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April 3, 2015 6

Arkansas’ and Indiana’s Fixes to “Religious Freedom” Laws are Illusory

Arkansas’ and Indiana’s pas­sage of dis­crim­i­na­tory “reli­gious free­dom” laws was met with national back­lash from civil rights groups, the busi­ness com­mu­nity, and oth­ers.  Under intense pub­lic pres­sure, both state leg­is­la­tures made “fixes” to these laws, which their respec­tive Gov­er­nors promptly signed.   But these revi­sions are illu­sory and do lit­tle to mit­i­gate the harms of these laws.

Nei­ther of the orig­i­nal Arkansas or Indi­ana mea­sures men­tioned sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or dis­crim­i­na­tion. Under the guise of reli­gious free­dom, how­ever, both allowed busi­nesses and employ­ers to dis­crim­i­nate against the LGBT com­mu­nity, as well as against reli­gious and eth­nic minori­ties, by pro­vid­ing them with a vir­tu­ally insur­mount­able religious-based legal defense.Arkansas-StateSeal.svg

Pro­po­nents of these laws erro­neously claimed that they were mod­eled on the 1993 fed­eral Reli­gious Free­dom Restora­tion (“RFRA”).  That RFRA, which the Anti-Defamation League sup­ported, was much nar­rower and explic­itly designed to pro­tect indi­vid­u­als and faith-based insti­tu­tions’ reli­gious exer­cise from gov­ern­ment infringe­ment.   It was never meant to apply to for-profit enti­ties or pri­vate dis­putes, or to enable enti­ties to dis­crim­i­nate against indi­vid­u­als in the name of “reli­gious freedom.”

Indiana’s fix to its law pro­hibits busi­nesses from deny­ing ser­vices to cus­tomers based on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity.  And Arkansas’ revi­sion now tracks the lan­guage of RFRA and states that it should be inter­preted con­sis­tent with the fed­eral law.  While these fixes may make good media sound bites, they are misleading.

The revised Indi­ana law does not pro­vide statewide civil rights pro­tec­tions for the LGBT com­mu­nity or pre­vent its use to harm oth­ers.  Because the state does not have an inclu­sive anti-discrimination statute, and because the vast major­ity of Indi­ana cities and towns lack local civil rights pro­tec­tions for the LGBT com­mu­nity, busi­nesses and employ­ers remain free to dis­crim­i­nate on the basis of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity.   Even with this fix, the Indi­ana law still pro­vides a pow­er­ful religious-based defense to indi­vid­u­als and busi­nesses in civil and crim­i­nal actions, and infringes on the rights of oth­ers.  For exam­ple, a police offi­cer could refuse to pro­tect a casino, liquor store, phar­macy, butcher shop, lend­ing insti­tu­tion, or women’s health clinic.

Indiana-StateSeal.svg

The amended Arkansas law is per­haps more disin­gen­u­ous.  Although it is now con­sis­tent with RFRA, the U.S. Supreme Court’s deeply dis­turb­ing Hobby Lobby deci­sion expands RFRA’s pro­tec­tions to for-profit, closely held cor­po­ra­tions (rang­ing from small busi­nesses to nation­wide com­pa­nies like Hobby Lobby).  And a 1999 fed­eral U.S. Court of Appeals deci­sion applic­a­ble to Arkansas ruled that RFRA applies to pri­vate disputes.

So a fam­ily owned busi­ness, large or small, can invoke the new law’s pow­er­ful defense in vir­tu­ally any civil action, includ­ing claims of dis­crim­i­na­tion or wrong­ful denial of ser­vice, employ­ment or hous­ing.  Keep in mind, 96.6% of Arkansas’ employ­ers are small busi­nesses.  Trans­la­tion: the vast major­ity of Arkansas’ busi­nesses can use the law to deny ser­vices, employ­ment, and hous­ing to the LGBT com­mu­nity and other minori­ties.  Mak­ing mat­ters worse, Arkansas has no state-wide civil rights pro­tec­tions for the LGBT com­mu­nity, and it recently enacted another law bar­ring local gov­ern­ments from pro­vid­ing such pro­tec­tions for their residents.

To truly rem­edy the harm­ful effects of their so-called “reli­gious free­dom” laws, Arkansas and Indi­ana must enact statewide anti-discrimination pro­tec­tions for the LGBT com­mu­nity, insert addi­tional safe­guards against use of the laws to harm oth­ers, and limit their appli­ca­tion to indi­vid­u­als, reli­gious insti­tu­tions, and religiously-affiliated non-profits against gov­ern­ment action that sub­stan­tially bur­dens religion.

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April 2, 2015 9

AFA Radio Host Bryan Fischer Tweets Offensive Holocaust Analogy

Bryan Fis­cher, a radio host and blog­ger for the Amer­i­can Fam­ily Asso­ci­a­tion (AFA), tweeted an offen­sive Holo­caust anal­ogy on April 1. Fis­cher likened the tem­po­rary clo­sure of a restau­rant in Indi­ana, whose own­ers said they would refuse to cater a gay wed­ding, to Kristall­nacht, a vio­lent pogrom car­ried out by Nazi storm troop­ers in Ger­many and Aus­tria in 1938.  Kristall­nacht led to the destruc­tion of thou­sands of Jew­ish syn­a­gogues, homes and busi­nesses as well as arrests and the deaths of Jews and opened the door to the per­se­cu­tion and destruc­tion of Euro­pean Jewry. Fis­cher also blamed the restaurant’s deci­sion to close due to the public’s neg­a­tive reac­tion on the “Gay Gestapo.”

Bryan Fischer

Bryan Fis­cher

In Jan­u­ary 2015, the AFA dis­missed Fis­cher as a spokesper­son for the orga­ni­za­tion but he con­tin­ues to host a radio show for the AFA and to write blogs on the AFA web­site that demo­nize the LGBT community.

Fis­cher often invokes the Holo­caust to dis­cuss con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can polit­i­cal issues, par­tic­u­larly with regard to the LGBT com­mu­nity. He has made a num­ber of state­ments liken­ing LGBT activists to Nazis and con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tians to Jews who were per­se­cuted under Hitler’s regime. He also com­pared the Supreme Court to Nazis after it struck down the Defense of Mar­riage Act in 2013.

There is no com­par­i­son between cur­rent polit­i­cal issues and the actions of Hitler’s regime dur­ing the Holo­caust. Such inap­pro­pri­ate analo­gies only serve to triv­i­al­ize the Holo­caust and are deeply offen­sive to Jews and other sur­vivors, as well as those Amer­i­cans who fought valiantly against the Nazis dur­ing World War II.

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April 2, 2015 2

Hackers Directly Threaten Individual Israeli Citizens

As hack­ers pro­ceed with OpIs­rael, an annual anti-Israel cyber-attack cam­paign, AnonG­host, a promi­nent hacker group with an Islamic extrem­ist agenda claims that they are send­ing some Israeli cit­i­zens threat­en­ing mes­sages via var­i­ous mes­sag­ing apps includ­ing Face­book and What­sApp. These mes­sages include threats of vio­lence, vile lan­guage, and anti-Semitism.anonghost-opisrael

While these claims remain uncon­firmed, AnonG­host claims it acquired a large amount of per­sonal infor­ma­tion about Israelis includ­ing phone num­bers and Face­book accounts. The group dis­trib­uted a list of more than two hun­dred Israeli phone num­bers sup­pos­edly asso­ci­ated with What­sApp accounts and promised that there are more num­bers to be released on April 7, the offi­cial start date of OpIs­rael. Anony­mous hack­ers have also shared the list of What­sApp con­tacts obtained by AnonG­host on their social media platforms.

Hack­ers have also shared what appear to be images of threat­en­ing mes­sages they sent to Israeli cit­i­zens using What­sapp, includ­ing “All your Pri­vate con­fi­den­tial details are in our hands, includ­ing your phone number/Your Home….we will kill you all of the Jews/Israelian.[sic].”

Other images show that hack­ers sup­pos­edly have made phone calls to threaten Israelis using the free call­ing fea­ture on What­sApp. It is unclear at this point what was said dur­ing the calls, but sup­posed screen­shots of active What­sApp calls indi­cate that this most likely is another tac­tic to intim­i­date Israelis.

Muhammed Nazmi (aka Don­Nazmi), one of the lead­ers of AnonG­host, posted images of what appear to be sam­ples of mes­sages he sent to Israelis. Accord­ing to one  image, he ini­ti­ated a con­ver­sa­tion with an Israeli and once the Israeli responded, Nazmi sent a threat­en­ing mes­sage which included an image of an ISIS fighter with the cap­tion, “We are com­ing O Jews to kill you.” Under the image, a mes­sage reads, “I am Donnazmi[blurred] from AnonG­host Team. Send This Msg to your GOV Israel you bet­ter get ready to be pre­pared #opIs­rael 07/04/2015 is coming.”

Another image posted by Nazmi shows a mes­sage that includes what appears to be a per­sonal fam­ily pic­ture sent to a father with his chil­dren cir­cled in red and a cap­tion that reads, “I’ll stick a knife in their throats.”

Other hack­ers claimed that they hacked into Face­book chats with Israelis and posted images of con­ver­sa­tions in which they injected com­ments such as “F**K Israel.”

As this cam­paign against con­tin­ues, more Israelis will likely have to deal with such alarm­ing messages.

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