Justice Department Condemned For Defending Anti-LGBTQ Colleges

Judge Merrick Garland
Judge Merrick Garland
Attorney General Merrick Garland (photo: Public Domain)

Folks are getting angry about a court filing by the Department of Justice where it appears the DOJ could be defending religious schools against LGBTQ students who say they are being discriminated against.

From the Washington Post:

The Justice Department in a court filing Tuesday said it can “vigorously” defend a religious exemption from federal civil rights law that allows federally funded religious schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students, a move that surprised some LGBTQ advocates who said the wording went further than just an obligation to defend an existing law.

In the filing, the Biden administration said it “shares the same ultimate objective” as the conservative Christian schools named in the case.

“What this means is that the government is now aligning itself with anti-LGBTQ hate in order to vigorously defend an exemption that everyone knows causes severe harm to LGBTQ students using taxpayer money,” said Paul Carlos Southwick, director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, which filed the case in March on behalf of dozens of current and past students at conservative religious colleges and universities. “It will make our case harder if the federal government plans to vigorously defend it like they have indicated.”

The case at hand, Hunter v. the U.S. Department of Education, involves 40 LGBTQ students from religious colleges and universities who have filed suit against the government for providing funding to schools with discriminatory policies.

The schools, however, are playing the First Amendment rights card saying they have a right to discriminate against queer students via their traditional religious beliefs about sexuality and gender.

While it sounds like the Justice Department has thrown us under the bus, over on Michelangelo Signorile’s website LGBTQ civil rights lawyer Jillian Weiss took a look and says this may not be as bleak as it seems:

“As I read the brief, DOJ is trying to prevent religious colleges from taking over the case. They would certainly argue outlier positions that a newly conservative Supreme Court would love to scoop us.

“Sure, 28 USC 1681(a)(3) is bogus: “this section shall not apply to an educational institution which is controlled by a religious organization if the application of this subsection would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.”

“But I would prefer Garland’s DOJ to handle this any day of the week rather than the proposed religious intervenors.”

Fairness For All Act ‘Worse Than Nothing’ Due To Religious Exemptions

The U.S. Capitol building

The U.S. Capitol building

Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah has introduced legislation that he calls a counter proposal to the Equality Act which was passed in the House of Representatives yesterday by a vote of 224-206.

Like the Equality Act, Stewart says his bill, titled the Fairness For All Act (FFAA), would expand existing federal laws regarding anti-LGBTQ discrimination – but with some HUGE differences.

• Under the FFAA, faith-based adoption agencies would continue to receive federal funds but could refuse to place children with potential LGBTQ parents under the guise of ‘religious freedoms.’

• Similarly, religious schools would be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

• Additionally, while the Equality Act clearly states transgender people would have access to bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity, the FFAA is vague on the issue.

• The FFAA would include an exemption that would allow businesses to refuse to serve LGBTQ people if they have fewer than 15 employees.

• While the Equality Act specifies the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) could not be used as a legal defense in court against cases of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, the FFAA would allow religious beliefs to justify discriminatory actions.

In other words, what’s the point?

“It is hard to really love our neighbors when we are fighting with them over whose rights are more important,” said Rep. Stewart in a statement. “This country can accommodate both civil liberties for LGBT individuals & religious freedom.”

Stewart’s bill has 21 Republican co-sponsors but no Democrats signed on to the legislation even though Stewart initially indicated the bill would have bipartisan support.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), the sponsor of the Equality Act, told the Washington Blade that the FFAA would “very clearly be worse than nothing.”

“For the first time in our history, it would actually put in federal statute provisions that permit discrimination against the LGBTQ community,” Cicilline told the Blade. “It would be a tremendous step backward, which is why it’s not supported by any major LGBT organization, all of the major LGBT organizations support the Equality Act.”

“The Stewart bill is a tremendous step backward in our fight for full equality,” added Cicilline.

(source: Washington Blade)

News Round-Up: December 16, 2020

(image via Instagram)

Some news items you might have missed:

InstaHunks: Fitness trainer Dominik Scherl (above) wants to know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice? 😉

NY Times: Congressional leaders are on the verge of cementing a roughly $900 billion stimulus deal that is expected to provide a new round of direct payments to millions of Americans as well as additional unemployment benefits, food assistance and rental aid.

Twitter: After President-elect Joe Biden formally announced Pete Buttigieg today to be his pick for Transportation Secretary, Buttigieg shared his thoughts of a time when gay people had a much more difficult time making progress in Washington, D.C. With this nomination, Buttigieg could become the first LGBTQ cabinet appointee confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Washington Blade: As the Trump administration is nearing its end, federal agencies are hurriedly finalizing regulations granting leeway to religious institutions that are federal grantees and contractors, which critics say would enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Because these regulations went through a rule-making process, the Biden administration won’t be able to easily undo them.

KIT212: Kenneth takes a look at the popular podcast, Gayest Episode Ever, which looks at LGBTQ+ themed episodes from shows past, back when LGBTQ+ characters and storylines were rare and (often) done terribly. The podcast is not only touching, funny and smart, but it also provides insightful commentary on the evolution of queer representation, gay rights and how culture can both affect, and be affected by, what we see on TV.

The Advocate: The venerable queer magazine offers its list of the ‘Top 15 Best LGBTQ+ TV Shows of 2020.’ Hit the link to see if your favorite made their list.

Texas Tribune: A former Houston police captain was arrested after allegedly running an air conditioner technician off the road and threatening him at gunpoint on October 19 in an attempt to ‘prove’ the man had over 700K fake ballots. “There were no ballots in the truck,” according to a Harris County district attorney’s office press release. “It was filled with air conditioning parts and tools.”

InstaHunks II: One more from furry Santa man Dominik Sherl…

Third Federal Judge Blocks Trump’s Anti-LGBTQ ‘Conscience Protection’ Rule

Trump walks past reporters with no comment


A third federal judge has ruled against the Trump administration’s proposed change in regulations which would allow health care providers to deny care that offends ‘deeply held religious beliefs.

Read that as legalizing discrimination against LGBTQ people.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California ruled on Tuesday that the new Denial of Care rule is “not in accordance with law” by reason of conflict with underlying statutes.

“When a rule is so saturated with error, as here, there is no point in trying to sever the problematic provisions,” wrote Alsup in his decision. “The whole rule must go.”

Previously, Judge Paul Engelmayer of New York, and Judge Stanley Bastian of Spokane, Washington, also found the religious exemption rule announced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would violate several federal laws.

Alsup wrote in his ruling, “Under the new rule, to preview just one example, an ambulance driver would be free, on religious or moral grounds, to eject a patient en route to a hospital upon learning the patient needed an emergency abortion. Such harsh treatment would be blessed by the new rule.”

The so-called ‘conscience protection’ rule would also expand the categories of workers who could choose to refuse to serve the public to include receptionists, accounting staff and emergency responders.

Plus, the federal government would be allowed to cut funding to states and/or employers who might not respect the religious exemption to the degree sought by the Trump administration.

Judge Alsup made note that there are already federal laws in place to provide for accommodating a health care provider’s religious or conscientious objections to some procedures like abortion.

HHS announced the proposed rule change in May and was set to take effect this Friday. But Judge Engelmayer’s ruling in New York two weeks ago blocked the regulation.

Jamie Gliksberg of Lambda Legal, which was one of the legal teams representing the plaintiffs, celebrated in a statement regarding the ruling: “That is now three judges in two weeks who have recognized the Denial of Care Rule for what it is, an egregious and unconstitutional attack on women, LGBT people and other vulnerable populations.”

This doesn’t end the assault on LGBTQ people’s rights by the Trump administration, though.

Earlier in November, HHS shared plans to allow faith-based adoption or foster care organizations who receive federal funds to decline to place children with LGBTQ families.

Plus, the Trump administration is still working to remove parts of the Affordable Care Act that prohibits discrimination against transgender people.


Trump Administration Allows Health Care Workers To Deny Treatment Due To Religious Beliefs

Under the guise of "conscience rights," the Trump Administration has officially granted doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers the right to deny care to people.
Donald Trump

Under the guise of “conscience rights,” the Trump Administration has officially granted doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers the right to deny care to people.

In a speech on Thursday, Donald Trump announced, “Today, we finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities.”

The new regulation, confirmed by the Department of Health and Human Services, allows providers to cite personal religious beliefs as justification to refuse a broad range of services.

Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement, “This rule allows anyone from a doctor to a receptionist to entities like hospitals and pharmacies to deny a patient critical — and sometimes lifesaving — care.”

Critics say the new regulation could put LGBTQ people at risk, such as those seeking HIV treatment or gender-confirmation procedures.

The Human Rights Campaign denounced the news as well.

“The Trump-Pence administration’s latest attack threatens LGBTQ people by permitting medical providers to deny critical care based on personal beliefs,” said David Stacy, government affairs director at the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.

“The administration’s decision puts LGBTQ people at greater risk of being denied necessary and appropriate health care solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” he added. “Everyone deserves access to medically necessary care and should never be turned away because of who they are or who they love.”

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera quickly announced he had filed a lawsuit in an attempt to invalidate the new federal regulation.

Herrera said in a press release that, if allowed to take effect, the rule would reduce access to health care, particularly for women, LGBTQ people, and other vulnerable populations.

“At its core, this rule is about denying people medical care,” said Herrera. “This administration is willing to sacrifice patients’ health and lives — particularly those of women and members of the LGBTQ community, and low-income families — to score right-wing political points. It’s reprehensible.”

Philadelphia: Judge Rules Against Adoption Agency Requesting Religious Exemption To Discriminate

A federal judge has ruled against a Catholic adoption agency for discriminating against perspective LGBTQ parents

Two Christian adoption agencies in Philadelphia saw their city contracts suspended earlier this year when it was discovered they openly discriminated against LGBTQ people.

One of the agencies, Bethany Christian Services, agreed to change its policies and comply, but Catholic Social Services (CSS) refused to do so claiming their constitutional rights were being violated in having to adhere to anti-discrimination laws.

Now, a federal judge has ruled against CSS’s request for a religious exemption to the law.

CSS freely admits that they do not certify same-sex couples as foster parents even if the couple is considered qualified by every metric of the law. Additionally, CSS continues to refuse home studies for those same-sex couples who may be looking to adopt.

The vice president of CSS, James Amato, told the judge that everyone who applies to be a foster parent must submit a letter from the applicant’s clergy declaring them to be ‘religious.’

CSS holds the position that foster care and adoption are not ‘public accommodations’ and so the anti-discrimination law doesn’t apply to them.

But U.S. District Judge Petrese Tucker disagreed with CSS and rejected the agency’s arguments saying CSS’s contract with the city to provide services for a fee constitutes a public accommodation.

Moreover, the judge held that CSS’s loss of its contract with the city would not negatively impact foster children as the city “offered evidence showing that the closure of CSS’s intake of new referrals has had little or no effect on the operation of Philadelphia’s foster care system,” Judge Tucker wrote.

Also, the judge pointed to the “clergy letter” requirement and suggested that raised “serious constitutional questions” regarding freedom of religion.

As Think Progress points out, this kind of “religious freedom” defense for justifying LGBTQ discrimination is happening all over the country.

A judge in Michigan is currently hearing arguments over a state law that allows adoption agencies to receive state funding while actively discriminating.

Oklahoma and Kansas have recently enacted similar laws, and House Republicans in Congress recently approved an amendment to a spending bill that would protect adoption agencies that choose to discriminate based on ‘religious beliefs.’

This same week, a federal judge was hearing arguments in the ACLU’s challenge of a Michigan law that guarantees adoption agencies can continue to receive state funding even if they discriminate.

Kansas and Oklahoma recently passed similar laws, and Republicans in Congress also passed an amendment to a funding bill this week that would create a similar license to discriminate for child placement agencies across the country.

In related news, a recent study in Italy shows children fare well with same-sex parents.

Report: State “Religious Exemption” Laws Threaten LGBTQ+ Freedom

(image via Movement Advancement Project)

A new 41-page report released by the Human Rights Watch details how so-called “religious freedom” laws allow for a vast number of individuals and corporations to discriminate against LGBTQ+ folk.

Human Rights Watch researcher Ryan Thoreson says anti-LGBTQ+ legislators like using the term “exemptions” even though the term is misleading.

“Given the dearth of laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination in the first place, legislators are getting it exactly backwards and creating exceptions before they’ve ever established the rule,” said Thoreson.

The report lists several examples like:

• Mississippi allows for individuals and businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity/presentation, and persons having extramarital affairs due to religious or moral objections.

• Michigan, Alabama, and North Dakota have passed legislation that allows for adoption/foster care agencies to explicitly discriminate against queer couples or individuals.

• Tennessee law allows for mental health counselors to decline to see LGBTQ+ clients.

In the United States, only 19 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, public accommodations, and housing.

New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Utah offer protections based on sexual orientation (not gender identity), though Utah doesn’t prohibit such discrimination in public accommodations.

In 2018, Illinois, Georgia, Washington, Oklahoma and Florida have all seen new “religious exemption” bills filed in their state legislatures.