Only in 21st Century on orders from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), evangelical fundamentalist clergy, and the Republican Party is the idea that religious freedom means eliminating Constitutionally-guaranteed equal and civil rights from other Americans. It is beyond dispute that the Founding Fathers and Constitution’s framers never meant that any person’s religious freedom allowed them to deny other Americans their Constitutional civil rights, because if that had been their intent they would have created a theocracy with the Christian bible as the law of the land. If that had been the case, they would have elucidated, in the starkest terms, that ‘free exercise of religion” meant that a citizen clutching a bible to their bosom had unquestioned authority to control the lives of other Americans. Really, if the Founders had any foresight into the 21st Century evangelical mindset, and the USCCB’s twisted ugly interpretation of the 1st Amendment’s religious freedom clause, they would have included a subsection that forbade any American, state legislature, or Republican Congress from using religious freedom to deny other Americans’ their equal and civil rights.
What is astonishing, and it is truly stunning, is that where the Founding Fathers and Constitution’s Framers fell woefully short of protecting future generations from religious tyranny in the 1st Amendment, Texas legislators saw the danger of religious fanaticism and wrote their own Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The reason the Texas RFRA is the model for the entire nation, is the important provision written into the law that forbade fake Christians from using “their religious freedom” to abridge any other Texans’ civil rights; including the right to marry the person they love. It is unbelievable, but true.
The Texas version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act includes an important clause stipulating that “a person with religious objections to a particular law or employment obligation cannot invoke RFRA to override civil rights laws and statutes.” In fact, in the case of marriages, no matter who applies for a marriage license, the Texas Family Code, Section 2.205 specifically asserts that any Texan with the authority to perform marriages in the state are expressly “prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, or national origin against any applicant who is otherwise competent to be married.”
It is prescient that the top law enforcement officer in Texas, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, is either completely ignorant of the provisions ensconced in the Texas RFRA, or he is aware of the law’s protection of Texans’ civil rights and still says they do not apply to the LGBT community because…bible, god, religious freedom, judicial tyranny, and opposition to the U.S. Constitution. After the Supreme Court ruling affirming that the Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantees equal and civil rights for all Americans, including gays wanting to marry, Paxton did what Christofascist Republicans across the nation pledged to do and informed Texas officials that the Texas RFRA guaranteed their religious freedom to ignore the High Court ruling, the Constitution, and Texas’ RFRA and deny gays the right to marry on religious objection grounds.
The Supreme Court ruling that “graciously” extended equal protection and due process protections under the 14th Amendment to LGBT Americans apparently does not apply in Paxton’s religious mind. Last week, according to “an official opinion” issued by Texas’ Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, attorney general Paxton ruled that state employees such as county clerks and their employees still have Texas-sized religious freedom to disobey the Supreme Court ruling, ignore the 14th Amendment, and violate the Texas’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act based on their bigoted “religious objections” to gays marrying the person they love. The Paxton interpretation of the High Court ruling, U.S. Constitution, and Texas RFRA informed him that state employees can refuse to issue a marriage license to same-sex couples if doing so is religiously objectionable.
As if he did not appear ignorant enough, Paxton actually supported his “official ruling” by citing the same Religious Freedom Restoration Act that theocratic Republican states passed specifically to discriminate against gays seeking to marry. The federal RFRA requires only that pursuing a “compelling government interest” must not “substantially burden” an individual’s religious exercise if that government interest can be pursued by “less restrictive means.” The High Court granting 14th Amendment equal and due process rights to same-sex couples, or Texas officials issuing marriage licenses does not “substantially burden” any individual’s free exercise of religion; particularly when their job issuing marriage licenses does not abridge their right to pray, worship, or frequent the local tax-exempt mega-church.
Still, Paxton, like most Republicans and evangelical fanatics, is not going to be deterred from attempting to use religion to discriminate against same-sex couples because in his mind the Constitution, Supreme Court rulings, and the Texas RFRA are a violation of religious freedom. However, Paxton has no religious objection to other Texas marriage provisions that some people, especially religious people, would certainly find objectionable.
For example, One Texas law states that a child can get married at 14 if a judge gives them permission. According to the Texas Family Code, Sec. 2.103, any minor who is 14 years old can get court authority to supersede their parent’s objections and freely receive a state marriage license. Under another Texas law, two people can get an “informal marriage license” if they ever lied and told someone they were married even though they were not “officially” wed. Texas Family Code, Section 2.401 states that “if a couple has declared at some general time that they are, in fact, married, and then tell other folks that they are married,” the local county clerk’s office has to issue an “informal marriage license” even if they were never married.
Now, what if a county clerk or state employee has deeply-held religious objections to 14 year olds getting married against their parent’s objections, or object to two people getting a marriage license after lying about being married while they lived in sin? In Texas it is just too bad; state law says they have a right to marry and according to the Texas RFRA a state employee cannot use their religious objection to abridge any Texans’ civil right to marry.
However, if the Supreme Court rules that according to the Constitution two people of the same gender want to marry, despite the Texas RFRA forbidding any Texas’ official from using their religion to refuse to issue a marriage license, the state’s attorney general supports violating the Constitution, a Supreme Court ruling, and Texas’ RFRA because he believes his religion is the law of the land.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.