Kirsten Powers portrait by Len Spoden Photography, courtesy of Kristen Powers.

Kirsten Powers portrait by Len Spoden Photography, courtesy of Kristen Powers.


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(RNS) Fourteen religious leaders set off a firestorm last week when they sent President Obama a letter requesting a religious exemption in his planned executive order banning discrimination by government contractors against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Kate Kendell said, “This would be a catastrophic erosion of non-discrimination protections.” Activist John Becker wrote, “We must tell President Obama loud and clear: no special rights for religious bigotry!!!”

On her July 2 show, Rachel Maddow asserted the letter was just part of “the floodgates … already opening” from the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. The genesis of the letter, she said, was about conservatives grabbing “every other conceivable advantage … by calling what they want to do that’s otherwise against the law a variety of religious freedom.” Supporters of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders — from Think Progress to Daily Kos — echoed the claim that the Hobby Lobby decision had ushered in Armageddon for gay rights.

But a few facts get in the way:

  • The letter isn’t exactly a conservative manifesto. Michael Wear, a former Obama campaign aide who worked in his White House for three years, rounded up the signatories. Many of the signers are close to the president, including pastor Joel Hunter, who prays regularly with the president; Father Larry Snyder, the head of Catholic Charities who served on the president’s faith-based council; and Stephen Schneck, co-chair of Catholics for Obama in 2012.
  • It has nothing to do with the Hobby Lobby ruling. This should have been obvious. There is no scenario in which 14 diverse leaders of anything would sign off on a letter within hours of a Supreme Court ruling. Wear told me, “The letter was in the works weeks before.”
  • Religious organizations’ have long enjoyed exemptions for their hiring practices. Hobby Lobby didn’t change that. Indeed, a religious exemption was included in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act supported by Senate Democrats and gay rights groups.

Exemption opponents claim it would relegate gays to second-class citizens. But religious institutions in the U.S. already enjoy exemptions to discriminate in hiring, including refusing to hire women in senior leadership. Somehow, 51 percent of the population has managed to survive in the face of this alleged atrocity.

Without an exemption in Obama’s executive order, we could see many religious organizations that provide social services to the most needy losing government contracts because they act on the dictates of their faith. Century-old Catholic Charities, which serves more than 10 million Americans a year, could lose critical government funding to help people in desperate need. This disregard for the poor who are served by religious organizations is astounding.

The letter’s signatories made a simple request: that “religious organizations will not be automatically disqualified or disadvantaged in obtaining contracts because of their religious beliefs.” Sounds reasonable. Too bad the reaction wasn’t.

(Kirsten Powers writes for USA TODAY.)

YS END POWERS

14 Comments

  1. Personally, I don’t recognize executive orders. I don’t know about you, but I have no earthly king I previously claimed allegiance to.

    He can order all he wants. I don’t follow one man.

    • None of this actually is any kind of argument as to why such exemptions should be granted or why the concerns about discrimination are allegedly unwarranted.

      The sole cogent argument posed by the article is “if they lose government funding, many will suffer”. The kind of blackmail religious groups frequently engage in when they want to have their way.

      Just because there were exemptions in hiring practices in the past, it did not mean they were justified or that they weren’t discriminatory in nature. From a civil liberties/legal POV none of those exemptions should have been granted in the first place if an organization was accepting government money. Prior acquiescence of a wrongful practice does not make it legitimate.

      This entire issue points to a compelling reason for disbanding or severely regulating all faith based initiatives. Government must not be entangled or associated with practices which defy its duty to provide equal protection under the law.

      If these charities want to discriminate, they do not need tax money, they are not entitled to it. There is no moral or legal justification I for paying for the furtherance of religious faith nor to fund the discrimination of fellow citizens with government approval.

      • I disagree. Source of tax funds is my justification.

        Religious and non-religiois people alike pay into taxes.

        You then want to exclude religious people, who have previously and in multiple ways been taxed, from the benefit of government (if there is any) because they are not secular in mission?

        Screw that noise. If I cannot have access to the few good reasons I can see to have this horrid gov., why be taxed? Why submit to it?

        Thats all it actually is you know. Submission. People can choose to quit doing that. Gov does very little people are willing to pay for in a voluntary transaction, especially at a federal level. Thus, they have little wealth production capacity on their own assuming the exchange between citizen and gov were free market based…which it mostly is not.

        • Using my tax money for the furtherance of religious belief violates the 1st Amendment. It is the establishment of religion. Government has no business acting unless it has a rational and secular purpose. It has no business supporting discriminatory efforts by religious groups either. If they want the freedom to discriminate, they can do it without public support.

          Religious organizations have no business being entangled with the apparatus of government.

          “You then want to exclude religious people, who have previously and in multiple ways been taxed, from the benefit of government (if there is any) because they are not secular in mission?”

          No, you dummy, I want to exclude RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS from government entanglement. There is a difference here that you deliberately ignored. They don’t pay taxes anyway. They don’t need mine. Your deliberate misdirection from organizations/charities to people is just dishonest noise on your part.

          • Religious organizations are made up if people….who yes, have been taxed.

            And yes, these taxed people you advocate outright excluding from a benefit of government because they are religious in their personal and institutional choices. Conveniently, leaving their tax money on the table only for your use larry. How nice for u.

            So your a theif too. America will fall from the inside, and you and your conditioned mind are why. Its already begun

          • Wow that was a really stupid response on your part. And you are still wrong. But now I have serious doubts about your intelligence and honesty as well.

            These non-taxed, government subsidized organizations are trying to promote purely sectarian, harmful and discriminatory behavior. They have no business using tax money in such a matter because of that pesky law against government establishment of religion. Government is made of people to people who set laws to apply for all of its citizens with equal protection under the law.

            Lles, why do you hate America and its democratic institutions s much?

  2. Really? This is your idea of a reasonable retort to the “unreasonable” critiques of the letter? Please.

    One, everyone knows the letter does not appeal to the SCOTUS decision for Hobby Lobby. It was, however, delivered in the same time frame as that decision and the court’s controversial orders extending the decision to cases about contraception in general. So Maddow and others are not wrong to see a trend. Pointing out that the trend didn’t begin with the Hobby Lobby decision is simply pedantic.

    Two, this fun fact does not carry any of the weight you want it to bear: “But religious institutions in the U.S. already enjoy exemptions to discriminate in hiring, including refusing to hire women in senior leadership.” Big deal. We’re not talking about your average religious institutions; we’re talking about religiously-affiliated institutions and organizations *that take federal money.” Again, you’ve basically ignored the real grounds for critique and offered a pointless truism as a some kind of self-evident refutation.

    Last, you are just being utterly disingenuous with this rhetorical slight of hand: “This disregard for the poor who are served by religious organizations is astounding.” No, what is astounding is your willingness to put the responsibility for any lost services to the poor in the hands of the government. But by this point it is not surprising that you’d white-wash the bigotry of the signees and any groups who choose to stop helping the poor if they can’t discriminate against gays and lesbians or whomever. Hate before help is the simple logic you failed to question in this “simple request.”

  3. Okay…after reading more about this from a different articleI think I do agree with her conclusion…that this is not opening the floodgates or at least it doesn’t have to… She muddies the water however by using rhetoric and arguments that do not support her conclusion.

    Correct me if I am wrong but religious institutions already have an exemption on hiring against their own religious beliefs so that is nothing new. All they are requesting is that this practice be allowed to continue. If the government needs to hire a religious institution for some reason, then they are simply requesting that they be able to continue their hiring practices as they have been in the past.

    If those facts are correct then, to me, that is not opening the floodgates. Hobby Lobby may be opening the floodgates… But I don’t see that this is.

    • Even the prior practice of allowing organizations which are now on the government payroll to discriminate was wrong. Now there is an opportunity to correct that fault, it must be done.

      If government is hiring a religious organization they are tacitly endorsing them and approving of their policies. There is no compelling reason for the government to be endorsing sectarian based discrimination. Even in such a back door fashion.

      If these organizations want government money, like everyone else who gets a check from Uncle Sam, they must play by government rules. The government has an interest in not promoting or approving of discrimination. If religious organizations feel their desire to discriminate is greater than helping the needy, that is their problem. If their participation in government subsidies is dependent on legalized discrimination, drop them. The entanglement of government and religion here is untenable and amounts to violation of the establishment clause.

  4. Re: “Exemption opponents claim it would relegate gays to second-class citizens. But religious institutions in the U.S. already enjoy exemptions to discriminate in hiring, including refusing to hire women in senior leadership. Somehow, 51 percent of the population has managed to survive in the face of this alleged atrocity.”

    This is known as the “But-we’ve-ALWAYS-done-things-this-way!” defense. Unfortunately, it’s fallacious. As such, it has a name: Argumentum ad antiquitatem, or “appeal to tradition” (http://www.logicallyfallacious.com/index.php/logical-fallacies/43-appeal-to-tradition).

    This fallacy is frequently used to support all kinds of things. Sadly, that things have been done a certain way … or are still being done in a certain way … does not mean that things MUST FOREVERMORE be done that way. It IS possible for humanity to sit down, THINK about stuff, and decide that maybe — just maybe! — we shouldn’t continue whatever it is we’re doing.

    Think of all the changes we’ve experienced, which would never have happened, had people stuck with the “But-we’ve-ALWAYS-done-things-this-way!” protest. In the middle of the 20th century, for example, corporations could have said, “Computers? We don’t need those! We’ve always done our bookkeeping on paper. What’s wrong with that!?” And in the early 19th century, what if most people said, “Abolish slavery? Why should we do that? We’ve always had slavery!”

    It’s time to grow up and put away the the “But-we’ve-ALWAYS-done-things-this-way!” thing. How truly hard is it to admit that discrimination is wrong? Is it really so horrible?

  5. This is truly commentary and it is very poorly done.

    “Exemption opponents claim it would relegate gays to second-class citizens. But religious institutions in the U.S. already enjoy exemptions to discriminate in hiring, including refusing to hire women in senior leadership. Somehow, 51 percent of the population has managed to survive in the face of this alleged atrocity.”

    It does in fact relegate “gays” to second-class citizen, one at the time. Every time someone is excluded from a job because he/she is LGBTI, that person is discriminated against. The discrimination occurs because of one aspect of the total person – in this case it is sexual orientation. Why not choose skin color? As for that 51 percent of the population, a great many of them are in fact discriminated against. The fact that all 51% of them do not agree they are discriminated against does not mean that each of them who is discriminated against does not matter.

    “Century-old Catholic Charities, which serves more than 10 million Americans a year, could lose critical government funding to help people in desperate need. This disregard for the poor who are served by religious organizations is astounding.

    There are many organizations out there – Catholic and non-Catholic – that provide the same services and compete for government contracts. Just because the services are not provided by Catholics does not mean the services are not provided.

    Nor does excluding Catholic organizations from government contracts mean that Catholic organizations are not given an opportunity to do the good works they want to do. They just have to do it with their own privately raised dollars and not with government dollars. The name “Catholic” may be associated with less charitable work but it will be associated with all the work the Catholics fund – and it will no longer be associated with the work they do not fund. Much charity we now label “Catholic” is in fact government funded.

    There is much work to be done in the world to help others. Governments do it and private organizations do it. Both are needed. Let the government do charitable work without discriminating against anyone and let the Catholic charities do charitable work in the ways that are suitable to the bishops.

    As for me, I am delighted that a portion of my tax dollars are used to help those in great need – and used in ways that do not discriminate against fellow citizens. In my private charity, I will give my charitable dollars to charities that don’t discriminate. But that is just me.

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