GOP Education Bill Gives Religious Bigots License To Discriminate

Donald Trump, Virginia Foxx

Republicans have had a field day with a rubber stamp in the White House, and besides handing the treasury to the rich and corporations, they have handed social and domestic policy over to bigots under the guise of protecting religious liberty. And it is noteworthy that they have acted stealthily while the happy fascist in the Oval keeps the people mesmerized with social media distractions.

Last week House Republicans introduced a “massive” 542-page “higher education” bill that gives bigots steeped in evangelical fundamentalism a free pass to discriminate if they do so according to their deeply-held religious beliefs and part of their religious practices. The bill, H.R. 4508, authored by Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), contains a pair of provisions that “enables discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity” without saying it is legal to violate the 14th Amendment on religious grounds. By not specifically mentioning sexual orientation or gender identity the Republicans left room for religious fanatics to discriminate against any group they choose.

The inaptly named bill, “Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education” Reform (PROSPER Act) gives the impression that Trump’s America creates opportunities for Americans, but like nearly everything else in Trump’s America, it is a gift to evangelical bigots. Don’t believe it? In a section titled “Campus Access for Religious Groups” a provision guarantees that students can be discriminated against if the bigotry is founded on “religious beliefs or religious standards of conduct.

The offending provision states:

None of the funds made available under the Act may be provided to any public institution of higher education that denies to a religious student or organization any right, benefit or privilege afforded to other students or organization because of their religious beliefs, practices, speech, membership standards or standards of conduct of the religious student or organization.”

What that really means is any person or any group can discriminate against anyone based on a deeply-held religious belief and their religion’s standard practices without repercussions from the “place of higher learning” or state policy forbidding discrimination; it obviously neuters the 14th Amendment to sate religious bigots.

It is yet another Republican religious license to discriminate that taxpayers and tuition-paying students will have to fund and like it; it is how theocratic governments operate and Americans better get used to it.

Prior to this GOP theocratic legislation, the only way to prevent blatant discrimination was by withholding funding from institutions of learning, or by denying religious organizations campus funding for violating nondiscrimination policies they are obliged to uphold as recipients of free money. That concept is unacceptable to religious Republicans and their radical evangelical supporters. So they inserted language allowing the free flow of campus funding to evangelical bigots so they can discriminate against whatever kind of person they regard are “undesirable.”

Apparently there have been institutions of higher learning and governments that have withheld funding for groups that reject LGBTQ students’ membership or participation because “those kind of people violate the religious tenets of the group.” Despite non-discrimination policies at higher-learning institutions and the state and the federal government, the religious groups expect to be funded like every other campus organization that adheres to the U.S. Constitution and campus non-discrimination policies. With this hideous abomination of a bill, Republicans are ensuring that taxpayers and tuition-paying students will have to support bigoted religious groups whether they like it or whether it violates their humanitarian beliefs that discrimination is vile and unconstitutional.

Another section of the “PROSPER Act” protects universities that encourage and enact blatantly discriminatory policies with language virtually mirroring the religious Republicans “First Amendment Defense Act.” That “Act” is a federal Republican license to violate the 14th Amendment with impunity by protecting any businesses and organizations that refuses to serve LGBTQ people; it is the religious bigots’ version of the former Confederacy’s “whites only” laws and religious Republicans love it.  That provision states:

No government entity shall take any adverse action against an institution of higher education that receives funding under title IV, if such adverse action… has the effect of prohibiting or penalizing the institution for acts or omissions by the institution that are in furtherance of its religious mission or are related to the religious affiliation of the institution.”

Some of what religious Republicans call adverse actions to prevent discrimination are:

Denial or threat of denial of funding, including grants, scholarships, or loans; denial or threat of denial to access to facilities or programs; withholding or threat to withhold licenses, permits, certifications, accreditation’s, contracts, tax-exempt status or exemptions; or any other penalty or denial, or threat of such other penalty or denial of an otherwise available benefit.

The two provisions combined mean that institutions of higher learning cannot legally enforce their own non-discrimination policies, and states cannot enforce state or federal discrimination laws on offending schools. This hate-policy is typical of Virginia Foxx who said in 2015 after the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality that it was a threat to the rights of religious bigots and their organizations. She pledged at the time to “do everything in my power to defend these rights;” she followed through with a religious license to discriminate tucked into an education bill.

These religious impositions legalizing discrimination are a growing trend now that the religious right co-owns the federal government. And as the folks over at the Human Rights Campaign noted, this particular “higher education bill is rife with other troubling aspects that should concern both LGBTQ students and all other students.” It is a continuation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ effort to dismantle protections for victims of campus sexual assault targeting women and endemic in her crusade to use the Department of Education to “advance the kingdom of god.”

Since Trump’s poorly-attended inauguration there have been nonstop attacks on the rights of Americans, primarily women and members of the gay community, founded on evangelical fundamentalism. And those attacks are always justified as promoting religious freedoms despite they violate the U.S. Constitution; something that should horrify any American who still thinks they live in a free democratic society. Americans’ equal rights are being whittled away by religious Republicans and it is a tragedy that there is absolutely nothing any American can, or is willing to, do to stop the rush towards theocracy. For dog’s sake, most Americans are too afraid to even whisper that all of the Republican attacks on equality are founded on America’s bastardized version of Christianity and it’s exactly why the religious right is running the government.

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