US commission weighs in on religious liberty vs. human rights

(RNS) Citing "religious liberty" as a reason for denying one class of citizens bathroom access, equal housing or services is a human rights violation.

That's the finding of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent, bipartisan agency that advises the president and Congress on civil rights matters. The commission issued a statement Monday (April 18) saying it "strongly condemns recent state laws passed, and proposals being considered, under the guise of so-called 'religious liberty,' which target members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community for discrimination."

The commission is referring to recent laws and proposed laws like one passed by North Carolina last month that requires transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond to their genders at birth.

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Also in the commission's sights is a Mississippi law that permits people to deny services to anyone on the basis of "religious objections." And Tennessee legislators passed a law that would permit mental health care professionals to deny services if they have "sincerely held religious beliefs." It now goes to the governor.

Such laws and proposed legislation are "not isolated, but are part of a larger, alarming trend to limit the civil rights of a class of people using religious beliefs as the excuse," the commission said.

Religious conservative leaders, groups and denominations support such laws, saying their absence is a denial and abuse of their own rights and liberties. Among them are Faith Matters NC, headed by Charlotte-based Baptist pastor Mark Harris, who is also running for a U.S. Congressional seat.

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