First up from the God Machine this week is a fresh look at a stale problem: so-called “religious liberty” proposals at the state level intended to accommodate anti-gay discrimination.
Last year, following the Supreme Court’s ruling bringing marriage equality to the entire country, several states took up measures to allow businesses and public agencies to deny services to same-sex couples on the basis of religious belief. Indiana had one of the highest profile fights, which generated international attention.
This year, as BuzzFeed reported yesterday, the number of states taking up the issue has actually gone up, not down.
At least 105 bills were filed so far this year, more than double the number in 2015, according to data from the American Civil Liberties Union.None of this year’s bills have become law – most legislative sessions are still in full swing – but bills in eight states have picked up momentum, from Oklahoma to Georgia. Several have passed out of committee, while others have passed out of the full house or senate.
While some of these measures are mild enough to be effectively meaningless – the article notes a proposal in Florida that “affirms” the right of houses of worship not to wed same-sex couples, a right that was unaffected by last year’s court ruling – the BuzzFeed piece also highlighted a variety of more aggressive bills, including a Georgia proposal that would “give individuals a legal defense if they refuse service based on a religious objection” and a Mississippi bill that intends to “protect someone who denies marriage-related goods or declines non-emergency medical services to a transgender person.”
Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU, was quoted as saying, “The pattern is crystal clear. These bills are all aimed at chipping away at the rights of LGBT people under the false guises of freedom and safety.”
Also from the God Machine this week:
* To improve religious literacy, Diane Moore, director of Harvard Divinity School’s Religious Literacy Project, and five other religion professors from Harvard University, Harvard Divinity School and Wellesley College “are kicking off a free, online series on world religions open to the masses,” the Huffington Post reported this week.
* I’m sure it seemed like a good idea to the AFA at the time: “The American Family Association (AFA) has quietly removed from its website a map that attempted to document organizations that supposedly persecuted Christians. One year ago, the Tupelo, Miss.,-based group that is best known for obsessively tracking the non-existent ‘war on Christmas’ and for being anti-gay, launched a map that purported to illustrate the locations of a myriad of organizations that are anti-Christian; in reality, they were mostly groups that simply disagreed with AFA.”
* Quite a sight: “Hundreds of Buddhist monks gathered together in Thailand on Monday, in honor of one of the most important Buddhist festivals of the year: Makha Bucha….. In Thailand, Makha Bucha is marked with a massive lamp lighting ceremony at the Wat Phra Dhammakaya Temple, the world’s largest Buddhist temple, located in a province north of Bangkok. Participants form long, straight rows around the golden dome of the temple and participate in meditations.”
* I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry: “[Friday], on ‘The 700 Club,’ Pat Robertson said that viewers can be healed by his television program even when they aren’t watching it live. During his show, Robertson typically dedicates a segment to calling out different healings or financial rewards that must be claimed by faithful viewers in order to work.”