Friday, November 9, 2007

Seven Deadly Sins: Republican Deceit on the ENDA Debate in the House

My review of the Congressional Record for the ENDA debate in the House of Representatives gave me some insights into the weakness of will and the dearth of moral courage in my Democratic friends, though I do see a glimmer of hope for the future of human rights for my people (see the immediately previous blog entry).

On the Dark Side of the aisle in the House, the Republican conservative opposition to ENDA and to trans-inclusion appears from the statements made in the Congressional Record to be based on seven viewpoints that I will call the "seven deadly sins:"

  1. The Sin of Willful Ignorance. They appear to exhinit a lack of understanding of the tenets of Christianity – they erroneously seem to think that that all Christians perceive homosexuality as sinful, and that the beliefs of their own erronneous Christianist (not Christain at all) should be imposed on the nation in a Christianist form of Shariah – in which their form of religion is also the basis for the civil law;
  2. The Sin of Superiority of the Master. They see Religious Freedom as the religious freedom of a Christianist employer counting for more than the religious freedom or other rights, liberties and freedoms of the employees;
  3. The Sin of Superiority of Christianist belief. They see Religious Freedom as the right of a Christianist employee to outweigh the religious freedom or other rights, liberties and freedoms of other employees and trumps an employer’s reasonable requirements for respect and tolerance in the workplace;
  4. The Sin of Superiority of the Heterosexual. They insist that married heterosexual employees should be entitled to more and better employment benefits than employees who are prevented by government interference with the free exercise of their religion, from getting married;
  5. The Sin of Babel. They exhibit a curious lack of understanding of the English language commeasurate with their lack of understanding of the teachings of Jesus Christ, in their babbling about the word "perceived."
  6. The Sin of Mischaracterization. They characterize the religious and other rights of other people as "sexual rights" and do not recognize the fact that "sexual rights" are actually not exercised in the workplace but rather in the bedroom; and
  7. The Sin of Denial of Equality. They think a federal ENDA would be evidence in favor of equal marriage rights, which they oppose – they want to continue to favor special rights for heterosexuals.

So, let’s get down to a discussion of some of what these people said on the floor of the House, and I will comment on each:

1. A lack of understanding of the tenets of Christianity – they erroneously seem to think that that all Christians perceive homosexuality as sinful, and that the beliefs of Christianists should be imposed on the nation in a Christianist form of Shariah – in which their form of religion is also the basis for the civil law.

Rep. Souder: "The question is, can you as a Christian express your views and not be persecuted? That, yes, in a sense it is at least a plurality of Americans profess Christianity, a smaller percent conservative Christianity, but we are moving so far as to restrict the rights in the workplace of Christians' even ability to hold or say anything about their views. People can't even have Bible studies in some places it has been ruled because that would be offensive to homosexuals in the workplace based on this law in some cities and have been upheld in the court."

My response: The Christian who believes homosexuality is sinful has every right to not engage in homosexual activity. That Christian is protected in his or her private beliefs. But the protection of religious freedom should be seen as a shield and not a sword. One’s constitutional right to a prejudiced and bigoted "religious" belief that homosexuality is sinful should be protected. But to act on that belief in an aggressive way that can be harmful to others whose religious beliefs are different should not be protected.

The right to impose that bigoted and prejudiced "religious" belief in the workplace, in the face of general secular principles of fairness, equality and justice, should not be permitted under the law. It would be the same thing as permitting the teaching of the erroneous literalist flat-earther six-day Creation in lieu of the science related to the development of the Universe, in public-funded or licensed schools

It is one thing to have a Bible in the office to read during lunchtime, and quite another to put up a large poster in a prominent location in the workplace proclaiming the text of Leviticus 18:22 or 20:13 in an attempt to intimidate gay co-workers or employees.


2. Religious Freedom, where the freedom of a Christianist employer counts for more than the religious freedom of the employees – but should the religious freedom of the employer count for more than the religious freedom of the employee?

Rep. Souder: "Under this bill, they will be forced to hire homosexuals regardless of the personal views of Christian bookstores."

My response: The personal views of Christian bookstores, or rather, the owners of Christian bookstores, have nothing to do with the jobs of stocking bookshelves, doing bookkeeping, or any of a host of other jobs. None of these jobs have anything to do with whether the employee is gay or is perceived to be gay while not actually being gay. The religious freedom of the owner of the store should not be allowed to trump the religious freedom of the employee. To imply that the employer’s religious belief is superior to that of the employee means that the playing field is not level, and that there is no equal employment opportunity, thus belying any assertion that this is really an issue involving religious freedom, but rather the imposition of a Christianist Shariah.


3. That the religious beliefs of Christianist employees are superior to the religious beliefs of other employees, and that Christianist employees should be exempt from an employer’s requirement that all employees treat other employees and customers with dignity and respect.

Rep. Souder: "AT&T employee in Denver fired for refusing to sign company-required pledge to recognize, respect and value sexual orientation differences within the company. In January 2001, an employee of AT&T was required to sign a new AT&T Broadband Employee Handbook with policies that conflicted with his religious beliefs by condoning the homosexual lifestyle. After notifying his supervisor that based on his religious belief he could not sign the certificate of understanding, he was fired."

Rep. Souder: "At Hewlett Packard's plant in Boise, Idaho, an employee with a 21-year record of meeting or exceeding expectations was fired for refusing to remove Bible verses about homosexuality from his cubicle. The employee allegedly posted the Bible verses in response to a poster near his cubicle that he perceived to be promoting GLBT relationships. HP openly admitted that its reasoning for firing the employee was ``his overt opposition to HP's Diversity Advertising Campaign.''

My comment: Rep. Souder apparently does not understand, or chooses to ignore, the difference between having a constitutionally protected right to a private religious belief and the right to impose that private religious belief on others. If an employer or employee’s personal religious beliefs require that they disrespect the religious beliefs of others in the workplace, then the disrespecting employer should not be in business, and the disrespecting employee should not be employed. In Rep. Souder’s example, the AT&T employee had every right to believe homosexuality to be sinful, and the employer has every right to expect that the employee will be respectful of persons in the company, or customers, whose religious beliefs are different. There is nothing in the Record that indicates that AT&T was obliging the employee to believe that homosexual behavior is not sinful, but only to respect the beliefs of others that it is not sinful.

In Rep. Souder's Hewlett-Packard example, he seems to equate the posting of threats to free speech. The freedom of speech, even religious speech, in the workplace, is not untrammelled - and no one should be allowed to use Bible verses to threaten others.

Rep. Blunt of Missouri: "Madam Chairman, the tension this bill could create is not difficult to foresee in practice. For instance, if you chose to keep a Bible at your work station or perhaps even display in your cubicle a verse you found particularly meaningful, the legal question is simple created by this legislation: Can one or more of your coworkers seeing that passage, seeing that Bible, understanding there are passages there about homosexuality, bring suit against you and your employer on the grounds that mere presence of religious symbols constitutes a ``hostile workplace'' in which they are being forced to work?"

My comment: Rep. Blunt’s understanding of religious freedom is certainly strange, but similar to Rep. Sopuder's. If the employee’s "meaningful" verse is one that assaults the religious belief of another employee – let's use a "non-gay" example such as Exodus 22:18 "Do not suffer a witch to live" when the employee knows that this is intimidating to a fellow employee who is a practitioner of Wicca, that should certainly be prohibited in the workplace! It doesn’t mean that the Christianist employee can’t have the freedom to believe that witches should be stoned to death, but the taking of action that can be seen as a threat to stone a fellow employee or disrespect her freedom of religious belief should be legally prohibited.

Rep. Pence from Indiana: " Some examples: Under ENDA, employees around the country who possess religious beliefs that are opposed to homosexual behavior would be forced, in effect, to lay down their rights and convictions at the door. For example, if an employee keeps a Bible in his or her cubicle, if an employee displays a Bible verse on their desk, that employee could be claimed by a homosexual colleague to be creating a hostile work environment because the homosexual employee objects to passages in the Bible relating to homosexuality."

My response: Rep. Pence doesn't understand. The employee doesn't have to lay his religious beliefs at the door - but he should be required to be respectful of the different beliefs of others. Just because the employee believes something that isn't true, doesn't turn that belief into the Truth. That same Bible that Rep. Pence does nopt seem to be able to read and understand has the positive gay images in the Book of Ruth and the relationship between David and Jonathan as reported in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel. Example: "I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women." 2 Samuel 1:26.

Indeed, I wonder what Rep. Pence would have to say about Isaiah 56, Mt. 19:12 and Acts 8:35-end, all of which make it clear that God loves and accepts transgender people (for more detail, see the oldest blog here, from October 2007). I wonder why he and his colleagues are not co-sponsoring H.R. 3686, which would outlaw discrimination against people based on gender stereotyping. The reason is that they do not understand the Good News and instead use the Holy Bible as is it was just so much scrap paper in which they wrap their cissexism, cisgenderism, transphoboa, homophobia, and other prejudices.

Why should my religious beliefs, which are actually supported by a reasonable interpretation of the Bible, be subordinated to Rep. Pence’s, which are only supported by his twisted interpretation? And Rep. Pence started out his comments so nicely: "Let me be clear. I don't condone discrimination against people for any reason whatsoever. I believe in civility and decency in society" – and then he proceeds to elevate his religious beliefs over mine and anyone else’s for protection.


4. That married heterosexual employees should be entitled to more and better employment benefits than employees who are prevented by government interference with the free exercise of religion, from getting married.

Rep Souder: "In Portland, Maine, city officials canceled a $60,000 grant for a Salvation Army meals-on-wheels program for senior citizens. Why? As a Christian denomination, the Salvation Army won't provide marital benefits to homosexual employees, thus running afoul of the city's ``sexual orientation'' law. When the Portland's ``sexual orientation'' ordinance was introduced, proponents argued, as they do often today, that it would merely ensure that ``people won't be fired for being ``gay.''

My comment: Government money should never be used to support faith-based discrimination when it intersects with equal employment opportunity and fair employment practices. It is one thing for the Salvation Army, which is a church, to engage in legally exempt faith-based employment discrimination, and quite another for taxpayer dollars to be used to support that discrimination. Unfortunately, the Republican conservatives and the Bush Administration do support faith-based bigotry. This is very sad.


5. Their lack of understanding of the word "perceived."

Rep. Souder: "I offered an amendment in committee that was unanimously opposed by the Democrats in committee to eliminate the word ``perceived.'' This is a legal nightmare."
Mr. KLINE of Minnesota: "This bill, and I quote, ``prohibits employers from discriminating against an individual because of an individual's actual or perceived sexual orientation.'' What does that mean, ``perceived sexual orientation''? We do not know because the bill fails to provide a definition. This raises a number of practical and legal concerns. The term ``perceived'' is overly broad, vague, and will inevitably lead to increased litigation, lots of increased litigation

My comment: Rep. Souder wasn't the only befuddled Republican Representative blathering about how he doesn't understand the English language. It’s really simple – in the sense of "actual or perceived," if you fire someone for being a member of the protected class and the individual really isn’t a member of the class, it’s still against the law. It should be no defense that the man you fired for being gay because he speaks with a lisp (the perception) actually turns out to be heterosexual. All the negative bleating in the debate about the word "perceived" was for the purpose of protecting employers from liability for firing straight people who look gay to the employer. What a world! These people would not want to protect a straight person who was fired because he was perceived by an employer to be gay. Shame on them!


6. They characterize religious rights of others as "sexual rights" and do not recognize anyone else’s religious rights than their own.

Rep Souder: "One prominent attorney says that basically religious rights have to be trumped by sexual rights in the workplace, and that's the goal of this act, and that this gives religious rights a secondary status in our society to sexual rights.

Rep Wahlberg: "ENDA is a fundamental departure from the longstanding principles of religious liberty as well, principles our country was founded upon. In fact, this will directly discriminate against people of traditional values and long-held faith principles. Rather than reducing discrimination, this legislation will instead reduce religious freedom and increase litigation."

Rep. Souder, again: "But I have heard my religion and my religious belief called prejudiced, bigoted, hate-filled, that the predominant religions in America have had their basic beliefs, those who believe in a literal Bible, have seen their faith smeared today on this House floor, and I am very disappointed in much of the tone. I understand the passion. I understand why people who have a homosexual life-style feel they have been discriminated against, but this is a classic question in our country. If, in fact, nobody could get a job, we would be facing a different challenge today. I openly admit that. But the challenge here is do people who have deeply held religious convictions based on the fundamental text of their faith have the right to practice their faith, too, or are they going to be trumped? This amendment is a step, but it's only a step."

My Comment: Rep. Souder’s religious beliefs certainly are erroneous, mistaken, heretical, prejudiced, bigoted, and hate-filled – and he is constitutionally protected in having those beliefs, and his exercise of religion is protected so that he cannot be forced to engage in homosexual sexual activity against his beliefs. On the other hand, he should not be entitled to impose those religious beliefs in the workplace as a form of Christianist Shariah on his employees, to hire and fire in a secular workplace outside the church itself – and that should include schools that are not schools of theology, or Sunday Schools, or yeshivas devoted solely to religious training.

The law can and should impose equal employment opportunity rights in the workplace with only the narrowest exemption for religious institutions – one protected area could be for teachers of religion or theology, even in a school in which other curriculum is taught – but limited only to the teaching of the religion. An art teacher, or a history teacher, or a science teacher, who does not teach religion should be covered under the law. As it is, we already have a problem with Christianist teachers who believe that teaching science in biology class conflicts with their devout beliefs – these are people who should not be teaching in the classroom, as they cannot separate their religion and faith, from science and reason.

Rep. Gohmert of Texas said: " What this Congress is now attempting to dictate is which religious beliefs and moral beliefs the majority believes are okay and which religious beliefs it feels are not okay. This will actually encourage people, whether they are gay or not, to flaunt or manifest what may be perceived to be characterizations to help the lawyers."

My comment: Rep. Gohmert seems to be in some Orwellian Newspeak Bizarro zone. He and his colleagues in the religious conservative faction are themselves the ones who want to dictate which religious and moral beliefs are okay!

What this sadly weak and ineffective version of ENDA does, at least for sexual orientation, is to say that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has no place in the workplace. No one is suggesting that heterosexual Christianist employers or employees be forced to engage in homosexual activity against their moral beliefs. However, they should not be allowed to use those moral beliefs in the workplace as an excuse to discriminate against people whose religious and moral beliefs are not the same as theisr – this is not "religion" against "sex." This is conservative religionists who do not understand enough of the English language to know what "perceived means’ or to understand the positive references to gay people and transgender people in the very Bible that they like to thump on the podium!


7. They think a federal ENDA would be evidence in favor of equal marriage rights, which they oppose – they want to continue to favor special rights for heterosexuals.

Mr. PITTS. "Madam Chairman, I rise in opposition to this ENDA bill. This bill, if signed into law, will have serious long-term implications on one of our most basic and treasured institutions, marriage. A Federal ENDA will provide activist judges with the legal ammunition to move toward the legalization of same-sex marriage. In fact, State ENDA laws are already being used by activist judges to impose gay marriage and civil unions on States." and "One example is the landmark decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court which determined that there was ``no rational basis for the denial of marriage to same-sex couples.''

My comment: Rep. Pitts should really read Justice Scalia’s dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, in which the learned jurist opines that the majority decision in that case will lead inexorably to equal marriage rights. And the Massachusetts Supreme Court was entirely correct in determining that there is no rational basis for the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples. Opposition to marriage equality is not rational – and that is true, unlike the adamant belief in a literal biblical six-day creation, which, while constitutionally protected, is not at all a rational belief in the face of scientific fact. Faith does not equate to Reason.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court, unlike the New York Court of Appeals, actually understands the Constitution, and the principles of equality and justice that should apply to all of us, not just the Patriarchal Christianist Cissexist homophobic majority.

My people hunger and thirst for justice, and justice is denied to us. How long must we wait?

I pray that God may soften the hearts of those Republican congressmembers whose hardness of heart and erroneous beliefs cause them to oppose fairness, equality and justice for my people.

May they, like St. Paul on his way to Damascus, see the light, and recopgnize the error of their ways.

May they be granted the wisdom and understanding to do the right thing.

May they see their error and repent in time, before they are Judged and found wanting.

May they never have to be numbered among the goats.

For if they do not repent, if they leave my people hungering and thirsting for justice, then they will be numbered among the goats; and when my people and I are resting in the bosom of Father Abraham, and they have been condemned and are suffering the thirst and hunger in the eternal fire, that they realize that they are there, an immeasurable gulf between us, and that we cannot save them, who have not taken in life the steps necessary to save themselves in God's grace.

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