Thursday, May 11, 2017

Freedom, Safety, & Equality for Whom?

Written by  Sage Piper

Dissecting Trump’s Executive Order

It has certainly been a year of mind-bending presidential perversities. Donald Trump continued the farce in a morning Rose Garden ceremony last week to officially celebrate “National Prayer Day.” As a group of conservative religious leaders gathered to serve as his smug and satisfied background props, Trump triumphantly signed the “Religious Freedom” executive order of 2017. Even before the ink had dried, many in the LGBTQ community drew a sigh of relief that the order did not contain the same language as the discriminatory draft which had been widely leaked in the media back in February. Thankfully, it does not single out specific anti-LGBTQ protections for repeal. However, in a move which targets women in general and lower-income working women in particular, the order does open the door to allow companies to deny employees access to contraception – this is the name of granting “freedom” to religious people.

So here stands the current situation: we are reduced to being grateful that temporarily at least, the conservatives in this country have not been given a sweeping license to discriminate directly against our community. But this relief is a fleeting one which could disappear today or tomorrow or next Thursday or the Thursday after that – because of the quiet but far-reaching directive which puts the Department of Justice in charge of issuing guidance when it comes to the protection of “religious liberty” in this country.

Indeed, the leader of the free world had the righteous audacity to look at the cameras and say this, with a straight face: “Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding, and the soul of our nation. We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced anymore.”

Since when have people of faith been the ones to be targeted, bullied, silenced ... and not to mention the victims of hate crimes? What kind of alternative universe are we allowing ourselves to be living in? Because this ceremony takes place in the Rose Garden, because Trump has been sworn in as president, because we are a democratic people who respect the results of the electoral college tally ... we are allowing ourselves to be subjected to this. We are allowing a situation where a day when our rights are not being swept away is labeled victorious. But in doing so we validate the very idea that our rights are capable of being taken away. I’m sorry, but in such a state, we are not free. We are not equal. We are not treated as real citizens. But surely, I digress...

So back to the two-page order, officially entitled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” It grants U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions the authority to interpret existing federal laws and regulations in a way that could all too easily result in sweeping discrimination against LGBTQ people. We need to be extremely vigilant, and proactively concerned.

The Human Rights Campaign reacted to the order with the following statement: “In essence, the executive order punts the question of how and where the administration will permit discrimination against LGBT people to Jeff Sessions, a man who has consistently denied LGBTQ people equality under the law ... This sweeping approach could result in an unprecedented expansion of religious exemptions affecting employment, services and programs.”

So, Attorney General Jeff Sessions will direct all federal agencies on how to interpret the concept of religious liberty? How is this not anything but a dire and dangerous situation for us, and for all marginalized communities? HRC’s Sarah Warbelow aptly describes it as letting a “fox into the hen house.” That’s the image we need to keep in our minds.

Will Jeff Sessions tell the Department of Health and Human Services to roll back hospital visits for same-sex couples? Will the Department of Housing and Urban Development, led by Ben Carson (who has made his beliefs on homosexuality all too abundantly clear) be given the wordless nod to hedge fair housing requirements for LGBTQ people? Will the word unofficially go out to workers at agencies like the Social Security Administration to not process survivor benefits for gay couples, if they have a religious objection? Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality believes that “this vaguely worded order is clearly aimed at providing a license to discriminate against LGBT people, women, religious minorities, and others,” even if it leaves the “dirty work” for others in the administration to figure out.

It does not take much imagination to see where this will lead.

On the other side of the spectrum, the conservatives were actually upset that Trump’s order did not do enough. There were rumblings from all corners that the president needed to remember the strength of the evangelical vote which helped propel him into the Oval Office. But then word came out from the minions. None other than Jeff Starnes, conservative author and Fox News commentator rallied the troops – it’s coming, he assured them, all in good time. “Do not be alarmed!” he exhorted on air excitedly. “I spoke to a conservative leader late last night instrumental in crafting the order. He tells me this is just the first step in a multi-step process, and he tells me President Trump will protect religious freedom for all Americans. Now this president has demonstrated he is a friend to people of faith, and at the end of the day, I have no doubt he will honor his word. Just have faith.”

The fox is in the henhouse, my dears.


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