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Monday, January 22, 2018

Trump's HHS establishes an Office of Religious Bigotry

From Time Magazine:
New Trump Office Will Protect 'Conscience and Religious Freedom' Rights of Doctors

(WASHINGTON) — Reinforcing its strong connection with social conservatives, the Trump administration announced Thursday a new federal office to protect medical providers refusing to participate in abortion, assisted suicide or other procedures on moral or religious grounds.Leading Democrats and LGBT groups immediately denounced the move, saying “conscience protections” could become a license to discriminate, particularly against gay and transgender people.The announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services came a day ahead of the annual march on Washington by abortion opponents, who will be addressed via video link by President Donald Trump. HHS put on a formal event in the department’s Great Hall, with Republican lawmakers and activists for conscience protections as invited speakers…
"Conscience" and "Religious Freedom," 'eh?

Mother Jones reports:
The Trump Administration Just Gave the Craziest Justification for Allowing Doctors to Deny Care to Women and LGBT People
Cue inappropriate comparisons to the Holocaust and Martin Luther King Jr.

The Trump administration just made it easier for doctors to deny care to women and LGBT people. On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a new division devoted to “conscience and religious freedom” that will protect health workers who refuse to treat patients because of moral or religious objections—a move that critics fear could jeopardize access to birth control and abortion, hormone therapy for transgender people, fertility treatment for lesbian couples, or medications for HIV and AIDS.

In a press conference about the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, Roger Severino, a senior HHS official, said it was necessary to shield medical staffers who deny care on religious grounds, comparing their situation with that of Jews who were slaughtered during the Holocaust and Martin Luther King Jr. in his quest for racial justice…
UPDATE. From Wired:

WHEN MARCI BOWERS consults with her patients, no subject is off limits. A transgender ob/gyn and gynecologic surgeon in Burlingame, California, she knows how important it is that patients feel comfortable sharing their sexual orientation and gender identity with their doctor, trust and honesty being essential to providing the best medical care. But Bowers knows firsthand that the medical setting can be a challenging place for patients to be candid. That for LGBT people, it can even be dangerous.

"I know from talking with patients that they're often denied services, not just for surgery and hormone therapy, but basic medical care," Bowers says. "I've had patients show up in an emergency room who were denied treatment because they were transgender."

Experiences like these are what make the creation of a new "Conscience and Religious Freedom" division within the US Department of Health and Human Services so troubling. Announced last week by acting secretary of HHS Eric Hargan, the division's stated purpose is to protect health care providers who refuse to provide services that contradict their moral or religious beliefs—services that include, according to the division's new website, "abortion and assisted suicide."

But the division's loose language could leave room for physicians to provide substandard care to LGBT patients—or abstain from treating them altogether…
From The Atlantic:
When the Religious Doctor Refuses to Treat You
The Trump administration is making it easier for medical providers to object to procedures on religious grounds. Will patients suffer as a result?

In 2014, a 27-year-old nurse-midwife named Sara Hellwege applied for a job at Tampa Family Health Centers, a federally qualified health center. She was a member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a professional association that opposes abortion.

“Due to religious guidelines,” Hellwege wrote to the clinic’s HR director, Chad Lindsey, in an email, “I am able to counsel women regarding all forms of contraception, however, cannot Rx [prescribe] it unless pathology exists—however, have no issue with barrier methods and sterilization.”

In his response, Lindsey cited the health center’s participation in a government family-planning program, Title X, as grounds for rejecting her as an applicant. “Due to the fact we are a Title X organization and you are a member of AAPLOG, we would be unable to move forward in the interviewing process,” he wrote. The clinic did not, he added, have any positions available for practitioners who wouldn’t prescribe birth control.

Hellwege sued through the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group, on the grounds that a federally funded clinic should not be able to disqualify applicants because they “object to providing abortifacient contraceptives.”

The case settled, and on Thursday, Hellwege reappeared on the national scene: She spoke at the national press conference announcing the creation of a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at the Department of Health and Human Services…

The directly relevant Constitutional clauses:
Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment XIV
Section 1.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Roger Severino, Trump's HHS Director of its Office of Civil Rights, interviewed on NPR:
SEVERINO: Well, it comes down to the president's May 4, 2017, executive order, which was a turning point. He said that we're going to vigorously enforce federal law protecting religious freedom. He said, we're a nation of tolerance, and we'll not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore. And this is just a natural outgrowth of that. We have a lot of statutes and laws on the books that protect conscience. They protect religious freedom. They have not been enforced as they deserve to be enforced, and this is a crucial civil right that is now getting the attention that has been long overdue.
Google "Roger Severino HHS" -
"Mr. Severino was previously chief operations officer and legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty."
"Becket Fund."

The mind boggles considering where to begin with this autocratic/theocratic mendacity. Among other things, we will examine VP Pence's Indiana Senate Bill 101 (SB0101), which Mr. Piety eagerly signed into law while governor (I call it "The Christian Pizza Protection Act"), and "FADA" (HR 2802, the federal "First Amendment Defense Act"). I have dubbed this beaut "The Show-Your-One-Man-One-Woman-Marriage-License-At-Marriott-Checkin" bill).

Recall my mention of this back in December while commenting on the Trump Tax Cut bill Senate-House reconciliation draft:
The "Personhood at Conception / Unborn Child Tax Credit" provision in the House bill got removed -- “an unborn child means a child in utero, and the term child in utero means a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.“
Were Trump's Fundies able to re-write (and condense) Constitutional amendments, we'd simply get these:
Amendment I
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Amendment XIV
Section 1.
"No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, unless such privileges contravene the provisions of revised Amendment I."
Hey' we're "cutting government regulations. Let's just cut out that pesky 'free press' part of the First Amendment."
In short, the thrust of these kinds of unconstitutional forays is to subordinate the equal protection provisions of the 14th Amendment to the religion clauses of the 1st.
Donald Trump has made scant secret of his lust for infringing on inconvenient "free speech." to wit, as reported by the intrepid Marcy Wheeler recently reported regarding the recently renewed FISA law:
…it’s the unreviewable authority for Jeff Sessions bit that is the real problem.

We know, for example, that painting Black Lives Matter as a national security threat is key to the Trump-Sessions effort to criminalize race. We also know that Trump has accused his opponents of treason, all for making critical comments about Trump.

This bill gives Sessions unreviewable authority to decide that a BLM protest organized using or whistleblowing relying on Tor, discovered by collection done in the name of hunting Russian spies, can be referred for prosecution. The fact that the underlying data predicating any prosecution was obtained without a warrant under 702 would — in part because this bill doesn’t add teeth to FISA notice — ensure that courts would never learn the genesis of the prosecution. Even if a court somehow managed to do so, however, it could never deem the domestic surveillance unlawful because the bill gives Jeff Sessions the unreviewable authority to treat dissent as a national security threat...

With respect to this whole "religious liberty" thing and civil (including patient) rights, I am reminded of passages in Ann Neumann's brilliant book.

After the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Catholic and Evangelical leaders formed an alliance that had previously been unthinkable. Part backlash to the liberalizing politics of the 1960s and early 70s, part enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend, part trepidation at declining church enrollment and restructuring of the nuclear family, Catholics and Evangelicals found that their cooperation on so-called traditional values was a holy alliance. “This political and cultural realignment even helped melt divisions among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, as religious identity came to matter less than one’s moral and political positions regarding a host of key issues, including abortion, premarital sex, birth control, divorce, and homosexuality,” writes Petro in After the Wrath of God. It intertwined grassroots church networks, priests who were willing and able to pressure legislators, international influence (for example, in US health policy abroad, that excluded condoms or abortion access), media empires (from Trinity Broadcasting Network to Jim Bakker and Oral Roberts), and American religious fervor. Since the 1970s, the Christian Right has ebbed and flowed, with various organizational forces rising to prominence and falling apart. From Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, founded in 1979, to Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, founded in 1989, their “successes at political mobilization— pushing apolitical religious conservatives to become voters, voters to become activists, and activists to become candidates— have become woven into the fabric of our national political life, particularly within the GOP,” wrote journalist and scholar Frederick Clarkson, a senior fellow at Political Research Associates, on its website in 2013.

Rather than measure this group’s achievements by the number of politicians who have risen to power, Clarkson writes, “Its greatest success, in fact, has been somewhat under the radar: creating an institutional network that fosters young conservatives and encourages them to translate conservative ideas into public policy.” In 2009, prominent conservative Catholic and Protestant leaders signed the Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto declaring, “We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right— and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation— to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence.” (The entire text can be found online at

In the declaration’s formulation, legalized abortion is a keystone on which other issues like same-sex marriage, contraception, stem cell research, and euthanasia rest; the challenge to stop such corruptions can be understood through the study of the shifting definition of religious liberty in the United States.

According to Clarkson, these groups are invested in the “idea that those who favor reproductive choice and marriage equality are non-religious or anti-religious, and thus are prepared to trample the religious liberty of everyone.” Religious liberty is now being used as a defense of a religious ideology’s existing authority, at the expense of others’ diversifying worldviews and rights; it’s become an accusation that those who don’t agree with a particular frame are simply wrong, fallen, depraved, or misguided.

The early foundational idea of religious liberty— in theory, if not in practice— was meant to protect individual conscience, to prevent authoritative powers of any sort from dictating the religious beliefs of citizens. But as Clarkson writes,

The signers of the [Manhattan] Declaration cast themselves as patriots challenging “tyranny” in the tradition of the American Revolution and as warriors for social justice. While laying claim to the mantle of the Revolution is not new or unique to this group, the Declaration has ratcheted up the seriousness with which Christian Right leaders are treating the nature of the confrontation. “We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” they conclude. “But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”
By reinterpreting religious liberty (or stubbornly adhering to existing and/ or idealistic forms), the Manhattan Declaration and its signatories claim their moral values to be rightly privileged above all others. In an increasingly diverse country where a multitude of moralities— religious and otherwise— exist, “pro-life” organizations are brazenly working to shape laws, systems of power, and national conversations to their own beliefs...

Neumann, Ann. The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America (pp. 109-112). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
I've also had a good run at Ann's book here, on Medium. A must-read, IMO.

Again, stay tuned. I'm hardly done yet. There's much more to unpack here.


The crux of FADA (still a [for now dormant] bill, from the 114th Congress, not yet enacted):
SEC. 3. PROTECTION OF THE FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND MORAL CONVICTIONS.  (a) IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Federal Government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.
A transparent attempt to end-run the SCOTUS ruling on "marriage equality."

Pence's Indiana SB0101 comprises a much broader overreach:
  • "Religion" is anything the claimant says it is (and consequently not a federally unconstitutional "Establishment of Religion");
  • A protected "Religious Person" spans the gamut from actual persons through for-profit corporations;
  • The so-called "religious rights" are presumptive (though, tell it to Sikhs or Muslims, etc);
  • The state is required to come to the legal aid of "religiously burdened" claimants (e.g., Pizza shops or florists owned by Fundie "Christians").
I repeat:
VP Pence's Indiana Senate Bill 101 (SB0101) ... (I call it "The Christian Pizza Protection Act"), and "FADA" (HR 2802, the federal "First Amendment Defense Act" ... "The Show-Your-One-Man-One-Woman-Marriage-License-At-Marriott-Checkin" bill).
Decide for yourselves.


Need I really spell it all out?


I obviously don't think so. I (mostly) tend to choose my words with care. While I have no doubt of the frequently genuine -- if often inadequately reflective and rational -- moral convictions of numerous clinical "protectees" within the targeted purview of this HHS initiative, this new HHS undertaking is anything but that which might be characterized by the phrase "religious tolerance."

It is dispositively (and unconstitutionally) theocratically sectarian, transparently intended to circumscribe the civil rights of a breadth of marginalized cohorts (including those of women writ large).

More to come...

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