GOP Education Bill Gives Religious Bigots License To Discriminate

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.

Bishops Advise Republicans and Parents to Reject Trans Children

There is relatively solid proof now that all of the Republican negative ranting and raving about transgender people is driven by the historical bane of human decency, freedom and equality – religion.

First, when this column cites a religion as “fanatical, radical, or extremist,” particularly Christian denominations, it is not using a “broad stroke to portray” all Christians as fanatical, radical, extremist or bad. The same is true regarding criticism of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) or the Vatican or the Pope or any of that ridiculously rich syndicate’s bizarre dogmata; it is never about “all Catholics.

There are myriad reasons to attack many members of the clergy and none deserve more than the USCCB; if for no other reason than they implanted the “religious liberty” idea in the evangelical Republican lexicon. That American group of Catholic bishops are guilty of a world of offenses against women particularly, but also against members of the LGBTQ community.

At issue is an “open letter” issued by the USCCB, with many other religious leaders as signatories, “rejecting the legitimacy of transgender identity.” The theme of the letter on families is that parents have to “reject their transgender children” because god, bible, and social conservative (church) norms.

The open letter, “Created Male and Female” asserts that “transgender” is a “false idea that goes against reason;” and it is a “deeply troubling notion that a man can be or become a woman or vice versa.”  It was once a false idea and deeply troubling to “the Church” that the Earth orbited the Sun, but the Church still exists although it imprisoned and killed a few heretics for spreading a false and deeply troubling idea — heliocentrism.

The bishops failed to provide a link to any empirical data as to why transgender identity is a false idea or deeply troubling; just that a parent’s job is rejecting their child if they identify as transgender. The bishops attempted to validate their position by claiming ”transgender children are ‘harmed’ when they are affirmed in their identities,” but no-one with a pulse believes these former priests have any regard for children being “harmed.

One particularly offensive section of the letter states:

“Children especially are harmed when they are told that they can “change” their sex. Parents deserve better guidance on these important decisions, and we urge our medical institutions to honor the basic medical principle of “first, do no harm.” Gender ideology harms individuals and societies by sowing confusion and self-doubt. The state itself has a compelling interest, therefore, in maintaining policies that uphold the scientific fact of human biology and supporting the social institutions and norms that surround it.

There is so much inherently wrong, and revealing, in that section of the letter that it boggles the mind until one remembers who issued the ‘open letter’ in the first place and who the signatories are; a bunch of religious fanatics controlling the Republican social agenda. Republicans have hewed closely, and dutifully followed, the real meaning of the USCCB’s theocratic dictate:

The state has a compelling interest to maintain [church] policies and support the social [church] institutions and [church] norms that surround it.

Now, this holy edict that children especially are “harmed” if their transgender identity is affirmed is pure bovine excrement. According to several studies’ results, “the way parents respond to their child’s gender identity can have drastic consequences for their mental health.”

Parents that heed the USCCB’s advice and “reject their children for being transgender significantly increases depression and suicidal thinking.”  Conversely, one of the single most effective  “buffers against those negative consequences” is affirming the child’s identity, “allowing them to be as happy and healthy as their peers.”  What these bishops are advising is exactly what “sows self-doubt and confusion and can be remarkably damaging;” including causing depression and suicide.

The bishops also used a favorite religious right claim that the faithful who condemn transgenders are the “true victims.” They claim:

The movement to respect transgender people is ‘deeply troubling’ and compels people to either go against ‘reason’ or face ridicule, marginalization and other forms of retaliation.”

If the bishops contend that calling a dirty bigot a dirty bigot is “deeply troubling,” then they are no different than the dirty bigots in Trump’s Alt-right Nazi movement.  What the bishops never mention is the hate, “retaliation,” and discrimination that transgender people suffer in “employment, housing, health care, education, the justice system, and public accommodations.

Something that should raise red flags, even for people unsure about what “transgender” means, is this bizarre concept that a bunch of old white guys decked out in Goth-gear and claiming to be celibate get an opinion on parenting when they have never “had” children. Oh it is true that a terrifying number of those “holy men” have “had” plenty of children, but not in the sense that normal, decent or real “god-fearing” human beings ‘have’ children.  These are the same control-freaks who claim to have profound and godly expertise in women’s reproductive science as well as OB/GYN bona fides that Republicans use to control women’s reproductive rights.

What is particularly dangerous about this USCCB “open letter” is that Republicans will seize on it as overwhelming proof that restricting transgender people’s equal rights is justified. Remember, both houses of Congress summoned the same male religious leaders to give expert testimony to restrict women’s access to contraceptives. To think they won’t reference this letter as justification for denying transgenders’ rights is the height of naïveté; the letter tells Republicans that “the state has a compelling interest to maintain church policies and support church institutions and church norms that surround it.” The only group Republicans are more obedient to than the Koch brothers is the religious right and all it entails – particularly the USCCB.

It is one thing for the bishops, priests, reverends and ministers who signed on to the USCCB letter to control Republicans and their radical evangelical supporters; stupid people are easily manipulated. But they have no right to insert their perverted opinions on child-rearing into any family; especially when there is legitimate research demonstrating that the quickest way to harm transgender children, or adults for that matter, is to follow the bishops’ teachings.

It is noteworthy that there are a significant number of religious leaders, including Catholics and Baptists, who are strong advocates on behalf of transgender people; they at least act like “real Christians” and real “followers of Christ.” They are also not enamored with the USCCB for using religious dogma to put children at risk of depression and suicide; something the bishops apparently don’t regard as important. In fact, according to one of the signatories representing the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission;  “trans people are responsible for their own suffering for rejecting God.” As Zack Ford over at ThinkProgress noted, it is a sentiment the USCCB letter strongly implies.

This “parenting” letter from a bunch of old “celibate” white guys is further proof that the force behind most GOP attacks on Americans’ equal rights is driven by religion. That might be acceptable in theocratic regimes such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, but it is an atrocity in America. Not because they are attempting to control the people, that is what religion does. The real atrocity is that Republicans are dutifully following their edicts to the letter.

If that is unbelievable, think back to the GOP’s claims during North Carolina’s “trans toilet” controversy and then note the USCCB’s letter demanding enactment of “policies that uphold the truth of a person’s sexual identity as male or female, and the privacy and safety of all.”

It is true these bishops are hateful religious leaders to even suggest that parents should reject trans kids, but they represent a controlling religious syndicate that would not exist without using hate to control their sycophants – like the Republican movement. That they would endanger children by fundamentally saying they are “deeply troubling and false” as if they don’t exist is par for the course and something Republicans will repeat ad nauseam.

Image: Patheos

Virginia’s Chief Homophobe Defeated By Transgender Heavy Metal Singer

At a juncture in American history when the concept of good news seems fantastical, there was a bit of encouraging news upon waking Wednesday morning. Most of the bad news over the past several months was not necessarily that the Trump administration still exists, it has been the raging religious attacks on women, LGBTQ people, and non-Christians that Trump plays a pivotal role in executing.

One of the nation’s worst religious right bigots after Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions, a nasty piece of work named Robert Marshall, expected to win another stint as a delegate to Virginia’s legislature so he could continue to intimidate and discriminate against women, the LGBTQ community, and anyone unwilling to toe the evangelical line. In a glorious win for the “good people” of Virginia, Marshall was not victorious. Instead, justice prevailed and he was soundly defeated by a Virginia resident who represents everything Marshall hates and has spent his political career tormenting – LGBTQ people.

Danica Roem is a former journalist and now the first openly transgender elected to a state legislature in America after she defeated “bigot Bob” Marshall.  She is also a singer in a “melodicheavy metal band that was almost certainly an extra irritant to Marshall’s “holier-than-thou” sensibilities.  Regardless what the defeat meant to Marshall, Ms. Roem’s victory was historic as a transgender woman; defeating a raging religious right homophobe and “real conservative” was “extra sweet.”

As an aside, another transgender won a first-ever city council seat in Minneapolis; it informs that Americans are rejecting bigotry driven by religion and actually voting for a candidate based on their policies and qualifications, not on who they hate according to their religion.  Andrea Johnson was the “first ever” African American transgender woman to win an election in America.

Roem likely captured some national attention not so much because she is the first state-level transgender to win an election, but because she defeated an avowed malcontent Catholic that wears his religious bigotry proudly and refers to himself as “chief homophobe.”  Obviously in the 21st Century Virginia voters were no longer impressed that their representative was a religious bigot.

Marshall is so much more than just a nasty bigot; he is as religiously vicious an anti-women’s choice Catholic as the author of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae. Marshall is one of those personhood freaks that, besides claiming contraceptives are abortion and a mortal sin, invents fantasy science as a means to control women. A few years ago he confidently asserted that abortion causes birth defects in subsequent pregnancies. He also made an attempt at fear-mongering and warned that repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would reinstate the draft and force the unwilling to serve.

He preached  that “X-rated videos were a public health hazard” and authored an amendment to the state’s constitution banning same-sex marriage. His pride and joy, however, and a tool he should not have used in the campaign, was his legislation banning transgender people from using the correct restroom. Although his bill perished in committee, he embraced the “chief homophobe” role throughout the campaign as a badge of honor.

Marshall spent time during the campaign claiming that Ms. Roem’s identity was “against the laws of nature and nature’s god.” To belabor the point, Marshall always referred to “Ms. Roem” using a male pronoun to prove to voters that he’s right with “nature’s god.”  Marshall refused to debate Roem and instead resorted to typical Republican mudslinging and ugliness over Ms. Roem’s performance in an old music video. Apparently if X-rated videos are a “public health hazard,” then a heavy metal music video Ms. Roem sang in was  “lewd” according to Marshall.

Marshall and his supporters also produced disgusting hate campaign adsdisparaging Ms. Roem’s transgender identity.” It’s a tactic that likely backfired after the level of hate Virginians recently witnessed in Charlottesville.

In response to the attacks on her gender, Ms. Roem explained why Marshall had to resort to the only thing he knows; hate and bigotry borne of religion. She said: “This is what happens when he can’t defeat me [on] the core quality-of-life issues facing the people of the 13th District . . .”

 As it turns out, Ms. Roem had no difficulty convincing voters that Marshall is so consumed with hate inspired by his devotion to “nature’s god” that he had been woefully negligent to the needs of his constituents and their concerns about roads, education, equality and jobs.

After her victory, Ms. Roem said:

Discrimination is a disqualifier This is about the people of the 13th District disregarding fear tactics, disregarding phobias . . . where we celebrate you because of who you are, not despite it.”

In Ms. Roem’s case, the voters supporter her because she pledged to work towards alleviating their concerns over jobs, education and transportation. Her victory was a win for the LGBTQ community for sure, but it is also a telling sign that campaigning on hate, although the only thing Marshall knows, is not what voters are interested in.

Roem’s victory is also a signal that the evangelical hate groups are not representative of the entire population. It is true they run the government, something Trump has allowed with his blessings, but the people are growing weary of their tax dollars going to torture other Americans because of whom they love, what gender they identity with, or whether a woman chooses to give birth or not. It is an encouraging sign that despite the vocal minority making up the Republicans’ base, all Americans are not hateful bigots; fortunately Virginia residents will not have to put up with the self-proclaimed “chief homophobe” any longer.

Bob Marshall is not a nice man and the level of hate he dished out daily informs that he is not any kind of “real Christian.” This author has had a personal interest in seeing Marshall thrown out of office and the public’s consciousness for eight years. Marshall took exception to an op-Ed newspaper column condemning his attacks on gays and women and made a written response that was very personal and unrelated to the theme of the admittedly incendiary hit piece. That it was a transgender woman who defeated the dirty bigot is sweet justice indeed.

It is a travesty that the 13th District voters gave Marshall 26 years in the legislature to spread hate and bigotry, but it is heartening to learn that the voters finally became decent citizens and rejected his hate. It cannot be overstated that for the LGBTQ community, beleaguered women in Virginia, and decent Americans everywhere there is justice that a person representing everything Marshall hates was the candidate to send him packing. Maybe there is hope for America after all.

Image: Patheos