Judge Decimates the GOP’s Religious Freedom Concept – Strikes Down Mississippi Law

*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*

Although there is little that surprises regular observers of politics in America, late this week there was a federal district court ruling that, frankly, was stunning. It was also welcomed and may have set the standard for other jurists and politicians to start citing the basis for a world of atrocities being committed against an ever-growing number of Americans by religious Republicans.

It’s safe to say that there are some Americans who comprehend that religious liberty guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was never intended to, and does not now, mean that one religious group gets to tyrannize and control non-believers. Evangelical Christians and religious right Republicans disagree, but this week a federal district court judge fairly did what no politician or judge has had the courage to do; call out the favoritism afforded to evangelicals and Catholics who use Republican religious freedom legislation to deny other Americans their equal and civil rights.

In Mississippi, barely minutes before a truly nasty “religious freedom” bill (House Bill 1523) was due to go into effect, Federal District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves issued an injunction blocking the harshest and most sweeping Republican religious tyranny bill to date. The bill that passed overwhelmingly in the most religious state and most biblical legislature in the nation gave so-called loving Christians free rein to deny services to LGBT people, fire single mothers with impunity, terminate employees cohabiting with a member of the opposite sex, and ban marriages of same-sex couples.

The surprise in Judge Reeves’ ruling was that he had no qualms slamming the Republicans for using religion to elevate Christians over the rest of the population and treat non-compliant Americans as pariahs and abominations to humanity. No politician or Judge has ever even mentioned that all of these hateful attempts by Republicans to discriminate against the LGBT community or women or unmarried heterosexual couples were the work of religious imposition a la Sharia Law. Kudos to Judge Reeves; he is the first and only public official to cite religion as the source of so many Republican atrocities targeting American citizens.

The Judge said the ‘religious freedom’ bill was a stark violation of the 1st and 14th Amendments, and used about 60 pages to eviscerate the theocratic legislation and religious Republicans who passed it into law. Judge Reeves said,

The State has put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others. Showing such favor tells ‘non-adherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and. . . tells adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.’  And, the Equal Protection Clause is violated by HB 1523’s authorization of arbitrary discrimination against lesbian, gay, transgender, and unmarried persons.

Religious freedom was one of the building blocks of this great nation, and after the nation was torn apart, the guarantee of equal protection under law was used to stitch it back together. But HB 1523 does not honor that tradition of religious freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all of Mississippi’s citizens. It must be enjoined.”

Within his 60-page decision, Judge Reeves also noted that “the title, history and text of the law showed it to be the State’s attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place.” And it was an attempt driven by “religious freedom” Republicans to enforce evangelical fundamentalists’ control over what evangelical Republicans consider lesser Americans.

The theocrat who authored the legislation, House Speaker Philip Gunn (R), said he wrote the bill to impose Republican religious laws on the good people of Mississippi because the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling was an abomination to the god of the Christian bible. Apparently because the Supreme Court adhered to the United States Constitution in its decision, Gunn said the Justice’s were “in direct conflict with God’s design for marriage as set forth in the Bible. The threat of this decision to religious liberty is very clear.”

Judge Reeves’ ruling is the third time Mississippi’s theocratic legislature and governor have been slapped down for using religion to punish non-compliant Mississippi residents. This week’s ruling comes just 20 months after he struck down Mississippi’s statutory and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. And it follows by three months another U.S. District Court Judge’s ruling striking down the Mississippi theocratic ban on gay couples adopting children.

Of course, religious Republicans assailed the latest ruling as yet another attack on Christians’ freedom of religion; First Amendment freedom they contend “authorizes arbitrary discrimination against single mothers, lesbian, gay, transgender, and unmarried heterosexual persons.”

Mississippi’s Republican Lt. Governor, Tate Reeves (no relation to the judge), said he wants the state to appeal the judge’s ruling and revealed that, as Judge Reeves noted, part and parcel of religious Republicans’ interpretation of the 1st Amendment and religious freedom is controlling and discriminating against non-compliant citizens. The lieutenant governor said,

If this opinion by the federal court denies even one Mississippian of their fundamental right to practice their religion, then all Mississippians are denied their 1st Amendment rights. I hope the state’s attorneys will quickly appeal this decision to the 5th Circuit to protect the deeply held religious beliefs of all Mississippians;” so long as those deeply held religious beliefs comport with Republican evangelical fundamentalism.

Notice that blatantly discriminating against other Americans is what the lieutenant governor, and all religious Republicans, regard is their “fundamental right to practice ‘their’ religion.” No-one denies any American from practicing religion, but the Constitution does deny their perceived “fundamental right” to dominate, control, and disenfranchise other American citizens with religious legislation.

Mississippi’s governor, another Republican theocrat named Phil Bryant, railed against the judge’s ruling and pledged there would be an “aggressive appeal.”

Like I said when I signed House Bill 1523, the law simply provides religious accommodations granted by many other states and federal law. I am disappointed Judge Reeves did not recognize that reality. I look forward to an aggressive appeal.”

Governor Bryant is dead wrong. It is irrelevant what some Republican-controlled states that attempt to enforce the evangelical version of Sharia Law do, or are trying to do. The U.S. Constitution is explicitly clear that no government, state or federal, representatives can impose religious edicts on the people. It’s right there in that First Amendment the Republican theocrats claim grants them religious freedom to tyrannize other Americans.

Furthermore, the 14th Amendment is abundantly clear that no-one, particularly theocratic tyrants, can discriminate against anyone or deny their constitutional equal and civil rights. It doesn’t matter one stinking iota what the Christian bible says; or what evangelicals think it says; or what they believe they have religious freedom to do to other Americans.

Besides, that hateful book of archaic mythos is not the law of the land; it isn’t now and it never has been. If religious Republicans could only accept that fundamental fact of American life, then no-one would be discussing, or writing an opinion column about, why a Federal District Court Judge had to smack down religious Republicans yet again over their bastardized interpretation of religious freedom.

It is especially revealing that yet a federal judge had to remind religious Republicans that no matter what god they bow down to or who they think they are, the U.S. Constitution prohibits them from “favoring one religious belief over others,” or telling ‘non-adherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the community, and only worthy of being controlled and tyrannized by the religious right. At least now a federal judge has called out these discriminatory laws for what they have always been; religious tyranny imposed by Republican legislation. If, as religious Republicans claim, their religious freedom entails punishing and controlling other Americans with theocratic edicts disguised as legislation, they are in the wrong country; because Sharia Law, like biblical law, is not valid in the United States of America.

Image: Patheos