as small and seemingly noninvasive as it is, could put the civil liberties of everyone at stake for decades to come.
Religious freedom is important, and as a principle has existed since before the writing of the U.S. Constitution. The 13 original colonies were a fractured bunch of near-theocracies, with various Christian sects dominating different coloniesâ€”to the detriment of anyone not a member of the particular sect in power locally. Thanks to the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the principle of religious freedom in the Constitution set in motion of the disestablishment of the state churches, and the advantages they held in the public sphere. Jefferson’s famous Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which predated the Constitution and was the first such law to be enacted in the world, said one’s beliefs or non-beliefs cannot â€œenhance, diminish, or impactâ€ one’s â€œcivil capacity.â€ Individuals were shielded from the tyranny of churches who had previously sought to force them to adhere to their beliefs, and religions were shielded from governments elevating one religion over another.Â
It has taken us a long time to make it work and, in truth, we are still working on it.Â
But the Religious Right has launched a campaign to redefine the meaning of religious liberty, stripping away those protections and once again giving religions the power to circumscribe the rights of individual conscience.Â
This coalition, led by right-wing groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly known as Alliance Defense Fund), the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and Liberty Counsel, is systematically working the courts and state legislatures to enact religious exemptionsâ€”essentially a right of religious institutions and individuals to decide which laws they will or will not follow.
In practical terms, this could play out as a business owner invoking faith to deny service to a LGBTQ couple, or refusing to hire Jewish employees. Or a man refusing to promote women to managerial positions because he doesn’t believe men should be subservient to women. We cannot allow such freedom of conscience to become a legal sanction for these and other forms of discrimination.
One of the Religious Right leaders heavily involved in this campaign is Dallin H. Oaks, one of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ (Mormon) senior leaders and member of their Quorum of 12 Apostles. The Mormon church frequently finds itself at odds with members of other faiths who donâ€™t believe it to be a true Christian religion. However, unlike some of his brethren in the all-male leadership, Oaks is deeply involved in the work with the Religious Right. He sits on the board of the international culture warring organization World Congress of Families. He received the 2013 â€œCanterbury Medalâ€ for his â€œdefense of religious libertyâ€ from the Becket Fund. In speeches before conservative groups, Oaks frequently extols the benefits of individuals being able to using their faith as an excuse to dodge pesky civil rights laws.
That’s why, when just a few weeks ago Oaks held a press conference to announce that he and the Mormon church were ready to endorse a statewide nondiscrimination law for LGBTQ people if only the leaders of the local LGBTQ community would sit down and negotiate a â€œcompromise,â€ many were suspicious.
Oaks was up front about what he was looking for. He and other leaders of the Mormon church enumerated the religious exemptions they wanted included with a nondiscrimination law, including a right for government and health care workers to deny service to LGBTQ people.
SB296, the bill that resulted from those negotiations, was hailed by equality groups and the Mormon church as a â€œhistoric compromiseâ€ of nondiscrimination and religious freedom. The bill does indeed ban workplace and housing discrimination against LGBTQ people in Utah. But buried underneath those important protections, is a small clause guaranteeing the right of individuals to express faith-based anti-LGBTQ views at work.
Itâ€™s a small exemption. Seemingly inconsequential in comparison to the benefits the new law could bring. Viewed purely as a standalone piece of legislation, SB296 does a lot more good than bad and itâ€™s unsurprising to see so many social justice-minded people supporting it.
But the equality movement cannot survive if we view legislation through a short-term and narrow lens. To do so is to ignore the context of the long-term consequences of the Religious Rightâ€™s national agendaâ€”which only needs to get a foot in the door to get the ball rolling.Â
Oaks’ goal with the nondiscrimination law was not to pass full individual religious exemptions all at once. To use the analogy of the unfortunate amphibian, the frog will jump out of the pot if put directly into boiling water. But turn the heat up slowly, and the frog cooked to death. For the LGBTQ community to endorse the Religious Right’s corrupt redefined version of religious freedom, even in this one seemingly minor way, opens the door for the expansion of religious exemptions in both breadth and number.Â
And as if to confirm this suspicion as quickly as possible, within two hours of the â€œcompromiseâ€ SB296 passing the Utah legislature, conservatives in the Utah House of Representatives had also passed two other bills that had not been part of the negotiations: one granting county clerks the right to refuse to perform any marriage they opposed on religious grounds, and the other paving the way for full individual religious exemptions in the public marketplace.Â
Itâ€™s a victory for the Right not only in the success of imposing their agenda into law, but in winning the larger PR battle at a critical moment in time.Â
As I discussed in Resisting the Rainbow: Right-Wing Responses to LGBTQ Gains, the Mormon church has only ever given in to pressure by the LGBTQ community when its back is against the wall in a public relations battle. After months of heavy protesting over their involvement in California’s Prop 8, they endorsed a municipal nondiscrimination law in Salt Lake City in 2009. In 2010, after 2nd-in-command Mormon leader Boyd K. Packer claimed that there was no way God would allow people to be born gay, protests around the church’s headquarters garnered international attention and prompted Packer’s comments to be officially stricken from the church’s records. Â
So why did the Mormon church unexpectedly come to the table? Could it be a delayed response to their highly-publicized excommunication of faithful feminist members for asking for a public discussion about why the patriarchal church does not allow female leadership? Unlikely, that was months ago and the discussion has largely died down.
A more plausible explanation is the forthcoming World Congress of Families (WCF) event scheduled for Salt Lake City in October. The international coalition of U.S. culture warriors held a conference last year in Moscowâ€”their name was removed just before the conference started to prevent negative publicity over the situation in Ukraineâ€”where attendees unanimously voted to urge their home countriesâ€”like the United Statesâ€”to pass laws modeled on the Russian anti-LGBTQ law. (That law criminalizes any positive speech about LGBTQ people under the guise of protecting children from â€œpropaganda.â€)Â
WCF attendees and other U.S. conservatives, such as Rick Warren, Sharon Slater, Brian Brown and others, are known around the world for their work in exporting the culture wars abroad, which has resulted in outcomes like the â€œkill the gaysâ€ bill in Uganda.
Dallin H. Oaks is a member of the WCF board of directors.Â
Thanks to Oaks’ work in helping to pass the â€œcompromiseâ€ legislation, the WCF and the Religious Right’s goal of codifying their redefined version of religious freedom into law has taken a giant step forward. Once Pandoraâ€™s Box is opened, thereâ€™s no shutting it.
Eric Ethington is a journalist, activist, and researcher. Originally from Utah, he now works in Boston for a social justice think tank. His writing, advocacy work, and research have been featured on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, the New York Times, The Guardian, and The Public Eye magazine. Follow him on Twitter @EricEthington.Â
Image: Gov. Gary Herbert signing SB296 into law. Photo byÂ Salt Lake City Council MemberÂ Erin Mendenhall via Twitter
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‘Apparently You’ll Never Believe Us’: House Republican Melts Down After Reporter Questions His ‘Evidence’ Against Biden
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith (R-MO) became defensive and accusatory after repeatedly being unable to answer a reporter’s questions in a press conference Wednesday, held to announce what House Republicans claim is “evidence” against President Joe Biden.
A shortened version of the video posted by the news organization Heartland Signal went viral, garnering nearly one million views in under three hours on the social media platform X.
“Mr. Chairman, question about the timing of all of this,” began an NBC News reporter identified by Mediaite as Ryan Nobles. “You’re talking about a two-tiered system of justice. If I’m not mistaken, on August 7, 2020 Bill Barr was the attorney general and Donald Trump was the president, so explain to me where the two-tiered system of justice comes into play. And then the WhatsApp message you have, I believe, is dated June 6, 2017. Joe Biden is not vice president or even a candidate for president at that time. So where is the direct connection to some sort of criminal malfeasance within these two pieces of evidence?”
Chairman Smith could not only not answer any part of those questions, he appeared to forget a portion of them.
“Well, I think the facts speak for themselves,” Smith replied. “There’s over 700 pages of examples of, where people should be very concerned, when you’re talking about um, ah, – what was your first question?”
Smith went on to say, “It doesn’t matter who’s in the White House,” after being reminded them President at that time was Donald Trump. “We need to make sure that the Department of Justice works for all people and doesn’t treat those who are politically connected or wealthy much differently. And unfortunately, we have several examples that came forward by the two IRS whistleblowers, that proves that people are treated differently because they’re politically connected.”
“Are you suggesting that Joe Biden being the president now, is unfairly treating Donald Trump in his indictment?” Nobles asked.
Again, Smith did not answer the question.
“What I’m talking about is the 700 pages that we have before us, which is all the information that came from the IRS whistleblowers, and that’s what we’re releasing right now,” Smith replied, again not answering Nobles’ question. “And I’ll tell you, I would encourage everyone in this room to look at those 700 pages. If you think it’s okay, with what’s in it, then we live on two different planets.”
“Can you explain the timing of the August 6 WhatsApp message? Why is that evidence of some wrongdoing?” Nobles continued..
“I’m not an expert on the timeline,” Smith admitted, before pivoting to say, “I would love to have President Biden and his family to tell us about all the timelines, because it’s really, really unfortunate that we see so many meetings and so many phone calls that involved around official activity that the Vice President has been participating in, and then big sums of money follows later –”
“But he’s not the president or the vice president at that time. Where, where’s the wrongdoing? He wasn’t even a candidate for president,” Nobles pointed out.
“He was a candidate – ” Smith claimed.
“On August 6 –” Nobles began before Smith interrupted him.
“So apparently apparent – what source are you with?” Chairman Smith asked Noble.
“I’m with NBC,” the reporter replied.
“So apparently, you’ll never believe us,” Smith charged.
“I’m asking you a very direct question,” Nobles explained. “You presented a piece of evidence that you say came on August 6, 2017, that demonstrates that Joe Biden was using political influence to help his son. He wasn’t a political figure at that time. The first WhatsApp message you put up, where yo talk about the brand,” Nobles explained. “I’m completely open minded about this. I’m asking you specifically, how does that demonstrate that there was some sort of political influence being put over him, if at that time, he is not a political – he’s not an elected official?”
“I’m definitely not going to pinpoint one item,” Chairman Smith said defensively.
“You presented it!” Nobles acclaimed. “It was the first thing that you brought up.”
“So apparently, you don’t agree with that. So report that you disagree with it. I’ll take the next question. Yes?” Smith said, refusing to answer any of Nobles’ questions.
Watch below or at this link.
‘Jaw Dropping’: Democratic Senator Slams Tuberville’s ‘Open’ Talk About ‘White Supremacy’
A top Democratic Senator is blasting freshman Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville for his “jaw dropping” and open talk about white supremacy, after the Alabama Republican denigrated President Joe Biden’s nominee to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Senator Tuberville, the Alabama Republican who single-handedly has blocked well over 300 U.S. Military promotions, said the U.S. military is “not an equal opportunity employer,” appearing to imply Biden’s nomination of an accomplished officer was based on the color of his skin, not his impressive achievements and experience.
Air Force General Charles “CQ” Brown Jr., who is Black, will be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after a strong bipartisan 83-11 vote by the U.S. Senate confirming him last week. Sen. Tuberville voted against him, saying Tuesday he had “heard some things that he talked about about race and things that he wanted to mix into the military.”
General Brown is the first African American to head a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. He was one of TIME’s “100 Most Influential People of 2020.”
“He is a respected warfighter who will serve America well,” wrote former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson that year, lauding General Brown in his TIME profile. “As the former commander of Pacific Air Forces, he’s highly qualified to deter China and reassure allies in the Indo-Pacific. The suppression of ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria was largely accomplished by local forces on the ground, enabled by air power CQ helped orchestrate.”
“Let me tell you something: Our military is not an equal-opportunity employer,” said Tuberville, falsely, appearing to imply it should not be.
“We’re not looking for different groups, social justice groups,” the Alabama Senator continued, in his Bloomberg News interview (video below), explaining why he voted against Brown’s nomination. “We don’t want to single-handedly destroy our military from within. We all need to be one.”
“I think he’ll do a good job,” Tuberville also said, “but I heard him say a few things that that really didn’t fit with me in terms of making our military better and better. We have things that that we need to do to make sure that that that we can uphold – and we can’t do that without a great, hard strong military.”
“Let me tell you something, our military is not an equal opportunity employer. We’re looking for the best [of] the best, to do whatever. We’re not looking for different groups, social justice groups. We don’t want to single handedly destroy our military from within.”
Asked for specific concerns, Tuberville said General Brown, “came out and said we need we need certain groups, more pilots, certain groups to have an opportunity to be pilots. Listen. I want it to be on merit. I want our military to be the best. I want the best people I don’t care who they are. Men. Women, if that makes any difference, Catholics, Protestants, I want everybody to believe in the one goal that we have in this country for our military is to protect the taxpayers, protect United States of America. Don’t give me this stuff about equal opportunity, because that’s not what this military is.”
“Our military is becoming so political that we’re going to go south when it comes to readiness,” he also warned, despite having been warned repeatedly that his military holds are negatively impacting military readiness, and are expected to do so for years to come.
But as CNBC reported, America’s military “is an equal-opportunity employer, and the Pentagon has an ‘Office of Equal Employment Opportunity.'”
Senator Tuberville has a history of making extremist remarks, so much so that in a rare move, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in July delivered a speech on the Senate floor denouncing Tuberville by name, along with his “one-man mission to defend white nationalism.”
Earlier this year Tuberville insisted that white nationalists are simply “Americans,” and said, “I look at a white nationalist as a, as a Trump Republican. That’s what we’re called all the time.”
As NCRM reported in May, those remarks came immediately after an NBC News reporter told Tuberville, “A white nationalist propagates Nazism, a white nationalist could be someone who doesn’t believe that Black and Brown people are equals…”
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, criticized Tuberville late Tuesday night, responding to the Alabama Republican’s interview with Bloomberg.
“The way Sen. Tuberville talks so openly about about white supremacy is just jaw dropping,” Sen. Murphy said. “I refuse to allow this to feel normal.”
Watch Tuberville’s remarks below or at this link.
Why did @SenTuberville vote against the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs?
“I heard some things he talked about, about race and things that he wanted to mix into the military,” he told @BloombergTV. “Our military is not an equal opportunity employer.” pic.twitter.com/avFStO79Af
— David Gura (@davidgura) September 27, 2023
McCarthy Blocks Bipartisan Bill Approved by 77 Senators to Avoid Shutdown as He Moves to Pin the Blame on Democrats
Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy is saying he will not allow the House to take up a compromise bill supported by a large and bipartisan majority of Senators that would allow the federal government to continue operating past the midnight Saturday deadline.
“I don’t see the support in the House,” for the Senate’s proposed continuing resolution, McCarthy said on Wednesday, according to Punchbowl News’ Jake Sherman. He also reports that “this is the most explicit he’s been” in saying “he won’t take it up and pass it as is.”
Chad Pergram, the Senior Congressional Correspondent for Fox News reports, “McCarthy says he won’t allow the House to consider the Senate’s stopgap spending bill to avert a gov’t shutdown for 45 days. 77 bipartisan senators supported the package on a test vote last night.”
Earlier Wednesday, inside the House Republican Conference’s meeting, Sherman reported that Speaker McCarthy “said he told” Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “that he cannot take up a bill that funds Ukraine and doesn’t fix the border.”
“In other words,” Sherman adds, “if it wasn’t clear, the CR [continuing resolution] the Senate is taking up is dead on arrival in the House.”
Meanwhile, House Republicans, and especially Speaker McCarthy, are attempting to blame the likely shutdown on Democrats. House Democrats, Senate Democrats and most Senate Republicans have been working to avert a shutdown but Speaker McCarthy’s most extreme members have been pushing to shut down the federal government. Political observers say he could keep the government running by putting together a majority of House Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans to pass a continuing resolution, but would likely lose his Speakership as a result.
“A shutdown would furlough millions of federal employees, leave the military without pay, disrupt air travel and cut off vital safety net services, and it would be politically punishing to lawmakers whose job it is to fund government,” the Associated Press reported Wednesday. “The Republican McCarthy, pushed by a hard-right flank that rejects the deal he made with Biden and is demanding steep spending cuts, showed no interest in the Senate’s bipartisan effort — or the additional money for Ukraine.”
“’I think their priorities are bad,’ he said about the Senate effort.”
Political pundit and journalist Bill Kristol, a Republican who became a Democrat in 2020, Wednesday afternoon pinned the expected, coming shutdown on Speaker McCarthy.
“One man, Kevin McCarthy, is responsible for the looming government shutdown, because he won’t bring to the House floor a funding bill supported by a majority of senators from both parties, the administration, and a majority of House members. It’s the Speaker’s Shutdown.”
Wednesday morning, The Washington Post reported, “Facing a potential government shutdown in four days triggered by House Republicans’ inability to unite to pass spending bills, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is trying out a new strategy: shifting the blame.”
“McCarthy is starting to point fingers at Democrats in a bid to pin a shutdown on disagreements over border security. It’s an attempt to rewrite the record of the past several weeks, during which House Republicans have been unable to pass a short-term bill to prevent a shutdown — even one that includes the border security policies his conference overwhelmingly supports.”
Image via Shutterstock
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