Sunday, April 09, 2017

"Religious Liberty" Bills Seek To Legalize Discrimination

(Cartoon image is by Carlos Latuff.)

It's nice to see an editorial like this from a reliably conservative newspaper like the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Far too many people and institutions on the right are willing to justify discrimination as long as it is cloaked in religion. The Star-Telegram editorial board writes:

Religious liberty laws don’t give religious freedom — they take it away. 
The Constitution protects religious freedom. It’s a fundamental right that any American can exercise, so these bills don’t do anything but discriminate against a minority group — this time the LGBTQ community. 
None of these laws are necessary, and all of them are damaging. 
Seventeen “religious liberty” bills have been filed in this year’s legislative session, all discriminating against the LGBTQ community in one way or another. 
The most controversial is House Bill 3859.
Along with three similar bills, it would protect faith-based child welfare organizations when they exercise their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” 
Which means this bill protects these organizations from being sued for not providing abortions or contraceptives, or for denying adoptions or foster care placement that somehow go against their religious beliefs. 
Bill author Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, says HB 3859 isn’t politically charged, but rather is meant to help provide quality homes for children in child welfare services. 
Organizations like the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops are worried about litigation and hesitant to continue in the child welfare system without religious liberty protections. 
But “sincerely held religious beliefs” is so vague that it could open up some worrisome doors.
The bill says the “sincerely held religious beliefs” can’t be used to discriminate against race, religion, ethnicity or national origin, but it says nothing about sexual orientation.
The language in the bill would allow child welfare organizations to deny members of the LGBTQ community the ability to adopt, become foster parents or even engage with child welfare services. 
The bill does mandate that a “secondary service provider” be ensured if a service is against the original provider’s belief system, and it cannot be used to deny “necessary child welfare services” from another provider, but these are slapdash attempts to make the bill seem less discriminatory. 
HB 3859 was left pending in committee. 
It would be a shame if faith-based organizations stop working in the welfare system because of possible litigation, but we shouldn’t have to discriminate against a whole community to help kids in need.

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