When it started, the recent attack on the rights of LGBTQ Americans appeared to be local or statewide matters. By now it's clear that it was coordinated nationally. The good news is that it appears to be losing, and one can only hope that this trend will continue. Wednesday a Texas judge struck down the state's ban on gay marriage. The highest profile loss has been Jan Brewer's veto of the Arizona 'Religious Freedom' bill. Laura Clawson has written about the high profile division this is creating within the GOP, and how as Brewer's veto got closer, even Arizona lawmakers who voted for the bill "all but sprinted away" from discussing their decision.
It's great news that the GOP is speaking out against attacks on gay rights, and that some legislators are ashamed of, or at least embarrassed by, their voting record. Unfortunately, it is all too often couched in economic terms (it will be bad for business) instead of human rights. And it's not over.
A dozen states are still trying to pass "Religious Liberty" measures, including Idaho:
There are two bills being considered. HB 426 would protect people making decisions out of religious convictions -- including denying service to someone. HB 427 gives people protection against legal claims made against them in cases involving religious convictions. If passed into law, the first bill would likely be vulnerable to constitutional legal challenges. Both bills could cause many disruptions to everyday life in the state, a state attorney general said in an article in the The Spokesman Review. HB 427 has been sent back to committee.But how is the attack being waged at the local level? When the Pocatello, Idaho city council was preparing to vote for the first time on the city's anti-discrimination ordinance last April, the vote was scuttled. The ordinance wasn't passed until June, when the vote could no longer be delayed.
How was it prevented the first time? It took some time for Pocatello residents to find out that it was engineered by Larry Fisher, the Regional Public Affairs Director for the LDS Church (the Mormons). According to the Idaho State Journal, Fisher contacted Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad about meeting with Jacki Pick, Senior legislative advisor for the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s American Religious Freedom Program (ARFP). On April 4, the day of the hearing on the proposed ordinance, Pick met all day with the council members, city legal staff members, two ministers and Fisher. It was apparently pretty important to the LDS church to block the ordinance, even after similar ordinances had been passed in Boise and other Idaho communities. Conveniently, notes were not taken in any of the five sessions city officials held with Pick on April 4. However, lunch was paid for at the city's expense.
This might be old news to some people in Pocatello. What is new is the role of Focus on the Family and ARFP in similar attacks across the country, which have not left even this small community unscathed. Clawson has also written about ARFP's role in writing the so-called Religious Freedom bill now being considered in Kansas:
According to the Wichita Eagle, the American Religious Freedom Program (ARFP)—which is part of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative organization founded in 1976—crafted the language for the Kansas bill. Brian Walsh, executive director of the ARFP, which supports religious freedom measures,acknowledges that his group consulted with the legislators on the bill, but he says that lots of other groups did as well: "We gave them suggestions and they took some of them." Walsh says that ARFP was contacted by legislators who wrote the Tennessee bill and that the group frequently talked to legislators in South Dakota about "religious freedom" but not the state's specific bill. Julie Lynde, executive director of Cornerstone Family Council in Idaho, one of many state groups that are part of Citizen Link, a branch of Focus on the Family, told Al Jazeera America, "We've been involved in working on the language" of the Idaho bill. Another member of Citizen Link, the Arizona Policy Center, has been active in supporting the Arizona bill. And the Oregon ballot initiative was proposed by Friends of Religious Freedom, a conservative Oregon nonprofit.A lot of Idahoans don't know that they have been forced into a coordinated attack on human rights engineered by a Washington, DC-based organization that has impacted Kansas, South Dakota, Arizona, Oregon, Tennessee and probably other states as well. Now a referendum on Pocatello's anti-discrimination ordinance is scheduled for this May in yet another attempt to attempt to do away with it.
These days there's a lot of talk about how dangerous 'Religious Freedom' measures will impact the economy. There needs to be a lot more talk about this as a human rights issue. But even allowing these measures to get as far as they are in order to satisfy a bigoted anti-gay minority is already wasting far too much time and too many tax dollars.