Thursday, April 9, 2015

Disreputable Racist Genealogy of Anti-Gay "Religious Liberty" Arguments and Abdication of Pastoral Responsibility by U.S. Catholic Leaders: So Much for Healing the World

Ed Kilgore, who grew up in Georgia and knows whereof he speaks, points out that the current battle over "religious freedom" and the belief-based right to discriminate is déjà vu all over again: we Americans have been here before. We were here during the Civil Rights kerfuffle of the 1950s and 1960s — though anti-gay activists foam at the mouth when one suggests that they're carrying on today, vis-a-vis gay rights, the same gesture of religion-grounded defiance of civil rights for a minority group that energized the political and religious right in the mid-20th century.

Because, you see, the bible is clear about homosexuality. Whereas those who cited the same clear biblical text for centuries to deny rights to people of color were, well, wrong.

Kilgore writes, 

Like southern "Christian" segregationists in the recent past, today’s politicized conservative Christians are executing a strategic retreat into an allegedly private sphere where they are on stronger ground in resisting anti-discrimination policies. They intensely dislike the parallels on the grounds that hostility to gay rights and/or same-sex marriage in deeply entrenched in their faith, or in the case of conservative evangelicals, in the Bible. 
That is exactly what the segregationists said as well, of course.

Don't forget: it's this discriminatory "bible-based" stuff and nonsense that the U.S. Catholic bishops chose to hop into bed with in the final decades of the 20th century, while their cheerleaders in the Catholic media and academy, folks who claim to know better, declare that, while it was wrong to use religion to target people of color in the past,  the moral issues at stake in such civil rights discussions suddenly become ambiguous when gay folks are the target. When Catholics bless bigotry, they're not engaging in the same kind of bigotry in which those raw bigots on the other side of the church fences used to engage in their dealings with people of color . . . . 

This stinky, intellectually threadbare argument weaves its way repeatedly through the Supreme Catholic men's comments on the Hobby Lobby case, where the suggestion is repeatedly made that, if Catholics believe and do it, it can't possibly be wrong. Catholics are the good bigots, as opposed to those untutored bigots of the Southern states in the past, whose religious claims about a right to discriminate were simply wrong — because Catholics are, ipso facto, right when they choose to discriminate, you understand.

Astonishingly, this same kind of argument is also fully represented in articles, blog postings, and discussion threads in leading Catholic "intellectual" journals of the U.S. — in journals like Commonweal — where one contributor after another argues that there's an obvious distinction between the unrefined faith-based anti-integration bigotry of Southern evangelicals in the mid-20th century and the refined faith-based anti-gay bigotry of Catholic leaders of the 21st century. This argument so blindly refuses to look at the obvious historical precedents in play here, and at the possibility (or should one say, the probability?) that Catholics, too, can choose the wrong side of history's moral battles, that one has to wonder who catechized the current crop of U.S. Catholic intellectual leaders. And why they appear to imagine that they themselves are ideologically pure and free of any taint of bias, as they sit on their centrist perches above the fray, calling for continued "dialogue" that, they should have every reason to know, provides cover for those with power to inflict misery on a targeted minority group, and not for the members of that minority group — who are never invited into the conversation of these powerful Catholic centrists who define Catholic identity in the U.S. along with the bishops for whom they cheer.

Ed Kilgore's not the only person to whom such Catholic centrists might listen right now, re: the parallels between the approach to religious freedom they're defending in the case of gay rights, and the approach to religious freedom employed by conservative Southern white evangelicals in the 20th century. As Steve Benen wrote two days ago, Ted Cruz's proposal to strip federal courts of authority insofar as they defend the rights of LGBT citizens against a majority intent on denying rights harks back to a scheme concocted by the notorious racist North Carolina senator Jess Helms several decades ago re: the issue of prayer in public schools:

To be sure, this isn’t entirely new. Back in the 1980s, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) repeatedly tried to prevent federal courts from hearing cases related to school prayer. About a decade ago, Sam Brownback and Todd Akin (remember him?) worked on similar measures related to the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, the junior senator from Texas is dipping his feet in the same radical waters.  
Congress has never actually passed a court-stripping scheme – we can only speculate about the constitutional crisis it would invite – and it probably won’t start with marriage equality. But the fact that Ted Cruz, a presidential hopeful, would even endorse such an idea speaks to just how radical a senator he is.

Cruz's court-stripping scheme also echoes fiery statements of right-wing evangelical activist Matt Staver of Liberty University Law School, who has argued that the Supreme Court should be delegitimated — its power nullified — if it rules in favor of marriage equality.

As Zaid Jilani has recently noted,

For centuries, religion has been used and abused as a shield for harmful behavior, to justify everything from slavery to sexist violence to racism in the Jim Crow South. . . . [A] cursory review of the history shows that invoking religious preference to justify discrimination and oppression is a common tool. That's why although the Constitution guarantees your right to practice your religion as you see fit, it also prevents the government from using it to deny people rights. The current debates over religious liberty are hardly new, they are simply new cover for using religion to deny people rights, an old routine that harms both the church and the state.

And as Ian Millhiser reminded us last year,

Yet, while LGBT Americans are the current target of this effort to repackage prejudice as "religious liberty," they are hardly the first. To the contrary, as Wake Forest law Professor Michael Kent Curtis explained in a 2012 law review article, many segregationists justified racial bigotry on the very same grounds that religious conservatives now hope to justify anti-gay animus. In the words of one professor at a prominent Mississippi Baptist institution, "our Southern segregation way is the Christian way . . . . [God] was the original segregationist."

Isn't it interesting that the well-educated Catholic academics and journalists defending the bishops' "religious liberty" attacks on LGBT citizens of the U.S. seem to have no knowledge at all of this significant history, of how the concept of "religious liberty" has been abused in the past to attack minority groups — and how that history might just demonstrate to us that, when we get into bed with people abusing "religious freedom" arguments in the very same way today, we have chosen the wrong side of an historic battle for human rights?

(I'm grateful to Fred Clark at Slacktivist for the link to Ed Kilgore's article.)

The tikkun olam tatto at the head of the posting is at the Pinterest feed of a number of Pinterest users including Debra Wright. Several of these Pinterest pages point to a site identified as as its source, but the link to that page appears to be broken.

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