National Security Threatened By Religious Amendment In Defense Spending Bill

*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*

Every year in America one of the two processes through which the Department of Defense is funded is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).The authorization bill actually determines which agencies are responsible for the nation’s defense, establishes their funding levels, and sets out the policies under which money will be spent. For the past six years after the Koch brothers bought control of the House for Republicans, the NDAA has included some non-related amendment attempting to undo something President Obama enacted or signed during a previous session of Congress. This year in the so-called “lame duck” nothing has changed.

Beginning late last spring, religious Republicans decided to hijack the NDAA in order to coerce President Obama to sign an NDAA bill that enacts “sweeping discrimination” specifically targeting women, LGBTQ people, and the “wrong” faith in the workplace. When the Koch Congress returns in a few days after yet another fully paid vacation, one of the first votes will be passing the NDAA replete with a veritable copy of North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom law;” as an amendment protecting religious tyranny by evangelicals.

President Obama has already warned Republicans he would veto the bill with the Russell Amendment attached, but they dug in their religious heels, clutched their bible closer to their bosoms, and swore to never back down or lose their religious liberty to persecute and discriminate against other Americans.

This is not a minor inconvenience for a couple of American workers. The Russell Amendment jeopardizes all existing non-discrimination policies that currently protect over one-fifth of the United States’ workforce. As an added affront to civil society and the soon-to-vanish concept of equal rights for all, the amendment also authorizes any so-called “religiously-affiliated” organization that receive federal grants (faith-based initiative money) and contracts to discriminate against every aspect of society that offends their religious senses; even if their religion amounts to being a personal mental bias against anyone.

The amendment likely began as an attempt to overturn President Obama’s 2014 executive order protecting LGBT workers employed by federal contract holders, but it was written to extend to a wider swathe of society than just the gay community to cover all the groups the religious right is out to discriminate against. The Russell Amendment sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the workforce and is a portent of what is on the horizon for religious Republicans’ “great America” in 2017.

The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus had praised President Obama’s executive order as “a signature victory of the LGBT equality movement” because it provided Constitutional 14th Amendment due process and equal rights to over 28 million American workers. What the members of the LGBT Caucus didn’t say was that according to the Constitution, President Obama shouldn’t have had to issue a special executive order to guarantee Constitutionally-protected equal rights to any American, but Republicans and their religious right masters have shown absolutely no regard for the Constitution or equality for all Americans, and now they control the entire government.

In May, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi feigned shock that religious Republicans would even consider going after LGBT Americans or their civil rights. Ms. Pelosi said,

It is simply stunning that House Republicans have decided to make targeting LGBT Americans a priority in the Defense Authorization bill. The Defense Authorization bill should be about making our country safe, and honoring the oath we take to protect and defend the American people. It should not be a place where the most extreme [evangelical] elements of the Republican Conference are allowed to codify hatred and intolerance against Americans based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

After learning that religious Republicans were not about to allow the President of the United States to extend 14th Amendment protections to 28 million Americans, members of the LGBT Caucus criticized “the amendment for its sweeping language that makes every contract, subcontract, grant, cooperative agreement and purchase order awarded by every federal agency eligible for a religious exemption from the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

That’s right, the Russell Amendment, like North Carolina’s “temporarily” unconstitutional “bathroom law,” grants full legal discriminatory authority in direct opposition to the Civil Rights Act, Americans With Disabilities Act, and the Constitution’s 14th Amendment to any religious or racist bigot to discriminate if they claim their religious sensibilities are offended. This means a single mother can be fired, a woman who uses contraception, married or not, can be fired, a person practicing the wrong or no religion can be fired, and of course people of color, unmarried cohabitants, and LGBT people can be summarily and legally terminated based on someone else’s religious grounds.

At least one House Republican, and member of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, Rep. Richard Hanna ( NY) told Republican Congressional leaders that the amendment’s vague language “could be exploited as a license to discriminate against LGBT Americans by almost any federal contractor;”  not just defense contractors. Mr. Hanna is right, of course, but all his concerns accomplished was emboldening religious Republicans by verifying what they hope the law would accomplish; full legalized discrimination across the board based on religious liberty. And, one will add that once the legislation becomes law, probably when the religious right’s happy fascist in the White House rubber stamps a drastic “religious liberty” edict in the next Congress, it will be a legitimate precedent allowing discrimination by any employer and not just those connected to federal defense spending or religiously “affiliated” organizations or private entities.

President Obama’s veto may halt a travesty like the Russell Amendment for a couple of months, but religious Republicans will be back in 2017 with an amended stand-alone bill that will breeze through the religious right’s Republican Congress and be expedited into law by the fascist and his rubber stamp.

Anticipating that there was going to be a battle to reauthorize defense spending over the religious right’s insistence that legal discrimination remains a potent weapon against 28-million Americans, Democrats in the Senate took a stand. In a letter penned by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and signed by 42 Democrats and independents, Mr. Blumenthal basically said, “Our government should have no part in funding discrimination.” The letter was delivered to the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee two weeks ago, but a letter from minority Democrats had no impact on Republicans even though the President promised to veto the bill based on the religious amendment.

That will all change in the next session of Congress. And, any idea of challenging the federally-legalized discrimination all the way to the new religious right’s Supreme Court will just end up codifying for perpetuity that Constitutional equality, and who in America is entitled to its provisions and protections, is the sole purview of the religious right. And, because they co-own all three branches of government, there is nothing anyone can do to stop them. Elections can have disastrous consequences.

Image: AUSCS