Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Inequal Protection Under the Law

The Washington Post recently ran an interesting editorial piece from the Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union about why they no longer support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Louise Melling starts out by extolling the ACLU's victories in cases where they have advocated in favor of people claiming religious liberty and suing others to protect the "practice thereof" guaranteed in the First Amendment.  Those examples include Native Americans not being fired for smoking peyote as a "spiritual rite" and a Sikh Hindu member of a university ROTC program being allowed to keep his beard and turban despite the military's ban on facial hair and non-standard issue headgear.

But now, Melling says the Religious Freedom Restoration Act must be repealed because Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics are using it to exert their "rights".  She cites the family that owns Hobby Lobby successfully getting an exemption from the Affordable Care Act to not cover a handful of contraceptives as part of their health insurance package.  Melling also points to the Catholic Church not reporting unaccompanied minors (illegal immigrants) that it is assisting who are also pregnant--because those girls might be offered access to abortions by Federal caseworkers.

In its argument for repeal, the ACLU says it used the law as a "shield" for those of these minority religions and that exemptions granted to them "hurt nobody".  But the Evangelicals and the Catholics are using the law as a "sword to attack the rights of others".  And they fear that it will continue to be used to keep churches from performing gay marriages and the infamous refusal to bake gay wedding cakes.

Since this was an opinion piece submitted by the ACLU itself, there is no follow up questioning of Melling.  But I would love to know under what circumstances the group would actually support the "rights" of Evangelical Christians or Catholics?  Would it be to protest near abortion clinics?  To keep women out of the priesthood?

Keep in mind that I have no dog in this fight.  But when the group that proclaims itself to be the "leader" in fighting for civil rights is picking and choosing which religious practices are worth defending and which are not, it makes me a bit nervous.

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