Once again we in the United States of America are facing an egregious example of “doublespeak” by the Trump Administration. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has announced a “Religious Liberty Task Force” that is, in effect, a vicious attack against the LGBTQ community. Here is how the dots are connected:
- The ADF is the Alliance Defending Freedom. In the words of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), ADF is “a group that vilifies the LGBT community and promotes discrimination against it in the name of religion.”
- The ADF was founded in 1994 by 30 leaders of the Christian right. It is a legal advocacy and training group with the following missions, according to the SPLC:
- Supported the recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. and criminalization abroad
- Defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad
- Linked homosexuality to pedophilia
- Claims that a ‘homosexual agenda’ will destroy Christianity and society
- It is because of these missions that the SPLC defines the ADF as a hate group.
- The Trump Administration and the ADF joined forces in December 2017 to argue before the Supreme Court on behalf of the Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
- Vice President Mike Pence, who was involved with the Colorado baker case, has a long history of anti-LGBTQ discrimination. As MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow pointed out in 2016, Pence is the “most vociferously and consistently anti-gay statewide elected official in the country.” Maddow continued, “as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and governor of Indiana, Pence has said that federal funding should be diverted away from HIV/AIDS treatment programs and advocated for public funding toward conversion therapy, voted against a law that would prohibit discrimination of LGBT individuals in the workplace and said gay couples signaled a ‘societal collapse.’”
- In January 2018, according to Chad Griffin in the Advocate, the Department of Health and Human Services created a “Conscience” Division, the mission of which would be to ostensibly “protect the religious liberty” of health care workers. In part, this “would permit health care workers to deny life-saving treatment to LGBTQ people based on ‘religious liberty,’” according to an accompanying rule.
The late July 2018 unveiling of the so-called “Religious Liberty Task Force,” funded by you and me as American taxpayers, is the next step in the escalation of the Trump-Pence-Sessions attack on the rights of the gay-transgender community. Rather than defending religious freedom, as its promoters assert, the task force is actually meant to help the Justice Department carry out an October guidance memo. Two of the memo’s provisions state, “Religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts” and “As a general matter, the federal government may not condition receipt of a federal grant or contract on the effective relinquishment of a religious organization’s exemptions or attributes of its religious character.”
According to Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, “Though freedom of religion is a core American value, religious exemptions from adhering to nondiscrimination protections are not. Sessions’ announcement today is yet another example of the Trump administration’s anti-LGBTQ agenda as they seek to weave protections for those seeking anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions into the government.”
The US has a sordid history of using religion to justify oppression. 19th-century slaveholders and their supporters used the Bible to support the enslavement of African Americans, and racists and racist groups that call themselves Christian justify housing and other discrimination with religious arguments. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, however, outlawed slavery, and later Civil Rights legislation further made mincemeat of the religious argument for discrimination (even though, as we know, discrimination does still exist).
When it comes to LBGTQ rights, which many Americans opposed for decades on Biblical grounds, more than two-thirds of Americans now have little or no problem with gay marriage and gay rights in general. Trump, Pence, Sessions and their right-wing cronies are determined to find every way possible to relegate LGBTQ persons back to the closet and second-class citizenship and deny a significant percentage of our citizens basic protections under the law. In this iteration of the attack, they are using religion and religious freedom to bolster their arguments.
Religion in 21st-century America can no more be used to justify anti-LGBTQ discrimination than it can to justify racial discrimination. The “Religious Liberty Task Force” and its correlates must be opposed at all costs. When it comes time to vote in November, choose candidates that uphold legitimate religious liberty and protect the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of all Americans.