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March 31, 2015 4

Governor Pence’s Empty Defense of Indiana “Religious Freedom” Law

Indi­ana Gov­er­nor Mike Pence is receiv­ing national back­lash for sign­ing a so-called “reli­gious free­dom” law that is caus­ing major cor­po­ra­tions to rethink their activ­i­ties in his state.  The Gov­er­nor claims there is a “tremen­dous amount of mis­in­for­ma­tion and mis­un­der­stand­ing” about the law, which many are call­ing a license to dis­crim­i­nate. Yet he has repeat­edly refused to answer the sim­ple ques­tion: does the law legal­ize dis­crim­i­na­tion?  He likely won’t, because the hon­est answer is “yes.”

Michael Pence, Governor of Indiana

Michael Pence, Gov­er­nor of Indiana

Civil rights orga­ni­za­tions do not stand alone in their strong oppo­si­tion to this law.  In the 5 days since Gov­er­nor Pence signed Indi­ana Sen­ate Bill 101 into law, busi­nesses, sports leagues, and local and state gov­ern­ments have voiced their deep con­cern about the law and threat­ened action in response.

Two major busi­nesses have already restricted their Indi­ana oper­a­tions.   Salesforce.com announced that it will “dra­mat­i­cally reduce [its] invest­ment” in Indi­ana, will can­cel pro­grams that would require its cus­tomers to travel to Indi­ana, and may even help its employ­ees move out of state.  Angie’s List halted plans for a $40 mil­lion expan­sion in Indianapolis.

The gov­er­nor of Con­necti­cut, as well as may­ors of San Fran­cisco and Seat­tle recently announced plans to bar publicly-funded travel to Indi­ana.  Even Indi­anapo­lis Mayor Bal­lard sharply crit­i­cized the law. And other major busi­nesses and groups are also express­ing con­cern.  Apple Chief Exec­u­tive Tim Cook expressed deep dis­ap­point­ment with the new law, and the Indianapolis-based NCAA said the law could lead it to move events out­side of the state.

The NBA, WNBA, and NFL also voiced con­cern.   Just yes­ter­day, CEOs of nine major cor­po­ra­tions, includ­ing Eli Lilly and Co., Roche Diag­nos­tics, and Indi­ana Uni­ver­sity Health, hand deliv­ered a let­ter to Gov­er­nor Pence, the Sen­ate Pres­i­dent and the Speaker of House stat­ing that they are they are “deeply con­cerned about the impact [the law] is hav­ing on our employ­ees and on the rep­u­ta­tion of our state …” and urg­ing them “… to take imme­di­ate action to ensure that the Reli­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act will not sanc­tion or encour­age dis­crim­i­na­tion against any res­i­dents or vis­i­tors to our state by anyone.”

In 2014, the Ari­zona leg­is­la­ture passed a sim­i­lar “reli­gious free­dom” law.   But under pres­sure from the civil rights com­mu­nity and busi­nesses such as Amer­i­can Air­lines, Google and the NFL, Gov­er­nor Jan Brewer wisely vetoed the ill-advised legislation.

Gov­er­nor Pence, how­ever, con­tin­ues to defend the law and argues it is just like the fed­eral Reli­gious Free­dom Act (“RFRA”) and other sim­i­lar state laws that have been on the books for years.  It’s not.

Although the new Indi­ana law never men­tions sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or dis­crim­i­na­tion, it effec­tively allows all Indi­ana busi­nesses, except per­haps large, pub­lic cor­po­ra­tions, the right to dis­crim­i­nate against the LGBT com­mu­nity and oth­ers under the cloak of “reli­gious free­dom.”  The law does so by pro­vid­ing them with a pow­er­ful and vir­tu­ally insur­mount­able religious-based defense to any state or local civil or crim­i­nal law.

In con­trast, the fed­eral RFRA only applies when an actual gov­ern­ment entity “sub­stan­tially bur­dens” reli­gious exer­cise and is a party to a sub­se­quent legal pro­ceed­ing.  Fur­ther­more, prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s deeply trou­bling Hobby Lobby deci­sion, RFRA was under­stood as only pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tions to indi­vid­u­als and reli­gious insti­tu­tions – and not for-profit, closed corporations.

So what does this mean in prac­ti­cal terms?  For exam­ple, let’s say that a gay cou­ple goes to tuxedo rental store to try on and reserve gar­ments for their wed­ding.  Based on the new “reli­gious free­dom” law, the owner refuses ser­vice to the cou­ple, claim­ing that serv­ing them would “sub­stan­tially” bur­den his or her reli­gious beliefs.  At this point, the cou­ple might seek a legal rem­edy.   Of course, law­suits are pro­hib­i­tively expen­sive and take years to resolve, so most denials of ser­vice will go unchallenged.

But even if the cou­ple chooses to bring a law­suit under Indi­ana law, they would have an uphill fight to meet the rel­e­vant legal stan­dard  “strict scrutiny.”   Lit­i­gants who must prove this stan­dard usu­ally lose.  Because fed­eral and Indi­ana state law do not pro­vide anti-discrimination pro­tec­tions based on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity,  the LGBT com­mu­nity is the most vul­ner­a­ble to the “reli­gious free­dom” law.   But the law also could be raised as a defense to legal actions brought by cou­ples who are denied ser­vice because of their reli­gion, eth­nic­ity or national origin.

Dur­ing the civil rights move­ment, efforts by busi­nesses to cloak dis­crim­i­na­tion against African Amer­i­cans in the guise of “reli­gious free­dom” were ulti­mately defeated because our nation’s true reli­gious free­dom pro­tec­tions were never intended to be used as a sword to harm oth­ers.  But the new Indi­ana law does just that by allow­ing for-profit busi­nesses to use reli­gion as a vehi­cle to dis­crim­i­nate in the mar­ket­place.   Undoubt­edly, as long as it remains on the books, this law will fur­ther dam­age Indiana’s rep­u­ta­tion and economy.

With a month left in its 2015 leg­isla­tive ses­sion, the Gov­er­nor would be wise to push for a repeal of this odi­ous law.

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August 28, 2014 3

Ferguson = Gaza: Manufacturing A False Comparison

gaza-ferguson-new-york

Pro­test­ers on the Man­hat­tan Bridge

See also: Fer­gu­son = Gaza: The Con­tin­ued Invo­ca­tion Of A False Comparison

As events in Gaza and high pro­file police bru­tal­ity cases have con­tin­ued to dom­i­nate recent head­lines, a num­ber of groups and indi­vid­u­als have tried to find a con­nec­tion between these unre­lated events in an attempt to bring atten­tion to their activism.

Sev­eral anti-Israel groups have couched their hos­til­ity towards Israel in social jus­tice terms by link­ing the con­flict in Gaza to the events in Fer­gu­son in an attempt to appeal to a broader base of sup­port. For example:

  • Brook­lyn Col­lege Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine adver­tised a Sep­tem­ber 2 event on Face­book: “From Fer­gu­son to Pales­tine, racism, injus­tice and human rights vio­la­tions are being com­mit­ted against peo­ple of color.”
  • The Ohio Pales­tine Sol­i­dar­ity Group spon­sored an August 25 demon­stra­tion at Ohio State University’s African Amer­i­can and African Stud­ies Com­mu­nity Exten­sion Cen­ter, “to show our love and sup­port for mem­bers of our Colum­bus com­mu­nity who have lost inno­cent loved ones in Gaza in recent Israeli attacks, to stand in sol­i­dar­ity with Michael Brown, John Craw­ford, and vic­tims of racism and police bru­tal­ity all over the US…”
  • At protests in Oak­land on August 23, anti-Israel pro­test­ers report­edly shouted, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” co-opting the chant used at Fer­gu­son protests
  • An adver­tise­ment for an August 22 Indi­ana Pales­tine Sol­i­dar­ity event on Face­book read: “The dis­re­gard and dis­re­spect for black bod­ies and black life is endemic to the white suprema­cist sys­tem that rules the land. Your strug­gles through the ages have been an inspi­ra­tion to us as we fight daily for the most basic human dig­ni­ties in our own home­land against the racist Zion­ist regime that con­sid­ers us less human.”
  • On August 20, the Pales­tin­ian BDS National Com­mit­tee issued a state­ment say­ing, “We rec­og­nize those tac­tics being used in Fer­gu­son and the men­tal­ity behind them…the meth­ods of unbri dled vio­lence and con­trol being used by secu­rity forces are all too famil­iar to Pales­tini­ans liv­ing under Israel’s decade-old occupation.”
  • On August 20, pro­test­ers on the Man­hat­tan Bridge chanted, “From Fer­gu­son to Pales­tine, occu­pa­tion has got to go.” At least one pro­tester held a sign that read “We are FERGUSON We are GAZA, because We are Human.”
  • In an August 20 press release, Jew­ish Voice for Peace stated, “We rec­og­nize that the devalu­ing of African-American lives built into the fab­ric of US gov­ern­ment and soci­ety is mir­rored in Israel’s unequal treat­ment of Palestinians…It’s also not sur­pris­ing to see the sim­i­lar­ity in the tac­tics and tech­nolo­gies of repres­sion against those who are ris­ing up non­vi­o­lently in both places.”
staten-island-israel-gaza-ferguson

Protest in Staten Island

While some are sim­ply try­ing to rouse sup­port for an anti-Israel agenda by attract­ing like-minded activists, oth­ers have gone so far as to imply that Israel is to blame for the vio­lence in Ferguson.

This alle­ga­tion sur­faced in a tweet by Trita Parsi, head of the National Iran­ian Amer­i­can Coun­cil (NIAC). On August 14, Parsi tweeted, “Won­der­ing why the exces­sive police vio­lence? Here’s a guess: #Fer­gu­son police chief got train­ing in Israel…#Gaza.” An August 15 arti­cle from San Fran­cisco Bay View titled “Israel-trained police ‘occupy’ Mis­souri after killing of Black youth” echoed this sentiment.

Sim­i­lar com­par­isons have appeared at protests regard­ing other high pro­file police bru­tal­ity cases, such as at an August 23 rally call­ing for jus­tice in the death of Eric Gar­ner, who was unarmed when killed by an NYPD offi­cer ear­lier this sum­mer. Among the posters seen at the protest were “Google It!!! Israel trains the NYPD.”

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December 6, 2013 28

In First Appearance After Heart Attack, Farrakhan Continues Anti-Semitism

Nation of Islam (NOI) leader Louis Farrakhan’s first pub­lic appear­ance after suf­fer­ing a heart attack fea­tured a num­ber of anti-Semitic claims about Jew­ish con­trol over the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment, Black orga­ni­za­tions and other sectors.farrakhan-indiana-heart-attack

Dur­ing his Decem­ber 1 speech at the Indi­ana Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in Indi­anapo­lis, Far­rakhan revealed he was hos­pi­tal­ized approx­i­mately two months ago due to a heart attack. When Far­rakhan was unable to deliver his 2013 Holy Day of Atone­ment speech in Alabama in Octo­ber, the NOI orig­i­nally said he was hos­pi­tal­ized for “an infection.”

In his speech, Far­rakhan bluntly stated his the­ory about who con­trols the U.S. gov­ern­ment: “…we’re gonna bring you up to speed. The Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment is under con­trol of the Zion­ists.” Far­rakhan went on to claim that the Jew­ish com­mu­nity has power over the NOI and other Black orga­ni­za­tions. “It’s not that I’m against the Jew­ish peo­ple. That’s just false…They have such power and influ­ence that they made most of you believe that I’m against the Jew­ish people.”

He made sim­i­lar claims about the NAACP, stat­ing “You mem­bers of the NAACP, you want to put on a march to Wash­ing­ton but you don’t have no money, so who do you go to? You go to phil­an­thropists, many of them are Jew­ish.” He con­tin­ued, “They tell you who you can have speak­ing. And they told you don’t have Far­rakhan. And you couldn’t say a damn thing because it wasn’t your money it was theirs.”

Far­rakhan also described send­ing a copy of the NOI’s anti-Semitic book, The Secret Rela­tion­ship between Blacks and Jews, which alleges dis­pro­por­tion­ate Jew­ish involve­ment in the slave trade, to the “pres­i­dents of all the major Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions” as well as some Jew­ish pub­lic offi­cials. This is not the first time Far­rakhan has done so. The let­ter stated that the pur­pose of send­ing the book was to appeal to Jews who are “sit­ting on top of the world in power with riches and influ­ence while the masses of my people…are in the worst con­di­tion of any mem­ber of the human fam­ily” to con­vince them to repair the “dam­age that has been done by your ances­tors to mine.”

The crowd applauded as Far­rakhan read the last line of the let­ter which claimed that if the Jews do not “make the wise and best choice,” that God “will bring you and your peo­ple to dis­grace and ruin and destroy your power and influ­ence here in Amer­ica and through­out the world.”

Also in the ser­mon, Far­rakhan com­pared the Jews of today to those of Jesus’ time, claim­ing both had dis­pro­por­tion­ate influ­ence over the gov­ern­ment. “Did you know the Jesus had a real prob­lem with the Jew­ish com­mu­nity? They had power, the rab­bis of that day, over the Roman author­i­ties just as they have power today over our gov­ern­ment,” he alleged.noi-rg-9-11-israel-tweet

Farrakhan’s bla­tantly anti-Semitic pub­lic state­ments are just one part of the NOI’s larger anti-Jewish pro­pa­ganda cam­paign. The NOI Research Group (NOIRG), which cre­ated a web­site in 2012 that pro­motes vir­u­lently anti-Semitic con­spir­acy the­o­ries, tweeted and posted on Face­book a num­ber of times that Israel was behind 9/11, includ­ing most recently (Decem­ber 3) post­ing that “#Israel has an ugly his­tory of deadly false flag oper­a­tions, includ­ing 9/11….”

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