Before we jump into the actual content of this post, let me make you, my readers, a promise: one new article every week. I'll publish something new every Wednesday, which is the best time for me because I'm least likely to have a game to call on Wednesdays during any given sports season. I've been wanting to make this more of a regular thing for a long time now -- which you can tell by my repeatedly saying so every time I randomly feel moved to write -- but I haven't been able to put myself under a deadline out of sheer hatred for deadlines. However, that's the only way my posting regularity is going to improve, so from here on out, you'll be able to check back every Wednesday for a new post. You'll still be able to see my spur-of-the-moment posts on Facebook, but I'll go more in-depth here.
Now, on to the actual content, won't we?
Who's Impeding Your Religious Freedom, Anyway?
State Senator Mike Shirkey doesn't seem to have a very tight grasp on the reality surrounding him and his Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Coming on the heels of an enormous nationwide backlash against a horrendously flawed piece of similar legislation in Indiana, as well as one that didn't pass in Arkansas for the very same reasons why the Indiana law was amended after its passage, he appeared to be standoffish and smug in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, and even moreso in an interview afterward (the snide look on his face as he turns away from the camera at the end doesn't help).
Now, I've read the bill itself, and it's not the same as the Indiana or Arkansas bills. The latter two included language that specifically allowed for defense of discrimination under religious pretenses in court, and the Indiana bill was particularly egregious in that it granted corporate personhood for the express purpose of allowing businesses to use that tactic. Those two bills were written specifically to allow discrimination against the LGBT community in light of the nation's shift toward legalizing same-sex marriage. Michigan's RFRA does not contain any of that language. It is very much along the lines of the federal RFRA that was deemed unconstitutional only because the federal government does not have the authority to make such a law governing state governance outside of the Constitution. That fact is ostensibly why Shirkey has been pushing for the bill's passage. He claims that such a law is necessary in order to protect religious freedom from being impeded by government action.
...Except, you know, we already have that protection in Article 1 of the Michigan Constitution and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. If a case goes to court and it's a question of religious freedom, we already have the law in place and the standard of measure by which it is to be upheld. Further legislation is unnecessary.
And besides, exactly who is having their religious freedoms being substantially and unduly burdened by any level of government in the State of Michigan? I dare Mike Shirkey to name just one person who has recently or is currently facing a case of undue government burden in regard to their religious freedoms. Just one. If this bill is truly necessary, it shouldn't be hard for him to do.
No, the timing of all of this is no coincidence -- and not only because coincidence doesn't exist, but also because it's just plain painfully obvious. Do you know when the Supreme Court ruled that the federal RFRA was unconstitutional? June 25th, 1997. Nearly eighteen years ago. Why is this all of a sudden an issue now? Not only for Shirkey, but for any of the states currently attempting to pass this type of legislation? Certainly if it had been so important in 1997, states would have overwhelmingly begun passing it then. But they didn't. In fact, only 17 states passed RFRA's in the seventeen years between the 1997 Boerne v. Flores decision and the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, the latter of which is widely regarded to be the turning point for allowing corporate personhood language in such bills. If it were so pressing an issue, you'd think that number would be more like 37... which happens to be the number of states that, as of this writing, now recognize same-sex marriage. Some of those states have even done both (even if most of them had to be forced to do the latter by court order), and amazingly enough, the world has not ended.
And that's just the point here. Shirkey is smugly attempting to fly into the wind with this bill, the motivation quite clearly being to provide an open door for the courts to allow discrimination on a religious basis, despite the fact that he claims otherwise. The bill doesn't allow it explicitly, but it doesn't have to. All it takes is one case in which the court rules that a city ordinance requiring a landlord to rent to, say, a transgender woman and her wife, is an undue burden in violation of the landlord's religious freedom, and boom! All of a sudden, we have statewide legal precedent for legalized housing discrimination against the LGBT community on the basis of religious freedom. And it doesn't stop there! Who's to say the concept can't be applied to black tenants? (Oh, yes, that would happen in certain areas of this state!) Or, say, military veterans? What, you don't think anyone has religious objections to war or those who participated in one?
That's Shirkey's plan.
See, if this were truly about religious freedom, he would simply add the same type of language Indiana added to their law after the outcry became too harmful to dismiss. It would plainly and clearly state that this legislation is not to be used by anyone to discriminate against anyone else. Indiana's law names specific protected classes, but that's really not necessary. Just have the bill say that this legislation does not allow any person to discriminate against any other person, and that would be fine.
But Shirkey won't do that. Because this bill is not about religious freedom. It's about legalized discrimination. And he knows it.
If that language were to be added to the bill, I would have almost no problem with it. Granted, it's unnecessary legislation, which I generally oppose, but apart from the one loophole, it's not particularly harmful unnecessary legislation, it's simply unnecessary legislation. But that's one hell of a big loophole, and it needs to be closed.
Which is why Governor Snyder is wise to state with certainty that he will veto this thing if it's not accompanied by an Elliott Larsen amendment. Which the Republicans who want the RFRA passed will not stand for. I'm not in favor of an Elliott Larsen amendment, either... though for much different reasons. The social conservatives oppose it because it would include TEH GAYZ! (*gasp!*) among people we'd actually have to consider as people despite our prejudices. I oppose it because we don't need protected classes at all thanks to the "all persons" and "any person" wording in the 14th Amendment. But if that's what's going to stop the RFRA from being enacted into law, then I applaud Nerd Boy for making it a requirement for his signature.
Because, honestly, after all that time he spent refusing to do his job and call off Bill "The Will of the People" Schuette's persecution of same-sex couples, Snyder needs some serious repair done on his civil rights record. If this is going to be the place that starts, it's a damn good one.
Hopeless in District 58
FULL DISCLOSURE: My stepfather is Brad Benzing, one of the several candidates who ran against eventual State Representative Eric Leutheuser, and I was involved in Brad's campaign. That said, these opinions would be exactly the same if Brad had not run at all.
Adoption is not an issue that needs to be made political. Adoption is not an issue that needs to be made divisive on religious grounds. And yet, Eric Leutheuser and his cohorts have, in both ways, made it one.
In what is notably the very first piece of legislation Leutheuser has ever introduced in the entirety of his political career (which began with his occupation of this office), he has managed to not only set foot firmly in big-government territory, but he is making the exact same mistake that Spring Arbor University and the Department of Education made in allowing Title IX exemptions while continuing federal funding.
The simple rule of thumb should be this: if you wish to discriminate against qualified people who want to adopt children, you will not receive state funding with which to do it. If you wish to receive state funding for your adoption services, you will not discriminate against qualified people. That could mean same-sex couples, atheists, or anyone who happens to fit the reasonable standards necessary to qualify for placement. This is not rocket science: if you want taxpayer dollars for your social service, you don't discriminate. Simple as that.
But this bill allows for exactly the opposite. It allows for religious discrimination in state-funded adoption. And it's contradictory in its language, at that. It specifically states that the state cannot act against an adoption agency's free exercise of religion, and despite the subsequent language that claims this does not intend "to limit or deny any person's right to adopt a child or participate in foster care," what the hell else could it possibly mean? In what way would the state be seen as violating the religious rights of an adoption agency other than if they said "we're not giving you money because you turn potential parents away on religious grounds?" That's the only situation in which the state would have any reason to deal with adoption agencies in regard to their religious practices!
Besides, how exactly does this benefit the children? We all know that everything in politics is always done for the children. What children are benefiting from not being adopted? What children are going to be thankful down the road that Leutheuser took away their chance to be adopted into a loving family? Because that's exactly what this bill will do: prevent orphans from being adopted by loving prospective parents who want to nurture and care for them. Does that seem like a good thing to Rep. Leutheuser?
The most ironic thing about all of this is that, in my above-linked article about the Spring Arbor idiocy, I referred to the difference between SAU's acceptance of federal money and Hillsdale College's rejection of it. As Leutheuser has many ties to Hillsdale -- as do I -- it's rather surprising that he has rejected that principle. Hillsdale does not accept any federal money at all, and yet its endowment, funded entirely with private money, is far larger than Spring Arbor's. Hillsdale is the measure of success in that regard. So wouldn't it stand to reason, then, that private adoption agencies would do far better jobs without state money and oversight? Why give them a codified pardon for using my money and yours to turn away qualified loving couples who want children simply because they happen to be two people of the same sex? Wouldn't these adoption agencies be able to raise enough private funds to operate if such discrimination were truly the right thing to do?
Aye, there's the rub!
Discrimination is not profitable, and Hillsdale College is well-known for being the very first in North America to put in its charter -- all the way back in 1844 -- that they will admit all races and sexes. The football team even refused to play in a national bowl game because the officials wouldn't let the black players play. Hillsdale is successful, in part, because they don't discriminate, because they know it isn't the right thing to do. On the other hand, Spring Arbor has seen nothing but backlash over their Title IX exemptions... not to mention their previous run-in with discrimination.
If Leutheuser wants to build a career of getting Michigan's economy back on track as he claimed he did in the election, supporting public funding for discriminatory adoption practices is certainly an odd way of going about it, especially when it flies in the face of the very economic and social principles of an institution he's linked to, an institution world-renowned for its conservative political influence.
And as I said: I have ties to said institution, as well, so I have a vested interest here. I don't want to see this reflect badly on Hillsdale College, which it very well could.
Look, I know the guy. He's got his political positions and I have mine. Some of them line up and some of them don't. And that's fine. But this is just plain terrible legislation, and he ought to be ashamed. It's discriminatory, it's religiously motivated, it perpetuates big-government policies, and as with the RFRA, it's just plain unnecessary. It is everything that is wrong with the Republican Party today, and with it, our state representative here in District 58 has made himself the poster boy for big-government social conservatism at the state level.
So how 'bout that economy, huh, Eric?