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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.

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.


About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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  • Re religion, morality, and who’s infringing on whom:

    I believe the Golden Rule means respecting other people’s personal boundaries, beliefs, belongings, bedrooms, bodies, and business, along with their rights, freedoms, privacy, and equality, as I would have others respect my own.

    Even if I were to oppose an LGBT couple’s marriage, the question of whether to sign their marriage license (or prepare their wedding cake, or cater their reception, or sell them flowers, or rent them a home) would answer itself, since I would realize they are my rightful public customers, not my wrongful private business. And since they are my equals, and their beliefs and values are their own, it would be idle self-indulgence for me to dwell upon their private lives; it would be grossly inappropriate for me to stick my nose into their personal activities; it would be self-righteously narcissistic for me to presume to judge them; and it would be downright immoral of me to try to hold them to my own chosen moral principles. My morality binds me, not them.

    In other words, I see the so-called “religious freedom” issue as a simple and obvious matter of trespass, not of faith.

  • When the Hebrews were in exile in the Old Testament, out of thousands of Hebrews, only 3 refused to compromise their devotion to God and refused to worship a false idle. Most took the position that you described. The 3 experienced a miracle of God and are documented for us to learn from.

  • “non-discrimination” is now the code word / newspeak for the criminalization of Christian morality.

  • A public restroom is just that public. What little privacy you have is in the stall and that’s about it.. You do not have a right to not have certain kind of people in your field of vision or in close proximity.

    What is your standard of morality? You use hypothetical and dishonest stories to justify attacking the barest form of dignity of other people. Equating trans people with pedophiles is not just dishonest, it is hateful. You have no morality to speak of.

    Truth of the matter is, there have been far more Republican politicians and Christian preachers arrested for lewd behavior in public restrooms than transsexuals.

  • Said the person who wants to justify denying goods and services to people because they don’t like that particular group.

  • If you noticed, our laws expressly ignore and forbid even considering the religious commandments to worship only one god. Our laws never have to follow your religious beliefs. In fact they must not.

  • Suddenly the signs on a bathroom are sacrosanct and inviolable?

    Your only point is you do not want to acknowledge the existence of trans people in your midst. Somehow it is a threat to you. It isn’t.

    As for lewd behavior in public restrooms, I can cough up several news stories on the subject. But I bet you can’t find one about trans pedophiles doing so.

    You are also not on oppressed minority as a Christian. Quite the opposite. You are part of a politically powerful group well known for advocating discrimination of others.

  • Right, the minority is to be hammered into the majoritarian mold, no matter how heartfelt their religious belief. The Left’s concept of “freedom” — the freedom to follow the State’s dictats.

  • “keep their dignity by not sharing” — Non sequitur.
    “narcissistic to insist on demanding a right” — Slavery.
    “On what do your base your standard of morality?” — Answered and asked.

  • Anyone who claims being a Christian is being an oppressed minority already misrepresent themselves. The rest just naturally flows from there.

    Your claim to know 2 cross dressing pedophiles in an online discussion is about as credible as any claim I make to being Scarlett Johansson’s secret lover. As for republican politicians and public bathrooms, please see: Larry Craig, Jon Hinson and Bob Allen. For pastors see Robert Lyzenga and Duane Youngblood.

    Your concern about trans people using bathrooms shows zero genuine concern and more bent g over having to suffer the acknowledged existence of people you do not like and or fear.

  • For example:

    A 60 year old trans man (born with female genitalia) has been taking hormones for 30 years, has mustache and beard, deep voice, surgical penis and scrotum, no more breasts than the average 60 year old man. Has a wife and children.

    Now he must use the women’s restroom and locker room. Are you serious?!?

  • “actually make a pass at me in a public bathroom and persistently tried to entice me back in”

    So an adult made a pass at another adult. So what?

  • What “minority” are you talking about? The transgender people? Yes, Christianists are trying to hammer them into the “majoritarian mold.” Agreed. So are you claiming that comes from the Left? Try again.

  • So refusing to be an accessory to activities that violates one’s religion count as “hammering them into the majoritarian mold,” but demanding that someone be an accessory to that activity doesn’t? You might want to remove the blinders.

  • I simply cut-and-pasted your words; I did not misquote you.

    I stand by my assertion that refusing to share has nothing to do with — and is not logically linked to — maintaining dignity.

    I have nothing whatsoever against Christianity, and I’m sincerely delighted to agree with you that the slaves were indeed freed by respectful, socially-minded Christians such as Harriet Tubman and Abraham Lincoln. Famously, great masses of respectful, socially-minded voters, including many Christians, left the Republican Party for the Democratic Party in the 1960s, when Republican Party leaders such as George Wallace decided to oppose Kennedy and Johnson on basic social issues such as legal equality and civil rights. This dramatic switch in Republican values led to the resurrection of despicable organizations such as the KKK, neo-Nazis, etc.

    I stated my beliefs about the Golden Rule. That is my morality. I assumed that was eminently clear, and regret my assumption. (Incidentally, I learned my morality from my very loving, very respectful, and very devout Christian parents.)

  • That’s silly Tom. We’re not talking about animals.

    So you do want that big, hairy guy walking into the bathroom with women and girls?

  • You’re apparently a graduate of the TrueChristian Debate Institute: If you don’t have a legitimate argument against ‘x,’ then change the subject to ‘y’ and insist that it’s just like ‘x.’

  • Not really true. It protects free exercise of religion. Which means practice of religious faith, but it also excludes things which would be rather harmful in of themselves. The state can very well ban harming others in the name of one’s faith. No human sacrifice, no burning crosses on people’s property, no forcible circumcision, honor killings, or discrimination under the banner of faith.

    In order not to run afoul of the Establishment Clause, laws must have a rational and secular purpose. Otherwise they are merely an expression of sectarian discrimination. Your religion is never going to be the basis of our laws

  • ” I stated my beliefs about the Golden Rule. That is my morality. ”

    And a good morality it is.

  • Sadly, Eustis Fillmore is repeating the words of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), who declared that Christian beliefs are harmful discrimination and need to be eradicated.

  • and Bruce Springsteen should not have denied his services when he canceled his concert.
    Or that hypocrisy is acceptable.

  • Nope. Bruce Springsteen concerts are not available as open commerce like a storefront. In fact it’s rather limited in access and availability to the general public.

    If Christian bigots ran business in a closed way, they would be allowed to discriminate to their hearts content.

  • Perhaps you can explain why Thomas Jefferson, the author of “separation of church and state”, when he was President, he signed legislation for funding churches and missionaries.
    The First Amendment has been perverted from its original intent.

  • Why don’t you give us all a break here. If you were to do the exact actions you want to support to someone because they were black, Hindu or Lithuanian it would still be considered nasty malicious discrimination, whether you claim it was religious belief or not. But somehow because the victims are gay, it merits exception? Nope.

    If you don’t want to be sued for discrimination in open commerce, don’t do commerce in the open. Use closed forms of business: membership clubs, word of mouth advertising, work exclusively within a church or church organization. You want all the benefits of open commerce but not the responsibility to the public it entails.

  • No I am addressing your hypocrisy pretty directly and noting how ridiculous your counter example is. You don’t feel like addressing the difference between a store front and what is clearly a closed form of commerce.

  • 1. Jefferson was not the author of “separation of church and state” That was actually Roger Williams a century earlier.
    2. Jefferson was not around when the Constitution was ratified, so his views on the subject are not really as material as were the Federalist Papers or James Madison.
    3. Please cite your source. There is a lot of fictional nonsense put out by fundamentalist Christian liars about early US government.
    4. Nothing you said is relevant to the free exercise of religion as I explained it.
    5. Original intent is bullsh_t intellectual dishonesty when one wants to pretend the plain reading of the text and its given interpretations never existed.

  • That is complete garbage. But I understand it is so inconvenient and embarrassing to admit you want to denigrate and attack certain people in malicious fashion. I can see why you would chose to cloak blatant discrimination in such nonsense euphemisms. Providing goods and services in open commerce is not celebrating behavior, it is doing business for profit.

  • Please learn to accept the defeat of the anti-gay political agenda. The legal marriage of the same gender couple who live down the street doesn’t affect you or your beliefs in any way.

  • “Mommy, mommy, we can’t deprive those mean, mean LGBT Americans of legal marriage any more! We’re so abused, Mommy!”

  • But a baker is an accessory to a wedding by baking a cake, just like a photographer is an accessory to a wedding by taking the pictures. Neither are necessary for the ceremony to go forward, but both are a part of the celebration.

    And this is something that most American recognize. While there hasn’t been a whole lot of recent polling on the question of businesses getting to opt out of supporting activities that violate their religion, last year Associated Press-GfK asked a couple questions in the subject. When asked about businesses generally refusing services to same-sex couples because of religious principles, 46% said they should be able to and 51% said they shouldn’t. But when asked if wedding-related businesses should be able to refuse to serve gay couples, 59% said yes. And in another poll that asked whether a Christian photographer should be able to refuse to work for a gay wedding, 4 in 5 respondents said yes.

    So many Americans recognize that yes, there is a difference between refusing to be accessories to an activity and refusing to serve particular people.

  • believer, “marriage” is just a word that anybody can find in any English dictionary. Like many other words, it has multiple definitions. And, like many other words, its definitions have changed over time.

    “Nice” is another example:

    “The word nice, derived from Latin nescius meaning ‘ignorant’, began life in the fourteenth century as a term for ‘foolish’ or ‘silly’.”
    (from the Oxford Dictionaries blog, 10/2012, on changes in word meanings)

    Personally, I prefer the modern definitions of both words.

    And, personally, I think it’s creepy to dwell on the sex lives of strangers, and I think it’s weird to make up stories about what strangers hate or what they believe. Don’t you?

  • You’re lying about a baker being a member of the wedding, and you’r elying about what “most Americans recognize”:

    “”As states across the country prepare for legislative battles around LGBT nondiscrimination and religious exemption laws, a new report released today finds that seven in ten (71 percent) Americans—including majorities in all 50 states and 30 major metropolitan areas— support laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodations.

    The survey also finds that roughly six in ten (59 percent) Americans oppose allowing small business owners in their state to refuse service to gay and lesbian people, if doing so conflicts with their religious beliefs. While support varies by state and region, there is no state or metropolitan area in which a majority support religiously-based refusals to serve gay and lesbian people. With a field period spanning the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the survey also finds stability in support for same-sex marriage across 2015; nationwide, the survey finds 53 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, compared to 37 percent who oppose it.

    The landmark survey was conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute as part of its 2015 American Values Atlas. The survey, based on more than 42,000 interviews conducted between May 2015 and early January 2016, explores Americans’ attitudes on same-sex marriage, nondiscrimination laws for LGBT people, and religious exemptions to those laws.”

  • What, your position is so self-evidently obvious that anyone that claims to disagree with you must be lying? Have fun preaching to the choir.

  • and people already paid for the Bruce performance and he denied services he already committed to render. If anything, Bruce’s denial of service is worse because he committed to contractual agreement.

  • Source: The Library of Congress – which recognized Jefferson’s letter as being referenced by the judiciary for defining the “separation of church and state.” The LOC also documents church services held in the house of representatives during the Jefferson and Madison administrations – which contradicts your statement that the law forbids worshipping one god – unless the Presidents and Congress’ should have all been arrested.
    What we think of as the First Amendment is a perversion of what it represented in its origins. Great historical figures have expressed that throughout US history.

  • Please learn to accept the defeat of your anti-gay political agenda. We all know this has nothing to do with religion, that’s just the latest anti-gay lie.

  • And if he cancelled because he was sick, had transportation issues, or DIDN’T FEEL LIKE GOING ON TONIGHT, the ticketbuyers would be in the same situation. Their purchase unlike going to a store, is contingent on the performer being willing to play that day. A store front is open to all during its business hours and is expected to handle any customers willing to pay for goods and services available while open. If a bigoted store owner decided to simply close shop rather than serve gay customers, then your analogy works. The problem with analogy is you spend more time defending why its apt than discussing a given subject. It is typically used by people like yourself who cannot cough up rational arguments to support your position.

  • Right, it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with millennia-long-held, religiously-guided understandings of the nature of sex and marriage, held by millions of reasonable people of good will. As I said, have fun preaching to the choir.

  • I think this is just an issue of semantics. “Marriage” is a term that is not exclusive to religion, whereas “Holy matrimony” is clearly understood to signify religious marriage.

  • Why lie? Historians agree marriage is a government construct to keep inheritance issues clear. The Church only first made a power and money grab for marriage in the 1100s. No one will ever force your lead anti-gay “church,” the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, to marry same gender couples, and you will never again be able to deny the many churches that WANT to marry same gender American couples their Freedom Of Religion.

  • Please stop trying to portray the mental disorder, homophobia, as a “religious belief.”

  • There aren’t too many countries like that which have an audience for English speaking rock acts. Russia, the Middle East, Sub Sahara Africa and Latin America are seldom on the tour lists for US/UK based acts. Please cite sources.

  • If your religious beliefs involve treating people badly as a duty of the faith, its worthless. Unworthy of respect or legal protection. I don’t have to treat it kindly. Your God does not excuse the legal harm you do to others.

    Our nation was founded on the principle that nobody gets special privileges or rights for belonging to a given faith. That sectarian belief will never be justifiable as a reason to harm others.

    You want a special dispensation to attack others under the banner of God’s will, well tough luck It’s not your right or privilege.

  • The anti gay crowd are like the Japanese soldiers found on Guam in 1975 who didn’t know WWII ended.

    The war is over, you lost, go home already.

  • “. Otherwise they are merely an expression of sectarian discrimination. Your religion is never going to be the basis of our laws”


  • I understand it far better than you. I am not the one seeking to violate its tenets by calling for government sanctioned religion. That is all you.