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Florida Government Adds Fuel to Anti-LGBT fire.

It was only a month ago that 49 people were killed in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Forty-nine people shot dead by a hate-filled man seeking to terrorize the LGBT community.

Thoughts and Prayers

While the reactions to this have been as varied as the different groups responding, Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, and attorney general, Pam Bondi, were right out front with heartfelt pleas for the country to pay attention to them.

Bondi said that anyone who attacks anyone in our state will be “gone after” to the fullest extent of the law. Meanwhile Scott prayed to God and thought, seemingly very earnestly and briefly, about the victims themselves.

However, Scott refused to even acknowledge that gay people were the target of the attacks. When asked by Jake Tapper of CNN during an interview if he would be taking any special precautions for the gay community, he wouldn’t even acknowledge that they were the target. When Tapper asked what could be done to help the victims of the attack, Scott said, “Just pray. Pray for the victims. Pray for their families. Pray that this never happens again.” (Raw Story)

Then Bondi, who has said that gay marriage would “impose significant public harm,” bragged in an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN that she had established a hotline so that family members could get information about victims.

Cooper asked her if she thought it ironic that without legalized same-sex marriage the boyfriends and girlfriends of the victims would not even be able to get that information or visit them in the hospital. Bondi continues to stand by her anti-gay position. (MediaITE)

And so does the Florida State Legislature who passed a bill further marginalizing the LGBT community under the guise of protecting the not-at-all-endangered freedoms of religious institutions from the LGBT community.

Florida Protects Churches from the LGBTQ community.

On July 1st, House Bill 43 (HB 43), now Florida Statute (FL ST 761.061), became law. This law provides protection to churches from gay people suing them for discrimination.

Necessary background: In June of last year, the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage and declared any laws banning gay marriage unconstitutional and null. Since then, conservative state governments everywhere have been very publicly protecting it’s citizens from this latest war on religious values.

This stuff gets confusing…

In June of 2015, The Supreme Court decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, was announced and in the last year since gay marriage was legalized there have been no instances of rainbow bedecked hoards knocking down the doors of the local Southern Baptist church and demanding solemnization their union. As a matter of fact, we could not find a single case of a gay couple suing a church for discrimination from any credible source.

This is perhaps due to this clause in Obergafell:

“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”

In the same decision where the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, they also reaffirmed the separation of church and state.  Churches and pastors are and have been allowed to choose who they will or will not marry without the threat of a lawsuit.  Churches are also allowed to discriminate against people based on their gender, beliefs, and sexual orientation in hiring based on the “ministerial exception,” whereby it is accepted that churches are allowed to make their own rules about who they hire.

This bill does not only protect churches. It protects any religious organization or company or any individual working for any of the above.  This includes schools and charities affiliated with religious organizations who receive government money.

Even though there are charitable organizations who are not affiliated with religions or who specifically help the LGBTQ community, there are many small towns where the church is the only place that runs a soup kitchen or food pantry. What if the church food pantry makes hungry people sign an affidavit that none of the food they give you will go to a gay person? Sounds like a stupid image we conjured up to make this whole idea seem ridiculous, right? Catholic Charities did this in Illinois after receiving a tax funded grant.

What about the small towns where everyone knows everyone’s business?  Most people who can’t afford groceries also can’t afford to go to the next town to find a different soup kitchen.  This could work like the anti-trans bathroom bills and penalize straight people for seeming “too gay” as well as long as the discriminator has “deeply held religious beliefs.”

There is also the issue of adoption. Florida was the last state to allow gay and lesbian individuals and couples to adopt children.  It was only last session that the same legislature voted to overturn the ban on gay adoption, but now they want to empower religious adoption programs to discriminate under the guise of protecting religious freedom.

This means children who could have a loving LGBTQ home may instead stay in the foster care system so that conservative religious groups can discriminate.

Numerous studies show that it is damaging when children are denied a stable home and that children raised in gay homes are just as psychologically healthy as the ones raised in straight households.  There are hundreds of children who “age out” of foster care and have to live their lives with no family support and with very few resources.  Keeping even one of these children out of a loving home is criminal.  In addition, the state puts the burden of supporting those children on the taxpayers.  Even if a child is being cared for by a religious organization, they receive state funded programs like Medicaid, whereas, if they were adopted, the parent would be responsible for their care.

Section 2 of the bill prohibits civil suits based on religious discrimination, which would be bad enough, but it goes one step further and also bars state and local governments from withholding grants, government contracts, and any other funding from religious organizations that engage in discriminatory practices. It also specifies that the government cannot threaten to revoke tax exempt status from a religious organization if it engages in discriminatory practices.  Now, there is literally no possible consequence for religious groups who discriminate based on their beliefs.

The real kick in the religious freedoms

The fundamental problem with the conservative christian view of religious freedoms iss the continued idea that Christian values are at any risk merely because others are finally getting a chance to exercise their religious freedoms. If marriage is first and foremost a religious institution, then telling a group they cannot participate in this religious practice because they do not agree with the majority value system is the epitome of religious intolerance.

Thoughts and prayers?

We think it’s pretty clear at this point what they’re thinking about and what they’re praying for. Florida lawmakers understand the cultural impact of laws. By continually casting the LGBT community as villains, as a threat to religious freedom (rather than equal partakers of those freedoms), they continue to stoke the flames of hatred that lead to acts of violence, whether it be hate crimes in small towns or large metropolises like Orlando.

That’s an awful thing to do immediately after the deadliest shooting in recent history, to further antagonize the public against the group that was targeted.

The text of the bill:

761.061 Rights of certain churches or religious organizations or individuals.

(1) The following individuals or entities may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, or celebration of any marriage if such an action would cause the individual or entity to violate a sincerely held religious belief of the individual or entity:

(a) A church;

(b) A religious organization;

(c) A religious corporation or association;

(d) A religious fraternal benefit society;

(e) A religious school or educational institution;

(f) An integrated auxiliary of a church;

(g) An individual employed by a church or religious organization while acting in the scope of that employment;

(h) A clergy member; or

(i) A minister.

(2) A refusal to solemnize any marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges under subsection (1) may not serve as the basis for:

(a) A civil cause of action against any entity or individual protected under subsection (1); or

(b) A civil cause of action, criminal cause of action, or any other action by this state or a political subdivision to penalize or withhold benefits or privileges, including tax exemptions or governmental contracts, grants, or licenses, from any entity or individual protected under subsection (1).

History.—s. 1, ch. 2016-50.

Even worse, in this same session, they also let HB 120 die in committee.

The bill would have penalized employers, government agencies, landlords, etc for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  It, like Oberfefell, carved out a religious exception, but lawmakers apparently didn’t think it left enough room to discriminate against the gays, so they passed a whole law to codify their discrimination.  If the Supreme Court rules against them, conservative lawmakers exceptions to carve out as much space for discrimination as they can.  They then pass the cost on to taxpayers, regardless of their race, creed, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  This seems to be the only way that they can manage to treat us all equally.

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