Is your head spinning from all the talk about religious exemptions these days? From ENDA to Hobby Lobby to state-level "turn away the gays" bills, that phrase is on the lips of everyone who works in, advocates for, or cares about LGBT civil rights -- no matter what side of the issue your beliefs fall on.
But what does it mean?
The Daily Beast's Jay Michaelson comes to the rescue with a piece called "Why Progressives Just Woke Up and Killed ENDA," which contains an incredibly informative primer on the different kinds of religious exemptions.
Michaelson talks about religious exemptions as a series of concentric circles, or levels, starting with churches and ministers and becoming increasingly more broad as they radiate outwards. Here's an overview:
Level 1: Churches, ministers, and Sunday School teachers. "Here," Michaelson writes, "almost no one disputes that some religious exemptions are justified." Indeed, no one wants to force clergy to marry any couple they don't want to marry, straight or gay. Everyone agrees that that would be an unacceptable breach of the wall of separation between church and state. Next?
Level 2: Religious organizations. Most people support some exemptions in this circle as well, Michaelson notes, "but not as many. If you're a church official working for your denomination, maybe. But what if you're a secretary or working in the cafeteria?"
Level 3: Religiously-affiliated organizations, such as Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, schools, universities, and charities. This is where the entire debate about Obamacare's contraception mandate took place, Michaelson points out (the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also falls under this category), and the administration's compromise widened the law's exemption to include all groups in this circle. ENDA's religious exemption falls into this circle as well.
Level 4: Private corporations whose owners are religious. The Supreme Court's ruling in Hobby Lobby widened the contraception exemption into this circle. And that leaves the right wing's wet dream:
Level 5: the individual exemption. It's a bigot's wet dream: anyone can discriminate against anyone else, as long as they claim that it's for religious reasons. Michaelson correctly describes this scenario as "pandemonium" for same-sex couples, who when going out on a Friday night, for example, "could be married at the movie theater but not at the bar afterward."
But it's that Level 5 exemption -- an unquestioned "right" to discriminate against anyone, at any time, because Jesus -- that the Religious Right so desperately wants. It's the quintessential special right and would be the ultimate form of Christian privilege.
And it's why we must stop them now, before they ever get the chance to obtain it.
Michaelson's article is well worth reading in full. Click here to check it out over at the Daily Beast.
"Quit Squirming" cartoon by artist Mike Ritter of the GA Voice.