A central tenet of the American way of life is individual freedom. All of us should be able to make our own decisions about our private affairs without interference from far-right religious organizations that seek to impose a narrow interpretation of the Bible on everyone.
Religious Right pressure groups do not support personal choice. Instead, they oppose church-state separation and seek political power to mandate their doctrines. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people would be especially hard hit if the Religious Right succeeds. Here’s why.
The Religious Right’s hostility toward LGBT Americans is well known. For years, fundamentalist religious-political organizations have spewed hateful venom toward LGBT people and used the proceeds of their multi-million-dollar operations to try to gain “dominion” over the government.
The rhetoric from people like TV preacher and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson and Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition can be reprehensible. Robertson once asserted that being gay is “a sickness, and it needs to be treated” and has even said, “Many of those people involved with Adolf Hitler were Satanists, many of them were homosexuals. The two things seem to go together.”
Here are some issues with church-state implications that LGBT Americans should be aware of:
Some religious denominations recognize same-sex marriages, while others do not. The Religious Right wants to take the doctrines of the groups that do not and enshrine them in our nation’s laws for all to follow. (Some even want to amend the U.S. Constitution to deny civil marriage rights to gay couples.)
If fundamentalist groups succeed here, LGBT Americans will be relegated to permanent second-class citizenship. Americans United believes that U.S. law must be based on secular principles, not religious dogma.
Every time a state legislature grants same-sex couples the right to civil marriage or a court requires it, Religious Right groups launch campaigns to take away that freedom. In Iowa, fundamentalist clergy even engineered the defeat of three state supreme court justices who voted for civil marriage rights.
These groups insist that same-sex marriage violates biblical mandates. But American law is not based on the Bible or indeed any religious text. Our laws should reflect equality and fairness, not the doctrines of particular churches.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in a federal lawsuit challenging California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Americans United compared the ban to efforts to outlaw inter-racial marriage that were once common.
“Today, while there is no longer any serious claim that marriage rights should be denied on the basis of race, opponents of marriage equality have attacked same-sex couples, using precisely the same flawed arguments that once were used to justify racial slavery and apartheid,” observes the brief. “We are now long past the time when anyone would seriously claim that race-based marriage equality threatens the moral fabric of our civilization, is contrary to nature, or is harmful to children.”
The Faith-Based Initiative:
Religious Right groups enthusiastically support the so-called “faith-based” initiative that seeks to direct billions of tax funds into the coffers of religious groups – some of which are notoriously discriminatory. For example, Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing was awarded $1.5 million during the presidency of George W. Bush.
The Religious Right wants religious groups to be able to take your tax dollars yet retain the right to discriminate in hiring. Thus, a fundamentalist church or charity could take public funds to run a social service program and then refuse to hire qualified applicants for being the “wrong” religion or for being “sinful” (by their definition).
This is not just a theoretical concern. In Kentucky, a lesbian who had excellent performance reviews was fired from a Baptist-run but publicly funded home for troubled youngsters after she took part in an AIDS walk. A Georgia lesbian was denied a promotion and then fired from her position at a children’s home after her sexual orientation came to light.
Religious groups have the right to hire whomever they want with private funds. They should not have the right to accept taxpayer funding to operate government programs and then hang out a sign reading, “Staff Sought for Taxpayer-Funded Job. No Gays Need Apply.” As U.S. Rep. Barney Frank noted in arguing against the faith-based initiative in Congress, the proposal could easily lead to government-sponsored racism as well as discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The faith-based initiative poses other problems as well. Some religious groups accept government funding yet refuse to offer services to certain classes of people. In Anoka County, Minn., clergy at a publicly funded social service program run by a Missouri-Synod Lutheran church refused to help a transgendered woman, saying her decisions about how to live her life conflicted with church doctrine.
In 2004, a congressional subcommittee studying the faith-based initiative even entertained testimony from a representative of an “ex-gay” ministry. It’s fair to ask if such groups could qualify for faith-based funding.
Religious Right groups constantly assail America’s public schools and try to block policies that ensure that our schools will be welcoming and safe places for LGBT youth.
The Family Research Council has opposed school anti-bullying policies, arguing they are designed to promote homosexuality in schools. FRC President Tony Perkins told NPR that problems experienced by LGBT youth are their fault and not due to bullying. “These young people who identify as gay or lesbian, we know from the social science that they have a higher propensity to depression or suicide because of that internal conflict,” Perkins said. He added that homosexuality is “abnormal.”
Religious Right groups have worked to block sex education in public schools and programs that promote tolerance. They have even demanded that public secondary schools deny students the right to form gay-friendly clubs (such as Gay-Straight Alliances) while insisting that fundamentalist Christian clubs be permitted to form.
One group, the American Family Association, is so extreme it tells parents to pull their kids out of school during the annual Day of Silence sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
Taxpayer Aid to Religious Schools:
The Religious Right opposes public education and enthusiastically supports vouchers, tuition tax credits and other forms of taxpayer funding of religious and other private schools.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 76 percent of private schools are religious in character. Many are affiliated with churches and denominations that are aggressively hostile to LGBT rights. Religious schools are free to expel LGBT youth, and they can deny employment to LGBT teachers and other staff.
In addition, many fundamentalist Christian academies use textbooks that defame LGBT Americans. One prominent line of books is published by Bob Jones University in South Carolina. One Bob Jones textbook bluntly states, “These [gay] people have no more claim to special rights than child molesters or rapists.” A second publisher of fundamentalist texts, A Beka, promotes similar views.
Some Catholic schools also have policies that are problematic for LGBT people. While many American Catholics hold progressive views on social issues, the hierarchy remains steadfastly opposed to gay rights. (U.S. bishops have repeatedly called for amending the U.S. Constitution to deny civil marriage to same-sex couples.)
The official church catechism, which prelates urge all Catholic schools to stress, states, “[T]radition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law…. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”
Religious schools have the right to determine their own curriculum and dogma. But they should have no right to make all of us pay for the propagation of those beliefs with tax dollars. Americans United for decades has led the fight against taxpayer aid to religious schools, and this remains a top priority for us today. Public funds should be spent for public purposes, not private religious instruction.
Houses of worship and other non-profit groups have the right to address social and political issues. But federal tax law forbids tax-exempt entities to endorse or oppose candidates for public office. Such actions are clearly prohibited by the Internal Revenue Code.
Religious Right groups are trying to overturn the ban on church electioneering. The Alliance Defense Fund, a Religious Right legal outfit formed by TV and radio preachers, urges pastors to openly defy the law. Under their scheme, houses of worship would be permitted to promote candidates yet still remain tax exempt.
Lifting the ban on church electioneering would give Religious Right groups free rein to steer resources toward far-right candidates who oppose diversity. In a worst-case scenario, they would be free to construct a church-based political machine that dominates the democratic process and imposes their religion by law.
Americans United has helped organize the opposition to church-electioneering legislation in Congress, and we have disseminated educational literature to churches nationwide on the provisions of federal tax law. Houses of worship must not become cogs in a partisan political machine.
Religious Right groups have spearheaded censorship campaigns against any work they deem “offensive.” These crusades often target books about human sexuality or works of fiction that raise LGBT themes.
Even the prestigious Smithsonian Institution has caved in to this drive. Late in 2010, officials at the National Portrait Gallery removed a section of a video by the late gay artist David Wojnarowicz after protests from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and pressure from House Speaker John Boehner and other officials.
Children’s books have also been targeted. The gay-friendly tomes And Tango Makes Three, Heather Has Two Mommies and King and King are frequent censorship targets. In addition, books that discuss LGBT issues in a factual and academic manner are often attacked.
This denial of information – especially to teens who may be struggling with their sexual orientation – is more than wrong, it’s dangerous. Young people at this stage need access to objective material, and it is a public library’s duty to provide that information. If the Religious Right has its way, these books will be cordoned off in a special room, making them effectively off limits to the audience that most needs them.
Americans United supports public schools and libraries that offer instruction and information based on sound academic standards, not religious bias.
The Religious Right’s agenda is frightening. These aggressive fundamentalist groups have a wide-ranging plan for America that includes as many restrictions on individual rights as possible. Those of us who believe in the American commitment to personal freedom must defend the separation of church and state.