December 1st 2015
Religious Exemption from Law – or – “The Rules don’t Apply…”
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
On a cold and lonely night a young transgender teen leaves a suicide note on Tumbler that would be read around the world, alone as she’s always felt, she takes a final step in front of an oncoming semi on I-71. Her heart wrenching letter laying bear the blame upon fundamentalist parents who instead of recognizing her medical condition had sent her to a Christian conversion “therapist” to “exercise the gay”.
A fourteen year old in Washington, who had been abused by birthparents and subsequently spent much of their life in an out of foster-care, decides against blood transfusions that would save his life. Why? Because the closest thing to family he has ever known, the Mormon Church has told him that if he did he would receive bad marks potentially barring him from heaven.
An American Evangelist sits on trial for crimes against humanity, brought against him by the Uganda Sexual Minorities Counsel; due to his hate work in the country which led to the “kill the gays bill”, which has since been repealed, revised, and reinstituted forcing “repeat offenders of the crime of homosexuality” to serve life sentences in prison. He is also known for inciting the recent criminalization of vulnerable LGBT minorities in Russia.
Exemptions from human rights absolve the worst offenders and set no bar for compliance. The long-term risks far outweigh the ease of not dealing with religious based discrimination through legislature at this point. In fact many proponents of Religious Freedom Restoration Act’s (RFRA) are now actively seeking to exploit and insert their views into state legislature. Partly due to the Supreme Courts’ decision in recognizing the business Hobby Lobby as a “person” and therefore free to deny women healthcare based on religious grounds. A similar suit against the same corporation denying a transgender woman access to restrooms was also heard by a state court and was found to be discriminatory under standards set forth by the EEOC. Perhaps studying how religious exemptions failed under this type of inclusive policy gives rise to the idea that religious institutions can still evade civil rights ordinances if only they can first retain a chokehold.
RFRA legislation was proposed in 17 states this year (update- by mid 2016 over 200 anti lgbt bills have been proposed); Georgia, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Montana, Hawaii, Maine having been voted down or dieng; of those only 2 have passed, Indiana and Arkansas; while the 2 still left on the books in Michigan and North Carolina (we all know how that turned out) are vowed to be vetoed by their respective Governors (Elliot Minceberg). Meanwhile in Ohio and undoubtedly other states and jurisdictions…
Recognizing its defeat, RFRA proponents have taken to a new form, inserting its ideology into bills that would protect LGBT minorities before an eventual nationwide Civil Rights Act. Like in Ohio House Bill 389 brought forth by Representatives Nikie Antonio and Denise Driehaus this yr of 2015, which would give LGBT minorities protections concerning government contracts, employment, housing, schools, transportation, and social resources. In it resides an insidious reference “… to add mediation to the list of informal methods by which the Ohio Civil Rights Commission may use to induce compliance with Ohio’s Civil Rights Law before instituting a formal hearing, and to uphold existing religious exemptions under Ohio Civil Rights Law” (Ohio legislature). On paper, such legislation could be seen as concessions’ in the inevitable barter for “life liberty and pursuit of happiness” which is the American way of slowly and begrudgingly recognizing each other as equal. That is, if it were not for the fact that these exemptions and add-ons were already put in the bill concerning civil rights before it has ever hit the floor; to then be dismissed, gutted, inserted, sent back, fought over, only to be done all over again.
Let us talk about religious exemption for awhile before we touch on the disparity’s Arbitration would cause.
Concerning employment, it would not be taken for granted that a Priest or Minister would be exempt under religious grounds, but what might not be thought of are positions of the church secretary or administrators of a Sunday school program. Yet, in reality this language continues to affect many other jobs including a Chaplain at a religiously affiliated hospital, a teacher at a religious university, or perhaps requiring all nurses within that religious facility to follow a set of religious tenets under threat of termination. As well any religious social services agency could enact restrictions on positions that could bar LGBT people from holding the job.
(R) This section does not apply to a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of an individual of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by that religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities. (OCR code)
Speaking of medical care, such religious medical establishments are already using religious exemptions to deny treatment for: AIDS/HIV, women’s reproductive healthcare, and bedside access to partners of LGBT people who have long faced roadblocks to acquiring remedial healthcare. This minority faces higher rates of unemployment/lack of insurance and medical refusals which leave them disproportionately at risk for mental illness, cancer, and other diseases that would have otherwise been diagnosed and treated early on. These disparities in access to necessary health care due to someone else’s personal held religious beliefs can have severe emotional, physical and financial consequences for the aggrieved.
Some proponents of refusals argue that patients can find an alternative provider, hospital, or clinic. However, this is often not the case – especially in emergency situations, rural areas, or long-term care facilities, where a refusal can simply leave a patient without access to necessary care. Moreover, this perspective obscures the ways refusals exacerbate stigma and discrimination already faced by LGBT people and individuals living with HIV/AIDS. (NWLC)
Let alone being a vulnerable minority trying to access so-called “social resources” thru these discriminatory religious organizations. For instance housing denials in shelters, access to food banks, childcare or other services like job finding programs geared exclusively to a cisgender heterosexual community.
An ideal that carries on into the far rights censorship of knowledge in public libraries through the tax payer funded ‘citizens for community libraries’ derived of one ‘family values commission’, who have somehow enacted a discriminatory and harmful policy blocking any computer searches with the term homosexual, gay, lesbian, intersex, transexual-ism, or transgender; thanks to this religious right groups censorship campaigns against any work they deem offensive. Imagine for a moment, being in your youth with no one to talk to, probably poor and annexed from support structures like family. At the library you scroll through looking for anything to help you make sense of yourself, and you find something that looks useful and… BLOCK. Now you have to go request that a librarian or intern review the link and then allow you to view it, never mind time allocations of an hour and that is if they let you, if you bring yourself to even ask.
According to the article “The Religious Right’s War On LGBT Americans” by the counter group Ameicans United, this denial of information, especially to those who may be struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity is dangerous; people need access to objective material, and it is a public library’s duty to provide that information. ( While it could be expected that they attack books on human sexuality or sexual variation, generally any book that discusses LGBT issues in a factual and academic manner; children’s books with LGBT friendly memes are also attacked. Recently the book “I am Jazz” written by now transgender teen Jazz Jenning was removed from a school exercise after threats of lawsuit from an organization not even in the same state.
“As recently as 2010, officials at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian 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.” (AU)
On November 19, the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Education held a hearing on AB 469, a bill that would prohibit transgender students from using the bathroom or locker room that corresponds with their gender identity. The bill was based in part on “model” legislation drawn up by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). While the group is best known for its “religious liberty” work, ADF has also sought to promote and defend anti-sodomy laws that criminalize gay sex in countries like Belize and Jamaica. ADF has launched a concerted nationwide effort to push its own “model” policies denying transgender students equal access to school facilities. As State Representative Jesse Kremer, who introduced AB 469, pointed out, Wisconsin’s bill mirrors similar legislation in Minnesota and Nevada. those bills also drew heavily from ADF’s model legislation: ADF’s influence in shaping discriminatory state and school policies is a significant story in the ongoing debate over protections for transgender students. Journalists should follow Representative Barnes’ lead and tell audiences what they need to know about ADF, its extreme international work, and the group’s campaign to sneak their discriminatory model legislation into statehouses across the country (Perceley).
So what would happen if we stripped them of their non-profit status for refusing to help the entirety of the populous in the communities which they claim to serve? While we would see a drop in church run soup kitchens, we would also see a dramatic increase in government revenue, which in turn could house the homeless or feed the poor; as nations that truly care about poverty do not rely on churches (Oppenheimer).
Nothing in division (H) of this section shall bar any religious or denominational institution or organization, or any nonprofit charitable or educational organization that is operated, supervised, or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization, from limiting the sale, rental, or occupancy of housing accommodations that it owns or operates for other than a commercial purpose to persons of the same religion, or from giving preference in the sale, rental, or occupancy of such housing accommodations to persons of the same religion, unless membership in the religion is restricted on account of race, color, or national origin (OCR code).
So we find ourselves left begging for human rights that some are even willing to sacrifice due process of the law for, through this process of mediation otherwise eventually known as Religious Arbitration. Supporters of mediation claim that the process would allow disputes between people of faith to be mended by the use of shared values supposedly in the search of reconciliation taking priority over settlement. Likewise when talking of religious exemptions, supporters of RFRA’s would not see themselves as oppressors, but rather “oppressed” people themselves; merely “cut from the cloth”, defenders of their personal faith, martyrs and evangelists merely purporting the will and wishes they imagine would be desires of god. Of course this is all correct; within their sect, their current religious doctrine, their personal interpretation of any number of Bible/Quoran/Veda/Sutras/Torah/etc religious texts. One should take note of the recent acknowledgement of transgender identities by Reformed Judaism to see a model for the kind of behavior civil rights acts are supposed to promote.
Exemptions already given not only allow religious affiliates an “out” from having to respect a certain type of citizens civil rights, creation of a board within the Ohio Commission of Civil Rights OCRC to oversee inevitable turmoil because of which, puts the possibility of relatively immediate judicial recourse out of reach making the arbitrator the only venue for possibility of a grievance to be heard. By not allowing eventual civil rights complaints derived from religious bias to be heard in courts of law, it effectively creates an alternative form of “justice” keeping it from setting legal precedence. Keep in mind the OCRC itself has no ability to mediate in cases against workers compensation claims, police brutality or unauthorized arrest, traffic and criminal violations, complaints against prisons and court issues, complaints against federal agencies, complaints against child protection services, or unemployment. (OCRC)
In 1943 Ohioans were dealt a crippling blow to their right to collectively bargain in one such occurrence of mediation during the formation of the State Employment Relations Board. SERB now decides what cases to hear, who is allowed to be heard, what constitutes a claim, and on what grounds a strike is permissible. Like with the OCRC it inherently absolved itself of being partial by refusing to hear cases with government connections. They decided certain positions were intrinsic to the continued operation of government; safety personnel, meaning police, EMT, and judicial personnel with retirement were now unable to strike. As well, stipulations placed upon unions favored corporations in that a strike must be announced and held at bay for a min of 30 days while they attempt fact finding, barring the presence of an unsafe work environment. Wavering from the SERB protocols of mediation can void your claim as well SERB findings are taxably binding. (Ohio collective bargaining law)
(5) Nothing said or done during informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion under this section shall be disclosed by any member of the commission or its staff or be used as evidence in any subsequent hearing or other proceeding. If, after a preliminary investigation and the use of informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion under this section, the commission is satisfied that any unlawful discriminatory practice will be eliminated, it may treat the charge involved as being conciliated and enter that disposition on the records of the commission. If the commission fails to effect the elimination of an unlawful discriminatory practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion under this section and to obtain voluntary compliance with this chapter… (OCR code)
Minceburg, Elliot. “The Right’s Slimy New Scheme.” Saloncom RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.
Driehaus, Denise, and Nickie Antonio. “House Bill 389.” https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
“ENDA Religious Exemption – Fact Sheet.” The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.
“Chapter 4112: CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION.” Lawriter. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.
“Health Care Refusals Harm Patients: The Threat to LGBT People and Individuals Living with HIV/AIDS – NWLC.” NWLC. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.
Gounaud, Karen. “Family Friendly Libraries.” http://www.ccv.org/. Citizens for Community Values, 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
“The Religious Right’s War On LGBT Americans.” Www.au.org. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
Percelay, Rachel. “Watch This State Representative Call Out The Extreme Group Behind Laws Targeting Transgender Students.” Http://equalitymatters.org/. Equality Matters, 20 Nov. 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
Oppenhiemer, Mark. “Now’s the Time To End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions.” Www.time.com. Time, 28 June 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
Payton, Michael. “OCRC Information Video-G.” YouTube. YouTube, 17 July 2012. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.
ORiley, James, and Neil Gath. “Cook County Commissioners’ Fact Finding Board Report on Collective Bargaining and County Public Aid Employees.” ILR Review 20.3 (1967): 457-77. 1983. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.