Experts and Advocates Condemn Discrimination Disguised as Religious Freedom

Uncategorized 03.21.16

WASHINGTON – Earlier today, experts, civil rights leaders and a member of Congress hosted a press call to condemn the “religious freedom” arguments used to justify discrimination in state-based legislation and in the upcoming Supreme Court arguments in Zubik v. Burwell.

On the call, The Leadership Conference Education Fund released an update to its recent report Striking a Balance: Advancing Civil and Human Rights While Preserving Religious Liberty, which documents how religious arguments have been used to justify discrimination against diverse communities including opposing the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage and equality, racial integration, inter-racial marriage, immigration, the Americans with Disabilities Act, same-sex marriage, and the right to collectively bargain.  Click here to access the report.

The call comes as more than 100 anti-LGBT bills—many attempting to create religious carve-outs for discrimination—have been introduced in states nationwide this year, and days before the Supreme Court hears arguments in Zubik v. Burwell, a case considering whether non-profits may use religion to justify denying employees health insurance that includes contraceptives.  

Quotes from the call’s participants are below.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund

“So-called ‘religious freedom’ bills like those introduced in Congress and in states nationwide, and similar arguments being used in Supreme Court cases like Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and this week’s Zubik v. Burwell, are attempting to twist these values into an ugly justification of bigotry. These arguments are not new. But they are dangerous. There can be no religious exemption from basic human dignity. And to wrap this bigotry in a false flag of religious liberty is the true abomination.”

Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce

“When RFRA was adopted in the early 1990s, it was supported by a broad bipartisan coalition and was intended to provide protection for religious minorities. Since the passage of the federal RFRA, 21 states have passed state RFRAs, and this activity in the states makes it clear that it is past time for Congress to reexamine the overreach of RFRA. That is why I filed an amicus brief in the Zubik v. Burwell case. I am concerned that RFRA is being used as a sword, and not a shield, to advance harm to the rights of others in the pursuit of another’s religious exercise.”

Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)

“Over the years, it’s become clear that the new crop of states that are interested in perpetuating these RFRA laws are motivated by an interest in discrimination. A lot of that discrimination will occur to the LGBT community, who are often the target of such legislation. These bills are not motivated by a true desire to protect religious minorities, but instead to allow an individual to claim their religious beliefs as a reason to poke holes in legislation designed to protect us all.” 

Gretchen Borchelt, vice president for reproductive rights and health at the National Women’s Law Center

“Women deserve insurance coverage of birth control no matter where they work. No woman should be denied the benefit she is entitled to as a matter of law because of her employer’s religious beliefs.”