The Family Research Council (a group the SPLC identified as a hate group for its ongoing use of lies, distortions and untruths about glbt persons) and Liberty Institute, another right wing organization, recently released a study which they claim documents more than 600 instances of hostility toward religious liberty:
Liberty Institute attorney Justin Butterfield tells OneNewsNow what his group hopes to accomplish with the study's findings.I've been very skeptical about claims made by the religious right concerning discrimination against and bigotry towards Christians. However, this report is based on an audacious claim - 600+ incidents of hostility towards religion? Documented and published? As a matter of due diligence I figured I owed it to myself to check out the report. I downloaded the report. It's 135 breezy pages long consisting of short summaries of instances the authors identify as hostility to religion and citations (either the case information or links to online news reports). The report is helpfully broken down in sections based on what type of hostility the authors deemed to have occurred (i.e. public expressions of faith, in schools, workplaces, about monuments and public displays, etc.)
"We want to raise awareness of the issue. A lot of people think that hostility because of people's religious beliefs and attacks on religious liberty are things that happen elsewhere in the world, not in the United States," he notes. "We just want to show that it actually happens with increasing and alarming regularity here in the United States."
Liberty Institute President Kelly Shackelford and FRC President Tony Perkins are presenting the study before the Republican Party Convention platform committee to raise that awareness.
I picked a few cases at random.
First (as described in the Report):
Peterson v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 358 F.3d 599 (9th Cir. 2004)As the court saw it:
A 21-year HP employee was fired for refusing to remove scriptures from his office cubicle opposing homosexuality that he posted in response to a company poster hung in the office that depicted a homosexual employee and sought to encourage tolerance.
In this religious discrimination action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §?2000e et seq. and Idaho law, Richard Peterson claims that his former employer, the Hewlett-Packard Company, engaged in disparate treatment by terminating him on account of his religious views and that it failed to accommodate his religious beliefs. ? The district court granted Hewlett-Packard's motion for summary judgment on the grounds that: 1) Peterson failed to raise an inference of disparate treatment and 2) accommodating Peterson's beliefs would inflict undue hardship upon Hewlett-Packard. We affirm.Here's some of the logic:
In short, we conclude that Peterson's evidence does not meet the threshold for defeating summary judgment in disparate treatment cases. Chuang, 225 F.3d at 1124. Peterson offered no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, that would support a reasonable inference that his termination was the result of disparate treatment on account of religion.5 Viewing the record in the light most favorable to Peterson, it is evident that he was discharged, not because of his religious beliefs, but because he violated the company's harassment policy by attempting to generate a hostile and intolerant work environment and because he was insubordinate in that he repeatedly disregarded the company's instructions to remove the demeaning and degrading postings from his cubicle.and
An employer's duty to negotiate possible accommodations ordinarily requires it to take “some initial step to reasonably accommodate the religious belief of that employee.” ?Heller, 8 F.3d at 1440. ? Peterson contends that the company did not do so in this case even though Hewlett-Packard managers convened at least four meetings with him. In these meetings, they explained the reasons for the company's diversity campaign, allowed Peterson to explain fully his reasons for his postings, and attempted to determine whether it would be possible to resolve the conflict in a manner that would respect the dignity of Peterson's fellow employees. Peterson, however, repeatedly made it clear that only two options for accommodation would be acceptable to him, either that (1) both the “Gay” posters and anti-gay messages remain, or (2) Hewlett-Packard remove the “Gay” posters and he would then remove the anti-gay messages.7 Given Peterson's refusal to consider other accommodations, we proceed to evaluate whether one or both of the “acceptable” accommodations would have imposed undue hardship upon Hewlett-Packard, or to put in it terms of Tiano and Lawson, to determine whether Hewlett-Packard carried its burden of showing that no reasonable accommodation was possible. ?Tiano, 139 F.3d at 681; ?Lawson, 296 F.3d at 804.Peterson wanted to post things in his cubicle, visible to his coworkers, with the intention of creating a hostile workplace. He said he intended the things he posted to offend his coworkers. He rejected multiple accommodations. They finally let him go. Was there anything in the case hostile to religion?
As we explain further below, Peterson's first proposed accommodation would have compelled Hewlett-Packard to permit an employee to post messages intended to demean and harass his co-workers. His second proposed accommodation would have forced the company to exclude sexual orientation from its workplace diversity program. ? Either choice would have created undue hardship for Hewlett-Packard because it would have inhibited its efforts to attract and retain a qualified, diverse workforce, which the company reasonably views as vital to its commercial success; thus, neither provides a reasonable accommodation. (emphasis added)
Second(as described in the Report):
M.B. v. Liverpool Central School District., No. 5:04-CV-1255 (S.D.N.Y. 2007)The school officials were attempting to remain religiously neutral and erred on the side of being over-cautious. Here's what the NY State Bar wrote:
Michaela Bloodgood, a fourth-grader at Nate Perry Elementary School in Liverpool, New York, wished to share homemade flyers with other students that explained what Jesus Christ had done in her life. Although Michaela would only hand out the flyers during noninstructional time, school officials stated that there was a “substantial probability” that the school would be seen as endorsing the statements in the flyers, and refused to allow her to hand them out. A lawsuit was filed on Michaela’s behalf, and a federal district judge ruled that the school had violated Michaela’s rights.
A U.S. district court in New York has ruled that a school district violated an elementary school student's right to free speech when it rejected her request to distribute a "personal statement" concerning the impact Jesus has had on her life to classmates during non-instructional time. The court found that both the district's formal materials distribution policy and the reasons district officials cited in prohibiting the distribution amounted to impermissible viewpoint discrimination. However, the court rejected the student's equal protection and Establishment Clause claims. M.B., a student at Nate Perry Elementary School (NPES), had previously passed out religious materials to classmates during non-instructional time. However, Liverpool Central School District (LCSD) officials informed M.B.'s mother that any request to distribute literature would have to comply with the district's materials distribution policy. LCSD denied M.B.'s request on two grounds: (1) the request was not consistent with the policy because it did not designate the entire class as recipients; and (2) the proposed manner of distribution, the proselytizing nature of the flyer, and the elementary aged audience created a danger of an Establishment Clause violation. M.B.'s mother sued, arguing that LCSD had engaged in impermissible viewpoint discrimination based on religious content, in violation of the Free Speech, Equal Protection, and Establishment Clauses.The report's authors don't exactly lie about the case but they don't exactly tell the truth. From their write up you'd conclude the court agreed the girl's religious freedom was violated but that's not what the court found. Again from the NY Bar:
. . . the court agreed with M.B. that the policy lacked objective criteria by which LCSD officials must approve or deny literature, as well as a definite time period during which they must do so. The court disposed of M.B.'s equal protection claim on the ground that she failed to show that any similarly situated students were treated differently. Nor was there anything to suggest LCSD acted with the purpose of inhibiting religion in violation of the Establishment Clause. Testimony from LCSD officials showed that there was neither an attempt nor a policy to prohibit M.B. from speaking with other students during non-instructional time about her religious beliefs.IOW, the court agreed the school could place limits on what students shared with one another if there were objective criteria for those limits. So in this case, the court found for the student and held that the school should have let her distribute her flyers. The court didn't necessarily reject the school district's goals, only the processes. So again, I ask where is the hostility to religion in this case?
Okay, so we have a workplace case and a school case. How about an eternal right wing favorite the Ten Commandments? (as described in the Report)
Baker v. Adams County/Ohio Valley School Board, 86 Fed. Appx. 104 (6th Cir. 2004)From a summary of the ruling:
A school board erected Ten Commandment monuments bought by a county ministerial association and a suit was filed, challenging the constitutionality of the monuments. The school board added other historical documents relating to the development of American law and government to the displays, but the lawsuit continued anyway. The court ordered that the monuments be removed.
Under the Lemon test, a government-sponsored activity will not violate the Establishment Clause if (1) it has a secular purpose, (2) its principal or primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion, and (3) it does not create an excessive entanglement of the government with religion. ? Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. at 612-13, 91 S.Ct. 2105; ?see Adland, 307 F.3d at 479. The endorsement test, “which looks to whether a reasonable observer would believe that a particular action constitutes an endorsement of religion,” should be treated “as a refinement of the second Lemon prong.”Interestingly, at one point in the report, it is referred to as the "notorious Lemon test." The Court, IOW, felt that this ten commandments monument "endorsed" religion. Seriously, it was donated by ministers. Was the group that filed the suit hostile to religion?
Case number four (as described in the Report):
Combs v. Homer-Center School District, 540 F.3d 231 (3d Cir. 2008)At first blush, this doesn't seem like a case that has any religious components - I had to google the case to read more about it. So what is the religious component? (emphasis added):
Pennsylvania passed the Pennsylvania Home Education Law in 1988. It is the most restrictive homeschooling law in the United States, requiring that families submit a teaching log, submit a portfolio of the child’s work for review, and meet the requirements for the minimum number of days and hours in certain subjects. Six homeschool families sued to protect their right to educate their children after being subjected to truancy proceedings and social service investigations. The court ruled that the law did not substantially burden the parents.
Under state law, parents who home school their children must provide instruction for a minimum number of days and hours in certain subjects and must submit a portfolio of teaching logs and the children’s work product for review by the local school district. The families had sought exemptions to the reporting requirements, saying they interfered with their sincerely held Christian religious beliefs and parental control of their children's education.Further:
All six families are Christians, but of different denominations. ? They hold in common a religious belief that “education of their children, not merely the religious education, is religion” and that God has assigned religious matters to the exclusive jurisdiction of the family. ? Accordingly, because God has given Parents the sole responsibility for educating their children, the school districts' reporting requirements and “discretionary review” over their home education programs violate their free exercise of religion.And:
As noted, Parents have not cited a specific tenet that would prevent adherence to the reporting requirements or prohibit discretionary School District review of their children's educational progress. ? Instead, they reference general, but important, religious tenets to support their claim that local school districts have no authority to conduct limited review of their home education programs. Such a broad interpretation of the term “specific tenet” would appear to read “specific” out of the statute.I want to remind readers that this case is from a list of cases which the Report's authors claim are incidents of hostility to religion. The parents were not being prevented from educating their children at home, or from treating that education as a religious duty. They were being asked to keep records of the education they provided as proof that their children were advancing academically, in keeping with a broader and generally accepted duty of the state, which to provide education. As near as I can tell, the Court basically said, "Nothing you have submitted with regard to your religious values or ethics is violated by keeping records."
The occasion, necessity, and purpose of the RFPA do not support a finding, by clear and convincing evidence, that Parents are compelled or will likely be compelled to violate a specific tenet of their religious faith. ? Accordingly, Parents cannot prevail on their cause of action under the Pennsylvania RFPA.
Again, I have to ask: Is there evidence of religious hostility in this case?
I looked up several other cases but each of them seemed to follow similar patterns. A religious fundamentalist asserting their right to refuse to go along with tolerance and diversity programs and/or wishing to use public forums to witness to or share their faith with others, often with the intent of proselytizing.
When conservative Christians start posting the Ten Commandments in public places or start sharing their personal stories about how important Jesus is in their lives, they aren't doing it for kicks. Many conservative Christians believe that their duty is to witness Christ to everyone they encounter and they do so in the hope of converting those persons. However (and you knew I there was a "however"), when conservative Christians tell people that their lives are immeasurably better because Christ is in their lives, they also speaking their truth. They aren't wickedly or nefariously engaging in this behavior. They are truly speaking an emotional truth of their lives - "I am better because of Christ. I want you to know that I am better and the ways in which I am better so you might also know Christ and experience a similar positive transformation."
As a resolutely secular person, I don't want to have that conversation, it doesn't interest me. I can respect the importance of it for the faithful, but I do not want my government telling me I need to have faith of any kind. I want my government to be scrupulously neutral on the subject. Don't tell me I should pray - I can decide that all by myself. I don't need the city government or public school or Congress or even the President to tell me I should pray nor do I need it, it them or him to lead me in public prayer. I don't need them to model Christian practice for me. Matter of fact, I'd prefer that government institutions that are supposed to represent everyone not engage or even attempt to engage in any religious practice of any kind - I don't need or want my city government to pray for me, to set up creche's for me, to encourage me to have a faith at all. I'm sure you can imagine, then, how I feel about my government legislating on the basis of religion.
Therein lies the conflict. For the fundamentalist or evangelical Christian, failing to pray in public, to open public meetings with, putting nativities on city hall's lawn, and so on are violations of their faith. They believe the failing to pray in school may well be a sin and has led to all sorts of social pathologies.
From the William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal:
Some of the earliest court decisions about homeschooling involved parents who asserted that the public school’s practices undermined their own religious beliefs. Many religious homeschoolers keep their children out of public schools expressly to shelter them from what the parents see as a secular bias that undermines fundamentalist teachings.It's a problem addressed in this article by Sherry Colb:
Tolerance is a secular value that is, for many religious people, a blessing that ideally allows everyone to practice and believe as she wishes without being persecuted for it. Indeed, many people have immigrated to this country to escape religious orthodoxy and associated oppression (ranging from second class status to outright genocide) elsewhere. When religious people view tolerance as their friend, then there is no conflict. "Live and let live" allows everyone to thrive, provided that those whose lifestyles differ do not interfere with one another's freedom.The authors of the FRC/Liberty Institute report would, I believe, reject Colb's interpretation. They've collected a host of incidents and court cases based on the opposite premise, namely that tolerance, that pluralism and religious neutrality constitute attacks on faith. This struggle won't stop any time soon. When a group of Americans perceive religious neutrality as open hostility, the problem isn't going away. We need to hold the line - insisting on religious neutrality in the public square, defending the wall of separation, while recognizing that religious conservatives are struggling with it. We can react with compassion without needing to compromise a core principle of American history, politics and governance. We live in a deliberately secular state, one which prohibits religious tests for public office and one which prohibits a state religion.
The conflict arises when one's religious faith requires vocal and active intolerance of behavior that is otherwise accepted (or at least permitted) in the surrounding society.[snip]
The best solution is to act as HP did and to encourage such actions, as the Ninth Circuit did, by dismissing the plaintiff's case on summary judgment. Both represent an embrace of tolerance over religion when the two conflict irreconcilably.
Religion indeed has a special place in our nation's history and constitutional traditions, and it has a similarly significant role in preserving freedom more generally. But part of that history is an objectionable practice of elevating Christianity in general, and Protestant approaches in particular, above all else.
Many non-Christians in the U.S. - whether adherents of other religions or secularists - tire of the arrogance with which some devout Christians attempt to force their views of right and wrong on the rest of the population. Tolerance may ultimately be antithetical to the absolutism that often animates strong religious commitments. But to the extent that it is, absolutism must give way to the rights of other law-abiding citizens to exist and flourish as equals in our society.
We don't need to apologize and we need to keep emphasizing that the religious neutrality that our fundamentalist friends dislike so intensely is the same religious neutrality that empowers them to believe as they wish to believe without government interference.