March 5, 2021

Have Republicans stopped to think through their ‘religious freedom’ defense of discrimination?

The Trump DOJ issued a statement that it should not intervene when a church discriminates, but have they taken any time to think that through?

The Justice Department under Trump continues to support the idea that “Religious freedom” allows churches to discriminate against people, targeting LGBTQ people in particular as usual. However, if we simply turn the argument into supporting the actions of non-Christian religions, then we can immediately see how absurd and dangerous this precedent is. We can see why the separation of church and state is essential, and why all Americans must demand that separation is maintained. Yes, even Republicans…

USA Today reports that the Justice Department issued a “statement of interest” in the case of a fired Catholic school teacher. Joshua Payne-Elliott, who is in a legal same-sex marriage, alleged he was fired from Cathedral High School in Indianapolis for that marriage. He had been a teacher for 13 years and his contract was renewed, but then was fired a month later. He had done nothing wrong whatsoever.

The DOJ’s statement sides with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, suggesting that the First Amendment allows the church to “interpret and apply Catholic doctrine.”

United States Attorney Josh Minkler argues the courts should not intervene after Payne-Elliott sued the archdiocese for getting him canned from his job.

“If the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses stand for anything, it is that secular courts cannot entangle themselves in questions of religious law,” Minkler stated.

Former chief White House ethics lawyer. Richard W Painter tweeted:

Cathedral High School officials report that the archdiocese threatened to strip the school of its Catholic identity if they didn’t fire Payne-Elliott, similar to what happened at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, where Payne-Elliott’s husband works. The independent Brebeuf school stood by the teacher in that case.

The archdiocese argues that it may set rules in its morality clause and enforce them in the name of “religious liberty.”

The DOJ’s statement of interest certainly sided with the church, holding that the Supreme Court protects the right to form “expressive association” under the First Amendment, and the courts must not interfere.

“The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of religious institutions and people to decide what their beliefs are, to teach their faith, and to associate with others who share their faith,” Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said in a statement. “The First Amendment rightly protects the free exercise of religion.”

According to USA Today, the statement goes much further, giving the church incredible powers.

“The statement of interest also says that courts cannot second-guess how religious institutions interpret and apply their own religious laws. Supreme Court precedent holds that the First Amendment forbids courts from engaging in “quintessentially religious controversies.”
Instead, the statement of interest says, “the legitimacy of the Archdiocese’s decision as a matter of Catholic law” is committed exclusively “to the judgment of the Archdiocese.”

To see how ridiculous this statement really is, simply consider what would happen if an extreme Muslim church decided to implement Sharia law. Under the DOJ’s statements, the courts, all the way to the SCOTUS, would be wrong to step in.

  • Theft is punishable by the amputation of the hands (Quran 5:38).
  • Criticizing or denying any part of the Quran is punishable by death.
  • A Muslim who becomes a non-Muslim is punishable by death (See Compulsion).
  • A non-Muslim who leads a Muslim away from Islam is punishable by death.
  • A non-Muslim man who marries a Muslim woman is punishable by death.
  • A woman or girl who has been raped cannot testify in court against her rapist(s).
  • A woman cannot speak alone to a man who is not her husband or relative.
  • A man can unilaterally divorce his wife; a wife needs her husband’s consent to divorce.
  • Girls’ clitoris should be cut (Muhammad‘s words, Book 41, Kitab Al-Adab, Hadith 5251).

Now we all know that Republicans are the ones quick to use hyperbole that Sharia law is coming to America. Yet here is the Trumpian DOJ seemingly ready to help facilitate allowing any church to designate its own set of random rules, regardless of the rights and laws governing American citizens.

Remember, Joshua Payne-Elliott is legally married, so under the DOJ’s policy, the church can determine which laws it will recognize and which it doesn’t want to.

Republicans forgot what makes America great

It seems that Republicans today are quick to forget about what makes America truly great on many fronts. To them, it’s couched as “religious freedom.” However, in reality, it sure screams like Christian dominionists pushing an end to the separation of church and state forever.

If conservatives weren’t operating under the obvious assumption that the laws only apply to entitled Christians, they would notice they are creating a perilous opening for fanatics of all kinds to rush in.

The dangers are precisely the sort of religious persecution that the first settlers of the New World were trying to avoid. Are Republicans willing to jettison all of that out the window today?

Another great thing about America is our free press, but Republicans seem intent to eradicate that now.

Then there are our fragile free elections, but Republicans are also allowing Trump to call for foreign election interference with abandon.

At the same time, Republicans are cozying up to foreign oligarchs and dictators to the point that they seem to want a full-fledged oligarchy from here on out.

Republicans have pushed way too far to the right, to the point that they are endangering democracy, and pushing for what seems to be an authoritarian regime ruled by a few corrupt rich white men. Brilliant.

They should try to remember why that’s the worst possible idea, regardless of your choice of religion. Either that, or they should move to Russia, and get a taste of what their ultimate goals are really like. After they’ve tried it for a while, they might reconsider the course they seem hellbent to pursue.

Have fun with that, Republicans.

Featured image: Image altered from a photo by Kathy Drasky from Memphis, TN via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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