I didn’t get to watch the Democratic debate as it aired this passed Sunday night. I was on podcast with my co-host KaliSara and our guest Rhiannon Dragcruin talking about sacrifice and community service in the Pagan community. I do feel strongly that paying attention to politics is important, but my duty to the community in regards to a consistent schedule of the podcast series outweighs my duty to watch political events as they happen. I watched the debate through the NBC/YouTube archives.
President Obama is slated to sign an executive order on Monday 21 July 2014 that would protect LGBT federal employees and employees of federally contracted companies from discrimination in hiring and firing. Many contracted companies already have such protections on the books as well as 21 states have protections for LGBT citizens in regards to employment and public accommodations.
In a Talking Points Memo dated 2 July, Dylan Scott wrote that almost immediately after the SCOTUS ruling regarding religious exemptions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in favor of Hobby Lobby and other privately owned businesses with a strong religious leaning in ownership many religiously owned institutions and businesses were petitioning the president for similar religious exemptions to his proposed executive order. Similar religious exemptions are written into the current draft of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that was recently passed by the Senate and sits before the GOP-controlled House this session. The religious exemptions in ENDA have caused many LGBT rights groups to drop drop their support. The Human Rights Campaign being one of the only groups to maintain their support.
With Obama signing this executive order only federal employees and the employees of federally contracted companies are protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Outside of the 21 states that have such laws and those companies around the country that also protect their employees from such discrimination, people can still be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity (or perceived sexual orientation/gender identity). In my state of Nebraska that means that only those who work for the federal government in some capacity will be protected in the hiring and firing process (as well as for consideration for promotion) and those who are lucky enough to work for a company that has similar protections (and residents of Omaha). Fortunately, I work for such a company. As indicated in my earlier pieces (see above links), I have been lucky enough to work for many such companies over the years. But not everyone is that lucky.
On Tuesday 8 July over 100 faith leaders in the United States sent a letter to Obama, along with a press release to several major media outlets, urging the President to not include religious exemptions in any executive order from his administration. One of those leaders, Rev. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, included in the press release this statement, in part:
“As people of faith, we should be exemplary and not exempted. Jesus came to protect the most vulnerable. The faith community that taught me never to throw stones should not have special permission from the White House to throw stones. It is simply theologically indefensible.”
This letter arrived on Obama’s desk a week after a letter from a large number of faith leaders, many of them his own advisers, urging him to include such exemptions.
“An executive order that does not include a religious exemption will significantly and substantively hamper the work of some religious organizations that are best equipped to serve in common purpose with the federal government. When the capacity of religious organizations is limited, the common good suffers.”
You can read the entire letter against exemptions, and the list of signatories, at Huffington Post.
QueerProud Monthly has been following a story that shows what kind of damage these religious exemptions can do. A transgender student at George Fox University in Oregon has been denied housing in the men’s dorm because the religiously owned institution doesn’t accept transgender as valid. Socially, medically, and legally Jayce M is a man. He was born a woman and that is the argument that GFU is using to bar him from single apartment dwelling in the men’s dorm. The Department of Education has upheld their decision to bar him, citing a religious exemption in the 1972 version of Title IX, the updated Title IX (from 2010 includes protections for LGBT students). The religious exemption from 1972 carried over to the 2010 version.
“This section shall not apply to an educational institution which is controlled by a religious organization if the application of this subsection would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.”
Religious exemptions don’t protect religious institutions, they harm people. The federal government should be working to protect everyone. Institutions of higher learning should be educating their students. Citizens of the United States won’t have equality, protection from discrimination, without the government and religious stepping up to the plate and protect, treat equal, everyone within the borders.
Phil is one of the hosts of L“As people of faith, we should be exemplary and not exempted,” Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, said in a press release sent to The Huffington Post. “Jesus came to protect the most vulnerable. The faith community that taught me never to throw stones should not have special permission from the White House to throw stones. It is simply theologically indefensible.”avender Hill on KZUM-Lincoln/KZUM-HD. KZUM is Nebraska’s first and only community radio station, Lavender Hill is Nebraska’s only LGBTQQIA news and talk program on radio. The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are not necessarily those of KZUM, it’s board of directors, underwriters, or staff. Nor are they necessarily those of Corwin, Phil’s cohost on Lavender Hill. Lavender Hill can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. The show airs live every Sunday at 11am Central. Email the hosts with questions, comments, or suggestions for the show at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phil is also known as RevKess on the Pagan-Musings Podcast Channel.
In light of the recent Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision (read Phil’s earlier piece) regarding the limited religious exemption for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods in regards to the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has decided to withdraw their support for the current version of the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) that is sitting before Congress. The Washington Post, through their blog, reported on this Tuesday, shortly after the announcement was made.
From the Washington Post:
[A] coalition led by the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights said in a joint statement that they also would be withdrawing support. The bill’s religious exemptions clause is written so broadly that “ENDA’s discriminatory provision, unprecedented in federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, could provide religiously affiliated organizations – including hospitals, nursing homes and universities – a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people,” the group said, adding later that if ENDA were to pass Congress, “the most important federal law for the [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community in American history would leave too many jobs, and too many LGBT workers, without protection.”
It should be interesting to note that one of the best recognized “activist” groups for LGBT rights is absent from that every growing list of groups that has withdrawn their support of ENDA. That group being the Human Rights Campaign. Listeners of Lavender Hill know that Corwin has a strong stand against HRC for their push for heteronormalizing of the LGBT community.
ENDA, as it is written right now, contains a religious exemption component. “ENDA’s religious exemption recognizes that the U.S. Constitution protects certain employment decisions of religious organizations and that some religious organizations may have a specific and significant religious reason to make employment decisions, even those that take an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity into account. It also acknowledges that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees of religious organizations should be aware that they could lose their jobs, even jobs that do not serve a clearly religious function, because of sexual orientation or gender identity.” This breaks down into three parts (from CivilRights.org):
- A complete exemption for houses of worship, parochial and similar religious schools, and missions
- A codification of the so-called “ministerial exemption” recognized by many federal courts, exempting positions at religious organizations that involve the teaching or spreading religion, religious governance, or the supervision of individuals engaged in these activities
- A provision allowing religious organizations, for classes of jobs, to require employees and applicants to conform to a declared set of significant religious tenets, including ones which would bar LGBT people from holding the position
I own two businesses. I’ve worked in the real world for the better part of my life. I’ve worked fast food, retail, customer service. I’ve done a lot of things to pay the bills. In my experience I have seen the necessity of the accepted idea “We reserve the right to refuse service.” I can even see where certain small businesses, privately owned, may feel that they have the right to refuse service to anyone who represents a violation of their deeply held religious beliefs. What I don’t understand is the resistance to follow federally mandated regulations and laws that are constructed to protect not only the individual, but the business.
I live in Nebraska. There is only one city in the entire state that it is illegal for me to be fired because I am gay. Omaha passed a city ordinance a few years back that added protections for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to their non discrimination law. Lincoln, Grand Island, and Kearney all three have tried to pass similar ordinances. Lincoln’s was passed, but it was put on hold by the same city council that passed it after a voter petition succeeded in gaining more than enough signatures to require the ordinance be put before the population during the general elections. The city council has not brought it forward for a ballot vote yet.
Though Lincoln does not have such protections, many of the companies I have worked for over the years do have such protections in their non discrimination policies. In recent years the only exception to that would be when I worked for Hobby Lobby seasonally five and six years ago. Even the current company that I work for has such protections. At this point in my life, I would not work for a company that did not.
Almost immediately after the decision was announced by SCOTUS in regards to the contraception case with Hobby Lobby businesses and organizations across the country began petitioning President Obama and the courts for religious exemptions that could allow them to discriminate against people of color, other religions, national origins, let alone discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. With the hotly anticipated executive order from Obama that would make it illegal for federal contractors to discriminate against the LGBT community in hiring, promotion, and firing of employees many of these companies are federal contractors. There has been hint, mostly rumor, that some small businesses might use the SCOTUS ruling to allow them to refuse service to individuals that are perceived to be “different” from those business owners’ religious beliefs.
I still maintain that privately owned businesses, in cities/states that do not have protections for the LGBT community in their non discrimination policies/laws, have the ability to refuse service to LGBT people. This means that a bakery specializing in wedding cakes can refuse to make a cake for a same sex wedding if that bakery is in a city/state that does not have such protections. This also means that a landlord or rental agency can evict a tenant that they perceive to be gay under the same legal circumstances. This does not mean that a privately owned business can refuse to provide their services to a black man, a Jew, a woman, or an elderly or disabled person. Those situations are covered by federal protections.
A grey area you say? No. An opportunity. When someone is refused services because they are or are perceived to be gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, etc then that person has the right to sue. Such a suit may lead to legal precedent in that city/state that could lead to the addition of protections for LGBTQ people to local or state (or even federal) non discrimination laws.
Phil Kessler is one of the hosts of Lavender Hill on KZUM in Lincoln, NE. KZUM is Nebraska’s first and only community radio station. Lavender Hill is perhaps the only LBT/SOGI news and talk program on Nebraska radio, locally produced or otherwise. The opinions expressed in this op-ed piece or his alone and do not reflect the opinions or beliefs of his co-host, KZUM – its programmers, employees, underwriters, or board of directors – nor do they necessarily reflect those of the producers and hosts of programming on the Pagan-Musings Podcast Channel and contributors to the PMPChannel.com blogsite.
Tune in every Sunday at 11am Central for Lavender Hill with Corwin and Phil on KZUM-Lincoln/KZUM-HD.
I’m going to start this out with a full disclosure. I’m a former employee of Hobby Lobby, I’m a man, I do not have children, and I am gay. The store I worked in had a Jewish woman as a supervisor, a Buddhist working the sales floor, a Pagan (me), and at least two openly gay employees.
On Monday 30 June 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States delivered their ruling on the case involving Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods. These companies had challenged the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies pay for contraceptives. The ruling effects a limited number of contraceptives, “morning after” pills and IUDs, not contraception in general. And of course abortion. The USAToday has a list of examples of the contraceptives that this ruling does and does not effect.
Wednesday morning at work, a customer with whom I regularly have political conversations with came in. I noticed that he had a limp and asked him about it. That turned towards talking about health care, in particular the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). This man is relatively intelligent, compared to man of the conversations I have with customers, he is very intelligent. He’s a small business owner and a Christian. He agrees with Hobby Lobby and other companies that are owned (or the majority shareholders are) by Christians should not be required to cover contraceptives in their insurance policies. Saying that people who wish to use prescribed contraceptives should pay for them with private insurance or out of pocket. (Note: the majority of Hobby Lobby employees work less than 30 hours a week, thus not qualifying for insurance coverage in most states. They are also paid minimum wage or slightly hiring, thus not being able to afford private coverage.) He went so far as to say that “he shouldn’t pay for these whores.” I looked him dead in the eye and asked him if my sister-in-law is a whore because she uses birth control pills to regulate her menstrual cycle.
These kinds of conversations are happening all over the place right now, of that I am sure. I see the memes and discussion threads on my friends’ Facebook pages. I’ve seen articles in the local and national papers that come in at work. People have been following this case carefully and continue to follow the outcome now that SCOTUS has made their decision, a decision of a 5-4 vote.
As a gay man without children, it seems odd to some that I might have a strong opinion on this case. I have a strong opinion because I am a person living in the United States. I have sisters, nieces, and female friends that are effected by this decision. I am effected by the precedence this ruling makes.
Already companies have been filing suits or briefs requesting religious exemption from other Federal laws. This ruling can and will open the door to cases where companies, privately held or otherwise, want to use their religious beliefs to have legal discrimination. We’ve already seen, since the 2013 SCOTUS ruling on DOMA section 3, private owned companies seeking to deny marriage services (including wedding cakes) to same-sex couples. With this current ruling from SCOTUS these companies and others may have more ammunition in those cases.
Listeners of my community radio program Lavender Hill, have heard me speak out on these situations. I do feel that a privately owned business, single person or single family ownership, that has less than 15 or so employees should be able to determine what kind of clientele they serve. That freedom, however, ends when it encroaches on the civil rights of others. A company or business should not be allowed to discriminate against people of other races, national origins, or other similar criteria. But, those same companies may have a design that would preclude them seeking to hire person that does not fit that design – for example the YWCA (a large institution) may not want to hire a man to teach aerobics or some such as it may interfere with business. A “gentlemen’s club” may not want to hire a male exotic dancer, etc, etc.
That said, I am a realist. If we allow companies to pick and choose willy-nilly (or after long consideration) what “kinds” of people they will hire then we open the door to discrimination of all kinds. It may be a faux-news site, but I have seen articles where privately owned restaurants are seeking a religious exemption to not serve black people. Many feel that the SCOTUS ruling on the religious exemption in Obamacare regarding contraception coverage will open the door for companies to seek such exemption in the yet-to-be-Federalized Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA).
According to a TalkingPointsMemo from Wednesday, “Without a robust religious exemption this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom,” according to a letter of intent sent by 14 faith and business leaders to President Obama. This letter was sent response to Obama’s June announcement to use his executive power to require Federal contractors to provide an environment of non-discrimination for LGBT employees. Though the letter did not mention the Hobby Lobby decision, the timing of the letter and its intent makes it clear that these faith and business leaders wish to use this SCOTUS decision to sway the Administration.
I’m a man, I’m gay, but I am person. SCOTUS is granted the legal right to make decisions that may have direct effect on me and others in the United States. When others in the United States seek to use those decision to have discriminatory effect on other citizens then they, in this case business, are over stepping their bounds. Fine, Hobby Lobby and certain other privately owned multi-million (multi-billion) dollar companies have won their case with SCOTUS and do not have to follow the Obamacare requirement to provide coverage for certain forms of contraceptives, including abortion. That does not open the doors, on moral and ethical grounds, for other companies to apply for religious exemptions when it comes to hiring and firing of people that they perceive to be gay, people that are of another national origin or race. Etc. Etc.