Discrimination

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.

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.

Richard Wolf 06-01-2015
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.

 

 

Rev. Dr. Guy Nave 04-08-2015
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.

Nate Pyle 04-02-2015
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?”

Jim Wallis 04-01-2015
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.
Benjamin Moberg 03-20-2015
Progress concept, Annette Shaff / Shutterstock.com

Progress concept, Annette Shaff / Shutterstock.com

The news of the PCUSA adopting the Marriage Amendment came to me over Twitter. Flowing down my feed were tweet after tweet of individuals applauding the latest Christian move toward inclusion (disclaimer: my feed is an echo chamber). Proud Presbyterians puffed up their chests and, hilariously, celebrated the christening of the new “Presbyqueerians” and “Lesbyterians,” and I was overwhelmed. Our church is in perpetual rehab, always growing into the person she is supposed to be and I am so proud of her latest progress. The Marriage Amendment, which affirmed the marriage of Christian same-sex couples was not much of a surprise, given the progressive spirit of the PCUSA, but even still. It was only a week ago that the largest evangelical church in San Francisco also reformed its teaching on marriage. Three other evangelical megachurches preceded them in the last six months. And if rumors are true, more megas are coming out soon. Change is coursing through the air and knocking me over happy.

Immediately following the vote, some Southern Baptist conservatives also took to Twitter to express their harsh disapproval. Besides declaring that the PCUSA is now officially, by their definition, NOT Christian, they spoiled the often misidentified PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) with lots of love and praise for sticking to their arithmetic of “1 Man + 1 Woman = Marriage.”

I read an article by one of those enraged. He highlighted the key differences between the PCA and the PCUSA. The media had been mixing up the two, so he wrote it mostly to distinguish which one was still Christian, taking some extra digs at trending membership numbers and highlighting all the hot-button disagreements between the two. As I read it, I had to sigh a little, as I couldn’t help but hear the echoes of history reverberating beneath that piece, especially given the Presbyterian past.

Allen Corben 03-03-2015

Street art items. Photo via CTR Photos / Shutterstock.com

We’ve lost Leonard Nimoy. Justly famous as Star Trek’s iconic Mr. Spock, he was also a poet, musician, and photographer. And he was my role model.

I was 10 when I discovered Star Trek—and I immediately gravitated toward the taciturn Vulcan who embraced logic and science even as he wrestled with deep human emotion. The resemblance between Spock and the pre-teen me would have been startling had I recognized it as such; instead, I only saw a character who embodied the conflicts I felt—intellectually and emotionally.

Nimoy was a supporter of equal rights. For example, he convinced Paramount to end the pay inequity Nichelle Nichols experienced during the original Star Trek series. Later, he refused to sign on to the animated Star Trek series until Nichelle Nichols and George Takei were hired to voice their own characters. Away from Star Trek, he challenged “definitive” elements of beauty with The Full Body Project photographs.

But why did Nimoy—why does any man—work to end sexism and discrimination? 

Simply: It’s the right thing to do. That ought to be all anyone needs. At the very least, he did it for co-workers whom he respected.

Men who want to “Live Long and Prosper” work to make that possible for everyone, so that their claims to value justice for all have integrity.

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Jim Urquhart / RNS

Reflection of Salt Lake temple. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Jim Urquhart / RNS

Top leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called Jan. 27 for passage of laws granting statewide protections against housing and employment discrimination for gay and lesbian Utahns — as long as those measures safeguard religious freedom.

The move, one LGBT advocates have been pushing for years, provides a major boost for the prospects of of a state nondiscrimination statute. Such proposals have been bottled up in the legislature for years — despite the church’s historic endorsement of similar protections in Salt Lake City ordinances in 2009.

Utah’s predominant faith issued the plea for such measures at all levels of government during a rare news conference.

“We call on local, state and the federal government to serve all of their people by passing legislation that protects vital religious freedoms for individuals, families, churches, and other faith groups while also protecting the rights of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment, and public accommodation in hotels, restaurants, and transportation — protections which are not available in many parts of the country,” said church apostle Dallin H. Oaks.

Benjamin Moberg 01-16-2015
LoloStock / Shutterstock.com

LoloStock / Shutterstock.com

On the night I came out, my mom didn’t sleep. She stayed up all night long, crying and praying to God, begging God that what I had said wasn’t true, and if it was, for God to show her some way forward. She waited desperately for a divine word to fall upon her like manna. When it didn’t, when the morning light came and her world was still warped, she got out of bed to go searching for her Lord. She figured God would be at the Christian bookstore.

She worked the aisles for an hour, flipping through books, setting them down, moving from one section to the next. When she found nothing remotely related to this, she started to panic. A store employee passed behind her and she grabbed her arm — asked her where the books on homosexuality were.

The girl gave her a puzzled look and then said:

“Oh. I’m sorry. But we don’t carry books like that here.”

My mom’s eyes blurred with tears. She nodded.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” She muttered as the girl walked away.

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

On the drive back, she heard the girls’ answer twist and reshape in her mind:

Mothers like you with sons like that don’t belong here.

~

This past weekend, my mom and I recalled those early days as we walked down the streets of Portland, Ore. We had just finished up the final session at the annual Gay Christian Network Conference, and as we walked to our hotel to pack up our things, we felt at the strange seam stitching us from there to here: From hopeless and alone, to three years later sitting palms-raised, on the receiving end of so much hope and blessing and life from a gathering of Jesus-crazy LGBTQ outsiders. Through all the mess along the way, we managed to press on together, as a family.

Jim Wallis 11-25-2014
Ferguson protests Monday night. Photo by Heather Wilson / PICO

Ferguson protests Monday night. Photo by Heather Wilson / PICO

Many black families woke up this morning knowing that the lives of their children are worth less than the lives of white children in America. The deep distrust of law enforcement in their own communities that so many African Americans feel just got deeper last night — 108 days since the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown — when the prosecuting attorney announced the decision not to subject the police officer who killed Brown to a trial where all the facts could be publically known and examined.

We now all have the chance to examine the evidence — released last night — in the grand jury’s decision not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson, who fired multiple bullets into Michael Brown. But the verdict on America’s criminal justice system is already in for many Americans: guilty, for treating young black men differently than young white men.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker. Photo courtesy of Zblume (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

Evangelical leaders are angry after city officials in Houston subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose an equal rights ordinance that provides protections to the LGBT community.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who drew headlines for becoming the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city, led support for the ordinance. The measure bans anti-gay discrimination among businesses that serve the public, private employers, in housing and in city employment and city contracting.

Under one of the hotly contested parts of the ordinance, transgender people barred access to a restroom would be able to file a discrimination complaint.

The ordinance, which exempted religious institutions, was passed in June, though its implementation has been delayed due to legal complaints.

The Secular Coalition for America is a partner of the 'Openly Secular' campaign. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

A new coalition of atheists, humanists and other nonreligious groups is taking a page from the gay rights movement and encouraging people to admit they are “openly secular.”

The coalition — unprecedented in its scope — is broadening a trend of reaching out to religious people and religious groups by making the secular label a catchall for people who are not religious.

“We wanted to rise above who is an atheist, who is an agnostic, who is a humanist, who is a secular Jew,” said Todd Stiefel, founder of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation and a main force behind the coalition. “This needed to be about something everyone could rally behind so we intentionally used the word secular because it was one thing we could all agree on.”

The campaign, “Openly Secular: Opening Minds, Changing Hearts,” was unveiled at the 65th annual gathering of the Religion Newswriters Association here on Sept. 20. It includes a website, resources for families, employers and clergy, and a YouTube channel featuring both prominent and rank-and-file nonbelievers announcing their names followed by the declaration, “I am openly secular.”

Brian E. Konkol 08-20-2014
simez78 / Shutterstock.com

simez78 / Shutterstock.com

I am white. Most of the people near my house are white. This is the way it is for most of us white people in the U.S., and as we continue to be shown, the consequences are both critical and countless.

While the Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits all forms of housing discrimination, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that millions of instances occur each year, thus residential segregation continues to be a common facet of modern day life. To put it simply, white people tend to live by other white people, and it is the way it is by no accident.

Segregated neighborhoods are often reinforced by the practice of racial “steering” by real estate agents, or when landlords deceive potential tenants about the availability of housing or perhaps require conditions that are not required of white applicants. In addition, lending institutions have been shown to treat mortgage applicants differently when buying homes in non-white neighborhoods in comparison to their attempt to purchase in white neighborhoods. As a result of such practices, white people tend to live in a state of residential separateness, for as the most recent U.S. Census date confirms, genuine racial integration is — for the most part — alarmingly rare.

Of course, our own behaviors contribute to our current state of affairs. White people seem to prefer housing located by other white people. As a result, far too many white people are willing (and able) to pay a premium to live in predominantly white neighborhoods. So equivalent housing in white areas commands a higher rent than others, and through the process of bidding-up the costs of housing, many white neighborhoods effectively shut out people of color, because those without white skin are more often unwilling (or unable) to pay the premium price to buy entry into such white neighborhoods. As a result of such white flight and isolation, not only do we witness a rise in racial ignorance and indifference, but it also leads to increased injustice in the form of disproportionate hostility directed at people of color.

Rev. Alvin Herring 08-18-2014
Image courtesy Heather Wilson/PICO.

Protestors march in Ferguson, MO on August 17. Image courtesy Heather Wilson/PICO.

Editor's Note: Rev. Alvin Herring is on the ground in Ferguson, Mo. Following is his account of the events of Aug. 17. 

Last night democracy was trampled not as the media would suggest by the angry footfalls of sullen youth determined to disturb the peace and wreak havoc in their own community, but by the heavy march of a police force that seemed determined to create tension and antagonize young people — young people who are carrying the trauma of nights of unrest and lifetimes of dehumanizing racism.

We witnessed with our own eyes beautiful young people peacefully marching in step to cries of “hands up, don’t shoot.” We saw the very young holding older siblings’ hands and the old being pushed in wheelchairs by teenagers who had pain in their eyes but strong voices lifting up their laments to a nation that must find the will to hear them. And though they were clearly agitated, they were courageously hewing to the commitment to act peacefully in the face of an overwhelming police response that seemed determined to escalate an already tense situation.

Law enforcement was outfitted with the machinery of war. The officers wore military fatigues and carried automatic weapons. They were helmeted, with their faces obscured, and in the darkness they looked more like machines than human beings. They perched atop huge military vehicles with glaring lights and screeching sirens. It was otherworldly — and all of this to face down a group of wounded children, wounded tonight and many nights before this night.

James W. Perkinson 07-21-2014
No water. Illustration by wonderisland/shutterstock.com

No water. Illustration by wonderisland/shutterstock.com

Water was created by none of us—just like air and earth and fire. It was not made to be enslaved in a market price or bottled into a "good," yielding ownership and power. Water is a commons, a precious gift given by the creator. But today, water is becoming the subject of war.  

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops was sued by a tenant of their Waumini Building in Nairobi. Via RNS.

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops is facing a lawsuit over the cancellation of a rental contract for a restaurant operated by a Somali Muslim.

Al-Yusra Restaurant Ltd. had signed a six-year lease starting in 2013 to operate a restaurant in a section of Waumini House where the bishops’ conference is based. Baakai Maalim, a Somali Muslim, is a director for the company.

A lawyer for the bishops said the lease was signed without written consent and knowledge of the bishops.
Heather McIlvaine 05-06-2014

Khatoon Shaikh founded the all-female Shariah court in Mumbai. Religion News Service photo by Heather McIlvain.

Khatoon Shaikh had no formal education, never worked outside the home, and lived in the kind of neighborhood that many people might call a slum.

But when Shaikh witnessed her sister-in-law victimized, first at the hands of a violent husband, and again by a patriarchal justice system, she took charge.

Shaikh started her own Shariah adalat, a court based on Islamic law, just for women.

“We needed a place where women’s voices could be heard,” the mother of seven said.

That was 20 years ago. Since then, the court has moved from Shaikh’s home to a two-room office in the north Mumbai neighborhood of Bandra. And it now operates within a broader organization called BMMA, or Indian Muslim Women’s Movement, which Shaikh helped form in 2007.

Joe Kay 04-30-2014
Priest during Mass, Gordan / Shutterstock.com

Priest during Mass, Gordan / Shutterstock.com

I attended a funeral last week and was struck by something that happened at communion.

The church was packed for a loving man who had touched many lives with his kindness. People from varied backgrounds and faiths came to celebrate his life and support his family. The eulogy noted that he never turned anyone away.

At communion time, several young adults from a different denomination got in line. When the first young man got to the priest, he received a question instead of a communion wafer. The priest said something to him. The young man looked surprised and shook his head. The priest traced a cross on his forehead and sent him away breadless.

On a day of shared grief, the young man had given the wrong answer to the age-old question: Are you one of us?

Lisa Sharon Harper 04-29-2014
Donald Sterling in 2009, s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

Donald Sterling in 2009, s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

I almost felt sorry for Donald Sterling when I listened to the original recording of an alleged argument between him and his ex-girlfriend, V. Stiviano, released by TMZ Sports on Saturday. The argument centers around Stivianio’s friendship with black and Hispanic people. The desperation in Sterling’s alleged voice is palpable as he tries to scurry like a cockroach exposed by the light, but doesn’t get away.

The day after TMZ released the recording, Deadspin released an extended version of the tiff with transcript included. In this recording, the cockroach is caught for examination under the proverbial glass. From the Deadspin report:

V: I don't understand. I don't see your views. I wasn't raised the way you were raised.

DS: Well then, if you don't feel—don't come to my games. Don't bring black people, and don't come.

V: Do you know that you have a whole team that's black, that plays for you?

DS: You just, do I know? I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them?...

Sterling does not “support them.” He pays them for work. He does not “give them food.” He gives them a wage for employment. He does not give his players “clothes, and cars, and houses.” The Clippers Corporation signs a paycheck, made possible by advertising dollars and ticket sales attracted by the highly skilled labor of the mostly black and brown Clippers players themselves.

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