Indiana Republicans Introduce LGBT Civil Rights Legislation

Indiana State Capitol. Image via Jimmy Emerson, DVM / flickr.com

In the legislation, the state’s schools and businesses would be allowed to write their own policies on the use of bathrooms or showers based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. They also could decide for themselves what dress code to impose on students and workers.

Under the bill, those rules wouldn’t count as discriminatory.

House and Senate Democrats have called for simpler solution, saying a fix could be had by adding four words and a comma: “sexual orientation, gender identity” to the Indiana’s civil rights law.

The Power of Protest at Mizzou

Jesse Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia. Adapated image via Adam Procter/Flickr

We have witnessed a remarkable series of events on the Columbia, Mo., campus of the University of Missouri this week. The university president and the chancellor of the Columbia campus resigned Nov. 9 in response to protests claiming that university leadership had failed to appropriately address and respond to a toxic racial climate on campus.

The recent racist incidents, which many students and faculty felt the administration had failed to confront, reveal a stunning lack of empathy for students of color at the university. They include: racial slurs hurled at a black student body president and a black student organization, and a swastika painted in human feces on the wall of a residence hall.

But these specific incidents merely allowed a long-simmering stew of disrespect, verbal attacks, and marginalization of students of color to come boiling to the surface.

The Columbia campus of the University of Missouri is only a two-hour drive from Ferguson, Mo. When Michael Brown was shot in August 2014, protesters took to the streets of Ferguson every night, and student activists from Mizzou were among them. They saw what standing up to entrenched institutional racism looked like, and they saw that victories could be won with non-violent protest.

Pope Francis' Rapturous U.S. Welcome Belies a Historic Anti-Catholic Past

giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis leads the Easter vigil mass in Saint Peter's Basilica on Holy Saturday. Vatican City, 19 April 2014. Photo via giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Yes, popes have been visiting the U.S. since Paul VI spent a day in New York in 1965, and each of the following eight papal trips — seven by John Paul II and one by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — has been widely anticipated, and enormously successful.

Is it far-fetched to think this could be any different this time — that images of a beaming Roman pontiff taking in the local flavor would not lead to a surge of warm feelings toward a Catholic Church otherwise regarded as beleaguered and out-of-touch?

Yet at a moment of such excitement and goodwill, it is important to remember how unusual this trip is in the context of American history: The idea that a pope could arrive in the United States to fanfare and adulation, especially from leading American politicians, was once unthinkable.

Consider the case of Archbishop Gaetano Bedini, a representative of Pope Pius IX whose 1853 U.S. tour wrought an assassination plot and sparked violence in Cincinnati streets that led to one protester’s death and forced Bedini to flee the country under cover of night. Such extreme reactions grew from Bedini’s close association with his imperious boss, the pope, who denounced democratic government, religious liberty and all of “modern civilization.”

Muslim Flight Attendant Suspended for Not Serving Alcohol

Charee Stanley. Image via CAIR-Michigan/USA Today/RNS

A Muslim flight attendant said the Atlanta-based airline ExpressJet suspended her for refusing to serve alcohol, a practice that is against her religious beliefs.

Charee Stanley filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last week, saying she wants to do her job without serving alcohol, as she was doing before her suspension, her lawyer said.

Lena Masri, an attorney with the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said no one “should have to choose between their career and religion.”

Employers, she told CNN, must “provide a safe environment where employees can feel they can practice their religion freely.”

Critics Petition Obama to Abolish Faith-Based Hiring Bias

Image via RNS.

Concerned that faith-based groups can discriminate in hiring while receiving federal funds, a coalition of 130 organizations told President Obama the policy will tarnish his legacy of fair and equal treatment for all Americans.

The critics, including religious organizations such as the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Union for Reform Judaism, asked the president to direct Attorney General Loretta Lynch to review a “flawed” 2007 Justice Department memo that said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides for an override of nondiscrimination laws for government-funded religious organizations.

“RFRA was not intended to create blanket exemptions to laws that protect against discrimination,” says the letter sent to Obama Aug. 20 and announced by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Despite Pakistan’s ‘Third Gender’ Recognition, Discrimination Is Widespread

Photo via Shahbaz Sindhu / RNS

“Tania” and Ferdose Khan live as partners in Lahore’s khawaja sara community. Photo via Shahbaz Sindhu / RNS

Saima Butt witnessed an acid attack in February 2014 that left the victim scarred and writhing in pain. One onlooker said the assault was God’s retribution, and that her death would mean one less sinner in society.


“People enjoy our agonies and treat us like insects,” Butt said of herself and of the anonymous victim.

Butt is supervisor at the Khawaja Sara Society in Lahore and a member of the local “khawaja sara” or third-gender community. Pakistan added a third-gender option to national identity cards in 2009, but official recognition has not stopped discrimination against those who choose not to be identified as either male or female.

Supreme Court Boosts Workers Who Claim Religious Bias

Photo via Emily Hardman, Becket Fund / RNS

Samantha Elauf outside of the Supreme Court on Feb. 25, 2015. Photo via Emily Hardman, Becket Fund / RNS

The Supreme Court ruled June 1 that companies cannot discriminate against job applicants or employees for religious reasons, even if an accommodation is not requested.

The decision was a defeat for preppy clothier Abercrombie & Fitch, which refused to hire a Muslim girl in 2008 because she was wearing a black hijab, or head scarf. It could benefit job applicants and employees who need time off for religious observances as well as those who adhere to strict dress codes.



Christian Dominance and So-Called 'Religious Freedom'

Deymos.HR / Shutterstock.com

Deymos.HR / Shutterstock.com

While reflecting upon and celebrating Easter, I did quite a bit of thinking about the controversies surrounding so-called “religious freedom” bills that have been popping up recently, most notably Indiana and Arkansas. In a recent interview on the Family Research Council radio program, “ Washington Watch with Tony Perkins," former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee discussed the backlash against these two pieces of legislation.

Huckabee asserted that gay-rights activists are seeking the eradication of Christian churches. According to Huckabee, “It won’t stop until there are no more churches, until there are no more people who are spreading the Gospel.”

Christianity has been and continues to be the dominant form of religious practice and expression in America. Often the rhetoric used by members of dominant groups insinuates that when people outside of their dominant group ask for equal rights and the opportunity to participate fully in American life, they are actually seeking to eradicate the existence of that dominant group.

Outrage Over RFRA Might Be A Fear Of Christians

by Cary Bass-Deschenes / Flickr.com

by Cary Bass-Deschenes / Flickr.com

Editor's Note: Since original publication of this piece, Indiana lawmakers have announced changes to the Indiana RFRA legislation that includes anti-discrimination language.  

Last week Indiana found itself at the center of the news cycle for all the wrong reasons. With Gov. Pence’s signing of the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, our nation once again found itself taking sides in the debate over LGBTQ rights.

Honestly, I’m torn over this issue. I understand that the Indiana bill was fashioned after the 1993 bill that was signed into federal law by Bill Clinton. I know that 19 other states have RFRA legislation. And, as a pastor, I support religious freedom, not just for Christians, but for Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and yes, even Westboro Baptists. I think most Americans support protecting individuals' rights to conscientiously practice their faith. Freedom of religion is one of the things that makes this country great, and that freedom is worth protecting. But this bill, supposedly enacted to protect those freedoms, has caused quite the stir. Even more interesting to me are the people I follow on social media who are much more interested and knowledgeable than me in politics who say Indiana’s RFRA won’t amount to significant change. This raises the very simple question, “Then why pass the bill?”

Religious Freedom or Discrimination?

Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

For the past several days, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has found himself at the center of a political firestorm over his state’s adoption of a new Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Many believe that Indiana’s law went too far, including many in the faith community, because it could have opened the door for businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Pence has repeatedly denied this was the intent — and early Thursday morning, Indiana's Republican leaders announced a deal that they say would make it clear no one will "be able to discriminate against anyone at any time." Read the changes here. The new anti-discrimination language has already drawn a positive response from some of the original law’s critics.
Of course, the debate continues, as those on one side say the clarification doesn’t go far enough and those on the other that it was an unnecessary concession. We see the RFRA debate extending to other states, like Arkansas, where amid concerns from Wal-Mart and his own son, Gov. Asa Hutchinson last night said he wouldn’t sign the pending religious freedom legislation until it mirrors the federal law — taking a note from the Indiana dust-up.
The dangerous part of the original Indiana law was that by including businesses in RFRA protections, it went further than other state RFRA laws and could even give permission for discrimination.