Consequence is the result of an action, and it is often the case that there are many more consequences to one action than first meets the eye. Earlier this week, the conservative Supreme Court issued an action whose immediate consequence was allowing corporations that pray, worship, and adhere to deeply-held religious beliefs to withhold contraceptives from health insurance prescription plans affecting women. However, within 24 hours, the Court’s action in the Hobby Lobby case produced another, in what will be a long list of, consequences for the American people.
On Tuesday, the day after the Hobby Lobby ruling was announced, a group of Christian faith leaders issued a letter to President Obama urging him to give a religious exemption in his yet unannounced LGBT anti-discrimination action. Obviously, the “faith leaders” wasted little time taking advantage of the new freedom of religion exemption courtesy of the conservatives on the High Court, and they argued that the Court’s ruling is proof positive that the Obama Administration had better start showing deference to the biblical prerogatives of Christians. So much for the ridiculous assertion by the Supreme Court and many pundits that “only women” are affected by the “narrow” Hobby Lobby ruling because the floodgates have not yet been opened.
The call for a religious exemption did not come from evangelical extremists per se, but from a group of faith leaders regarded as generally friendly to the administration; including many who closely advised the Obama Administration on issues such as immigration reform. The letter demanding an exemption from the forthcoming LGBT anti-discrimination action was organized by Michael Wear who worked in the White House and organized faith outreach for the president’s 2012 campaign. It was also signed by two members of Catholics for Obama and three former members of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Maybe the President regrets intertwining government and religion when he continued George W. Bush’s Faith-Based initiatives. Now they are using their connection to the White House to exact recompense in the form of permission to discriminate against the gay community according to their “deeply-held religious beliefs” the Supreme Court cited mercilessly in its ruling for Hobby Lobby.
In their letter to the President, the faith leaders asked “that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need.” Michael Wear said, “This is not an antagonistic letter by any means,” but in the wake of the Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, “the administration does have a decision to make whether they want to recalibrate their approach to some of these issues.” Recalibration means pander to the faith groups and exempt them from following laws against discriminating against the gay community on religious grounds.
The faith groups did not ask for a religious exemption last week when the administration announced the President would issue an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity; something the gay community has sought for a long time. But with the High Court laying down the law that the rights of groups with deeply held religious beliefs take precedent over every other American, the “White House friendly” faith leaders acted within 24 hours to demand religious redress of an order that has not been issued. The faith groups claim that an order banning discrimination against the gay community would essentially impose similar provisions of the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) on federal contractors; EDNA passed the Senate but the teabagger House refuses to take up the issue because gays, same-sex marriage, abomination to god, bible, and the religious right.
The temerity of the religious groups to demand the President defer to “Christian prerogative” is that the text of the order has not yet been released. They do not even know whether it will include a religious exemption, but they are preemptively appealing for deference on the basis of Hobby Lobby. The Senate version of ENDA does include such an exemption, but it specifically does not apply to a broad array of faith-based organizations, meaning that some groups could still legally and openly refuse to hire gay or transgender people by claiming it conflicts with their faith-based gay hate; but now with Hobby Lobby everything changed.
The director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at Catholic University, a signatory to the letter, Stephen Schneck, said the faith community “simply wants to make sure its side is respected;” some would say it simply wants its side obeyed. Schneck fairly concurred and said, “It would be nice if we had just a little bit more leverage. I am aware that this is an issue that provokes real differences among some of the most important religious organization on the front lines providing care for the poorest and most vulnerable;” with taxpayer and federal dollars. He said those groups have to be allowed to work with the government within the confines of their faith; using federal dollars that by all accounts puts government in the religious business.
According to the former religious “White House friendlies,” the Hobby Lobby ruling should prompt the White House to reexamine, and acknowledge the importance and power of groups demanding their religious rights against the priorities of every other group. What that means for future legislation, Administration policies, and executive actions according to the faith groups is that hacking away at the rights of all Americans is now the way forward to accommodate the religious right.
Americans had better get accustomed to every Presidential action and congressional legislation being closely monitored and remediated by all manner of Christian faith groups now that the High Court opened a Pandora’s box. It does not mean that President Obama is going to bend to the will of the religious right on anything, but it does mean he will have to tread lightly, or face a rash of lawsuits the judicial system now has a Supreme Court precedent to enforce.
It is important to keep in mind the faith groups refrained from asking for special religious dispensation until after the Hobby Lobby ruling was announced and not last week when the President announced he was going to take action to ban discrimination against the gay community. The prompt letter to the President within a day of the Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling does not bode well for the nation and is a portent of what is certainly in the works in the coming months and years. And what is in the works is a concerted effort to eliminate anti-discrimination laws on the basis of ” deeply held religious beliefs” that may not be the death knell of the 14th Amendment, but it is going to be the beginning of the end of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal rights for anyone remotely dependent or affected by faith groups and one shudders at where it will eventually end; if it ends at all.