NYT Threads the Needle on Religious Liberty

Bazelon blames, as we all do, last year’s Supreme Court ruling that gave corporations more power than people over a woman’s use of various forms of birth control. At the time, the Obama administration argued that medical consensus (science) has proven that birth control options benefit women’s health, and, happily, the President has recently found a way to work around this punishing ruling.

States pushing for more severe versions of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to exert a “form of social control in the name of their own religion” have been severely reduced or floundered because of public outrage and corporate boycotts. But the religious right presses on to enhance its ‘‘power to demean’’ with Bazelon citing Indiana law professor Steve Sanders, ‘‘The phrase ‘religious liberty’ has become an overused talisman. Most of the invocations lately have nothing to do with actual infringements of free exercise. They’re about political and cultural dissent from gay rights.’’

Even extreme religious liberty proponents, Bazelon notes, have started to issue warnings such as the one from University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock: ‘‘If you stand in the way of a revolution and lose, there will be consequences.’”

Bazelon rightly notes, “In many states, in the South and elsewhere, a business or a landlord doesn’t need a special faith-based reason for turning away a gay client or tenant. They’re simply free to do so.”

The U.S. Congress is rushing to pass the misleadingly named First Amendment Protection Act meant to enshrine tax-exempt status for religious organizations, such as schools and social-service providers, who discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people (LGBT).

LGBT leaders have also drawn a line saying that religious beliefs cannot tread on basic human and civil rights while christianists proclaim we don’t have a right to marry anyhow (even though we do). Bazelon sums it up: “When basic values and rights collide, usually somebody wins and somebody loses. It becomes difficult to find mutual compassion, even if that would be the godly thing to do.”


Alison Gardner