Too weird for Austin?

Texas bill protects religious liberties, probably not same-sex couples

By Sarah Sidlow

“This bill is not a license to discriminate. Rather, it is a license to participate.” That was Texas Senator Charles Perry—not at karaoke. Actually, Perry was at a hearing on SB 892 before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Intrigued? So were we.

It turns out SB 892 is designed to protect faith-based child-placement agencies and foster families from being required to take actions that violate their religious beliefs. That could include things like allowing same-sex couples to become foster parents, or allowing foster children access to contraceptives or abortion. It has a piece of companion (probably not the same gender) legislation in the Texas House: HB 3859, sponsored by Rep. James Frank.

According to Perry, the goal is to protect religious rights. About one fourth of child-placement agencies in Austin are faith-based. Without legislation, he argues, faith-based organizations sometimes have to choose between acting against their religious beliefs and facing costly lawsuits for discrimination. And a lot of people argue it’s really not fair to expect organizations to take on such important work, but not feel comfortable to express their own religious beliefs while doing so.

Supporters include the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, who claim the bill lays the groundwork for Texas to maintain and expand its network of foster care providers. If the providers feel secure in their religious liberties, they are more likely to begin, continue or expand their operations. “In light of the foster care crisis that Texas has endured,” the TCCB says in an online statement, “the passage of this bill is an essential tool in reform.”

Conveniently, on the day Perry made his snappy remarks, the Senate also debated legislation related to transgender bathrooms. That means there were lots of people on hand to testify in opposition to what they view as discriminatory laws.

Opponents of this legislation argue that the child-placement bill opens the door for organizations to discriminate against anyone, for whatever reason—including sexual preference, but also possibly race, religion, absence of religion, you-name-it. And if workers are feeling threatened by discrimination lawsuits, maybe it’s because they should be.

Most importantly, opponents are screaming, all of this nonsense takes away from the care of the child, which should be everyone’s first priority. What about a foster child who is gay? A young woman seeking contraceptives? Or a qualified same-sex couple looking to adopt? Opponents view SB 892 and HB 3859 as ways to allow child welfare providers to discriminate against whomever they want, for whatever reason. Also known as: not cool.

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.


Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Should adoption agencies be able to refuse parents on religious grounds?


Coerced tolerance

States have no right to impose regulations on private organizations

By Don Hurst

Non-state-funded adoption agencies, such as faith-based groups, should be allowed to regulate adoptions based on their beliefs. As longs as adoption agencies operate in a safe manner and do not harm others or violate laws, then the government has no claim to dictate how they decide who can and cannot adopt. Equal treatment under the law only applies to the government, not private organizations.

State-based agencies must adjudicate adoptions without taking into account religious differences. They must provide equal treatment to all qualified applicants. Faith-based organizations do not.

Let’s use gay marriage as an example. The government cannot constitutionally limit marriage to a Christian definition of a man and a woman. The county clerk in Kentucky who made headlines for refusing to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples broke the law and deserved punishment. However, a church can deny holding a service for that same-sex couple because it would violate its beliefs.

I know some of you are practically screaming that religious agencies should allow same sex partners to adopt children. We should treat all people equally. Maybe. But freedom includes the freedom to be wrong. It’s easy to be a free society when we all agree on the definition of right and wrong. The truest test of freedom is how we handle those who disagree with us.

The fact that a state legislature feels the need to write this law shows how far we’ve strayed from the Constitution. The First Amendment prohibits any state actions that infringe on religious expression except in cases that break existing laws. The Supreme Court has applied a “strict scrutiny” standard to refusing religious obligation accommodations. No human sacrifices. No honor killings, ISIS in America. You extreme alt-right wingers can’t go all Old Testament and smite those who eat flesh from a cloven-hoofed animal.

Adopting a child does not meet the Supreme Court standard. It’s not a constitutionally protected right. It’s a want. A deeply emotional, heart-aching want, but still not a right. The government does not have the moral or constitutional authority to impose individual wants on private groups.

Religious liberty and the right not to follow a religion two of the most remarkable aspects of American life. Too many countries use the courts to impose their religious will on their citizens. I’m not saying forcing religious groups to provide adoptions to gay couples will lead to a totalitarian state that imprisons citizens for believing differently than the government, but it’s definitely a step closer.

Forcing Americans to act contrary to their consciences without an obvious compelling need is not liberty. You may like it when your party holds the reins of power and writes the laws, but what happens when the pendulum swings? I think that’s why half the population is near rioting now that Trump is president. Both parties have jammed themselves into our lives, controlling more than the Founding Fathers ever intended. The best solution is for the government to step back and leave people alone to live according to their beliefs.

Should we all get along and treat each other equally regardless of moral codes? Absolutely. Should the government force us all to get along? No.

Coercing a person into accepting another is not true acceptance. Bullying a group into submission perpetuates an adversarial relationship. It becomes a war. That is the language used in the conservative media. Culture War. War on Values. War on Religious Liberty. War on Christmas. Battle of Berkeley.

Legislating and litigating forced inclusion in areas outside the scope of the Constitution creates more animosity. Conservative religious groups will most likely give the LGBT community only the respect and equality mandated by the government. As long as conflict remains they will give them only the most grudging, embittered letter of the law.

Then they will fight like hell to find a politician who will change those laws. Do you want presidents like Trump? Because this is how you get presidents like Trump. The government has pushed these people into a corner, ignoring their First Amendment rights of religious liberty.

I’m old enough to remember a time when many faith-based organizations shunned divorced women and interracial couples. Those biases faded away without government intervention. We will eventually get to a place where we can all get along, but we can’t rely on the government to force us together.

It takes longer but the acceptance is more permanent because it is something that resides in our hearts and minds, not something we do so we don’t get into trouble. Acceptance legislatively mandated by politicians can also be taken away by politicians.

Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at DonHurst@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 


Religious billshit

Senate Bill 892 sets a dangerous religious precedent

By Ben Tomkins

The LGBT community in Texas views Senate Bill 892 as a personally-aimed threat, but in truth, it is a loaded gun the religious can point at almost anyone. The first clause in the bill says that the state may not deny funding to a child care provider if it “has declined or will decline to provide, facilitate, or refer a person for child welfare services that conflict with, or under circumstances that conflict with, the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The authors—white, Christian, male Senators Charles Perry and Brian Hughes—then include a few examples of the kinds of religious exemptions they are thinking of, as if might be un-obvious to the idiots they are pandering to what “sincerely held religious beliefs” means. Among these exemptions are child care providers who provide religious education that rejects abortion services of any kind and denies adoption to anyone for almost any reason.

To be fair, I wouldn’t feel any better if the bill included the right to discriminate based on deeply held scientific or philosophical beliefs, either, but it is noteworthy that these things do not receive a special Constitutional recognition by Senators Perry and Hughes. All they seem to care about is religion, as if the freedoms in the First Amendment that allow one to possess deeply-held intellectual beliefs are somehow on unequal ground with those that are rooted in blind faith. Indeed, I don’t think it is an accident that the first nine amendments that make up the personal protections in the Bill of Rights begin with religion, and end with an injunction against using some rights to “deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Religion is the most obvious and overt example of the extremes of free thought. Religious protection grants one the freedom to believe, literally, almost anything without a single decent reason; and it was the belief of the Founders that, as long as you don’t require other people to buy into it, it’s harmless enough.

Frustratingly, the same mental gymnastics required to ignore all the evidence that suggests the world is more than 6,000 years old (starting with the fact that there is recorded history older than this) can be used to ignore inconvenient parts of the Bill of Rights as well. Perhaps an 11th amendment, inserted between the Ninth and 10th, reminding people that they can’t ignore any of the aforementioned, would have been helpful….

As annoying as it is to have to rehash such an obvious argument as this, there is another insidious issue that arises—that of the self-fulfilling prophecy. This is the one that chiefly concerns the LGBT community and should concern us all. When you allow the religious to divert tax dollars—some of which come from the very members of the LGBT community whom they will use those dollars to oppress—toward denying equality to a sector of society, while indoctrinating young people with the belief that this is right in private schools, the argument that some parents will handicap a child’s future becomes true.

It’s not just LGBT parents to whom this could apply. There happens to be a lot more legislation in place to prevent people from discriminating against race and other irrelevant targets for petty indecency toward one another. If, for instance, holding religious beliefs is a license to deny adoption services and wedding cakes, surely those beliefs held by members of a school board should be respected too. And a grocery store owner. And a bank. The list goes on and on, but when it comes back to the adoption agency, they no longer have to point to their religious beliefs to identify why LGBT parents are a less desirable choice. Obviously, parents who have to travel three towns over to buy baby formula, can’t get a home loan, and have a limited number of school choices and employment opportunities are objectively inferior choices for a newborn compared with your average couple unencumbered by this nonsense.

Don’t believe that the religious will leave it at that, either. Armed with this new “evidence,” we’ll be right back to gay marriage being outlawed and discouraging diversity in schools. Once that’s all set in stone, they’ll keep moving the bar until we can stone a gay couple to death. Perhaps you think this is absurd, and I’ll remind you that it’s not the Bible but your common decency telling you that. The Bible is very clear on all this, and it’s why we need the Ninth Amendment in the Constitution.

I would say the Texas Senate should be embarrassed to be hearing this bill, but I don’t think they are. It’s going to be up to the people of Texas to decide they’re going to love all their neighbors as they love themselves.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. For more of his work, visit HillofAthens.com. Reach him at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Ben Tomkins
Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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