Human Rights

Utah’s New Law a ‘Toolkit’ for Fighting LGBT Discrimination, Say Activists, Legal Experts

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert displays Senate Bill 296 after signing it into state law.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert displays Senate Bill 296 after signing it into state law. Image via RNS.

Utah’s new law extending employment and workplace protections to LGBT people and conscience protections to individuals, churches, and faith-based associations extends an olive branch to both groups, even as it misses one key sticking point.

Panelists for two discussions hosted by the Brookings Institution on March 16 described key features of the legislation, noting that it is:

  • Unique to Utah, with its distinctive religious and political history, not a template for other states or for federal legislation.
  • A measure of healing between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and LGBT people.
  • A law that says nothing about whether bakers, florists or other vendors must accept customers planning a same-sex wedding, even if such marriages violate their religious beliefs.
  • A layer of robust protections for religious groups.

Even though other states may not replicate this law exactly, it can serve as a toolkit for orchestrating opposing forces to find common ground, legal and political, experts said.

Former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, a Mormon who cautioned that he was not a spokesman for the church, called the legislation “a great victory for the protection of conscience.”

Leavitt said the LDS church convened the effort to write the legislation with LGBT activists in an effort to heal the tensions between the two communities, inflamed when the church joined efforts to ban same-sex marriage in California in 2008.

“It is a doctrine of the church that marriage is between one man and one woman and it will not change,” said Leavitt.

But it is also a doctrine of the church that “Jesus Christ would not abide by the withholding of shelter or sustenance or care.”

Mormons Free to Back Gay Marriage on Social Media, LDS Apostle Says

The Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah. Image via RNS.

The Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah. Image via RNS.

An LDS apostle reaffirmed recently that Mormons who support gay marriage are not in danger of losing their temple privileges or church memberships — even though the Utah-based faith opposes the practice.

In an interview March 13 with KUTV in Salt Lake City, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said that individuals in the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be in trouble only for “supporting organizations that promote opposition or positions in opposition to the church’s.”

Backing marriage equality on social media sites, including on Facebook or Twitter, “is not an organized effort to attack our effort, or our functioning as a church,” Christofferson said in the interview.

The KUTV interviewer asked further if a Latter-day Saint could “hold those beliefs even though they are different from what you teach at the pulpit?”

Yes, the apostle answered.

“Our approach in all of this, as (Mormon founder) Joseph Smith said, is persuasion. You can’t use the priesthood and the authority of the church to dictate. You can’t compel, you can’t coerce. It has to be persuasion, gentleness and love unfeigned, as the words in the scripture.”

Christofferson echoed this sentiment in two January interviews with The Salt Lake Tribune.

Debate Over Gays in St. Patrick’s Parades Roils Irish On Big Day

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan at the the 253rd annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on Ma

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan at the the 253rd annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 17, 2014.

St. Patrick’s Day is associated as much with Roman Catholicism as it is with Irish-Americans, but this year some of the faithful aren’t happy with the inclusion of gays and lesbians marching under their own banner for the first time in parades in Boston and New York.

The Knights of Columbus of Massachusetts and a local Catholic school declined to take part in the Boston parade on March 15 after two LGBT groups — the military veterans service group OutVets and Boston Pride — were invited following decades of lobbying and court battles.

“The saint’s venerable name should not be cheaply misappropriated by nominally Catholic politicians and anti-Catholic organizations with a same sex agenda,” said Catholic Action League head C.J. Doyle, a leader of the opposition.

The New York parade marches down Fifth Avenue on March 17, the saint’s feast day, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan is facing renewed calls from conservative Catholics to step down as grand marshal because an openly LGBT group is taking part for the first time.

When it was first announced last September that an organization of LGBT employees at NBC — the network that broadcasts the popular event — would be marching, Dolan voiced support for the parade organizers and prayed “that the parade would continue to be a source of unity for all of us.”

Critics ripped Dolan for his stance, and they ramped up their efforts as the day approached.

“Now there can be no doubt — Timothy Cardinal Dolan has been played for a sucker by the organizers of the 2015 New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade. He must step down as Grand Marshal,” Matthew Hennessey wrote at the website of Crisis magazine, a conservative Catholic media outlet.

“(B)y personally leading the procession, he blesses the whole shameful affair,” he concluded.

Prominent San Francisco Evangelical Church Drops Celibacy Requirement for LGBT Members

City Church San Francisco Worship Service at Sutter Campus. Photo via Steven Sta

City Church San Francisco Worship Service at Sutter Campus. Photo via Steven Starfas/RNS.

A prominent evangelical Christian church in San Francisco has announced it will no longer ask members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender to remain celibate.

“We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining,” senior pastor Fred Harrell, Sr. and six board members of City Church, one of the largest members of the Reformed Church in America denomination, wrote to members in a letter emailed to members March 13.

The church, which claims about 1,000 attendees and meets at two San Francisco locations, has long welcomed LGBT persons to attend, but has required life-long celibacy of those LGBT persons seeking membership.

“Imagine feeling this from your family or religious community,” the letter states.

“‘If you stay, you must accept celibacy with no hope that you too might one day enjoy the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship. If you pursue a lifelong partnership, you are rejected.’ This is simply not working and people are being hurt. We must listen and respond.”

City Church’s action places it in the ranks of at least two other large, urban evangelical congregations that have reversed their policies requiring celibacy for gay members. In January, both Nashville’s GracePointe Church and Seattle’s EastLake Community Church reversed their celibacy policies.

The policy of many evangelical denominations and independent churches is that homosexuality is “incompatible” with the Bible and therefore cannot be tolerated among members, or the broader society.

 

Supreme Court Wrestles with Accommodating Religious Faith on the Job

Samantha Elauf outside of the Supreme Court on Feb 25. Image courtesy RNS.

Samantha Elauf outside of the Supreme Court on Feb 25. Image courtesy RNS.

Samantha Elauf was a teenager who loved clothes and applied to work in an Abercrombie & Fitch Kids store in her native Tulsa, Okla., in 2008. But Elauf, a Muslim, also happens to wear a headscarf. So she didn’t get the job.

No one — not even Abercrombie & Fitch — disputes that her hijab cost her the job offer. And the law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, states that an employer can’t deny employment based on an worker’s religious practice, unless accommodating it would prove terribly burdensome.

At the time, Abercrombie had a “no hats” policy for its sales associates. When the U.S. Supreme Court heard Elauf’s case on Feb. 25, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summed up the religious exemption required of the company: “Title VII doesn’t require accommodating baseball caps, but it does require accommodating religious practice.”

So why did this case make it all the way to the Supreme Court?

Elauf, though she won in a federal district court in 2011, lost in a federal appeals court in 2013. At the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the company’s argument — that it shouldn’t have had to give a religious accommodation because Elauf never asked for one — found traction.

Do we really want companies delving into an applicant’s religious practice in order to determine whether the person might want an accommodation, Abercrombie lawyer Shay Dvoretzky asked the justices on Wednesday.

“This will inevitably lead employers to stereotype,” he said.

In Over My Spirit: Faithful Dissent on Full LGBTQ Inclusion

'In over my spirit.' Image courtesy Semmick Photo/shutterstock.com

'In over my spirit.' Image courtesy Semmick Photo/shutterstock.com

My heart breaks. My head hurts. My spirit is broken on the question of LGBTQ inclusion in Christ’s church. In many ways, I am in right place in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). We affirm the central role of friendship in our life together. We believe in the freedom to hold diverse theological views in the spirit of renewal. Yet, to draw from Martin Luther King Jr.’s phrase, freedom has a dull ring for me on this topic. Not only have some in my church family questioned the right to hold a minority view on LGBTQ questions, they have questioned the spirit of dissent.

The faithful pursuit of deeper answers in conversation with Scripture generates enormous fear, and this fear is understandable. Talking about LGBTQ questions is divisive in the current climate. Many believe the church has clearly spoken on this topic. Those ecclesial groups who have engaged it have lost churches and people. Understandably, leaders want to avoid this kind of thing happening under their watch. Still, pastors and lay people are on the front lines of ministering with and to their LGBTQ members — some of whom are clearly gifted for ministry and should be working themselves as pastors.

I could cite stories of bullying, statistics on youth suicides, or examples of micro-aggressions directed at the LGBTQ community on a daily basis. The evangelical world knows this, however, and they still insist on debating the theology. So here is where I, as a Christian ethicist, underscore the importance of faithful dissent. Why? For starters, Jesus did it all the time, and yes, he drove a lot of people crazy. For reference, see Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The fact is, sometimes the majority view gets it wrong. We see it over and over throughout church history.

What does dissent look like? The ECC has a beautifully written report on biblical authority and Christian freedom that offers a set of reflections on the relationship between Scripture and the practice of theology. Five themes woven throughout this theological short and our archival documents offer helpful parameters for evangelicals discerning the parameters of faithful dissent. These five criteria offer up what I call “Best Practices for Faithful Dissent.”

Parking Spat as Motive for Triple Murder? N.C. Muslims Don’t Buy It

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Chris Keane / RNS

A woman places flowers near where three young Muslims were killed. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Chris Keane / RNS

Preliminary police reports describe a long-simmering dispute over parking as the motive for the killings of three Muslim students at a Chapel Hill condominium Feb. 10.

But many Muslims in the Raleigh-Durham community and beyond are not so sure. The triple murders in this usually harmonious university town immediately took on a larger narrative of hate crimes against Muslims and charges of atheists baiting Muslims.

On Wednesday, police charged Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, of Chapel Hill with three counts of first-degree murder.

They allege he shot Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh inside their condominium near the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill.

 

VIDEO: Nashville Sit-Ins

In the 1960s Rev. Dr. Sam Dodson, a Methodist pastor in Nashville, Tenn., received pressure to stop his unpopular desegregation activism. He and many others who were a part of the ecumenical “clergy movement” were considered the black sheep of the Methodist church, facing resistance from their own congregations for their actions.

Read “The Cost of Discipleship” (Sojourners, March 2015) to learn more about Dodson and the clergy who supported civil rights in Nashville. Check out the video below to see what the black community and their supporters faced during the Nashville Marches.

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