March 2016 Church & State - March 2015

Researcher Of Religious Right Issues New Report On Growing ‘Refusals’ Cases

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The Religious Right, a largely Protestant evangelical movement, and the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops are stepping up their attempts to carve out religion-based exemptions from laws they don’t like, asserts a new in-depth report.

In “When Exemption Is The Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy Of The Christian Right,” Frederick Clarkson of Political Research Associates observes that a cadre of far-right organizations have rapidly increased their ability to affect legal, political and social changes in just a few short years.

Clarkson cited the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a legal group tied to ultra-conservative forms of Catholicism, as an example, noting that the group’s revenue grew 86 percent between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2012. He also pointed to the Religious Right legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which increased its revenue by $5 million (a 21 percent increase) over that same period.   

These increasingly powerful Religious Right groups and their allies are, Clarkson added, seeking to “religify” as many organizations as possible – including those that have nothing to do with faith.

“This means rewriting mission statements, contracts, and job descriptions to claim that the entire organization or jobs within it are essentially religious in nature and subject to the longstanding exemption of clergy from the Civil Rights Act,” Clarkson asserted.

This ploy would theoretically give a for-profit business or non-profit organization the right to discriminate against LGBT persons or anyone else it doesn’t like – at least that is the far right’s goal. If successful, this “religifying” would represent an expansion of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which said that houses of worship can classify virtually anyone as a minister, and those employees can be fired without regard for anti-discrimination laws.

Clarkson listed several possible solutions to these problems, including reclaiming the idea of “religious freedom” from the far right and embracing it as a universal concept.

The report is available on Political Research Associates’ website.

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