Monthly Archives: December 2017

New Report Highlights Dangers of Religious Exemption Laws for LGBT Elders

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Friday, December 15, 2017

Subject:  New Report Highlights Dangers of Religious Exemption Laws for LGBT Elders

From: The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP), Columbia Law School

Contact: Liz Boylan | eboyla@law.columbia.edu | 212.854.0167

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[New York] The Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP) at Columbia Law School, and SAGE, the nation’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT elders, released a new report, Dignity Denied: Religious Exemptions and LGBT Elder Services. To download the report, visit http://www.lgbtmap.org/dignity-denied-lgbt-older-adults.

The report highlights the unique ways in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) elders are harmed by a growing number of laws and policies aimed at exempting religious organizations and individuals from following nondiscrimination and civil rights laws and policies.

By 2050, the number of people older than 65 will double to 83.7 million, and there are currently more than 2.7 million LGBT adults who are 50 years or older living across the country. LGBT elders face unique challenges to successful aging stemming from current and past structural and legal discrimination because of their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their age, and other factors like race. These risk factors are exacerbated by recent efforts at the local, state, and federal levels to allow those with religious or moral objections to be exempt from non-discrimination laws, leaving LGBT older adults vulnerable to increased risk for discrimination and mistreatment.

According to the report released by MAP, PRPCP at Columbia Law School, and SAGE, religiously affiliated organizations provide a majority of the services LGBT elders rely on for their most basic needs. LGBT older adults, like many older Americans in the United States, access a network of service providers for health care, community programming and congregate meals, food and income assistance, and housing, ranging from independent living to skilled in-home nursing. Approximately 85% of nonprofit continuing-care retirement communities are affiliated with a religion. Religiously affiliated facilities also provide the greatest number of affordable housing units that serve low-income seniors. Finally, 14% of hospitals in the United States are religiously affiliated, accounting for 17% of all the country’s hospital beds.

While many of these facilities provide quality care for millions of older adults, there exists a coordinated nationwide effort to pass religious exemption laws and policies, and file lawsuits that would allow individuals, businesses, and even government contractors and grantees to use religion as a basis for discriminating against a range of communities, including LGBT elders.

Dignity Denied: Religious Exemptions and LGBT Elder Services outlines myriad federal and state efforts to allow individuals, businesses, and organizations to opt out of following nondiscrimination laws as long as they cite a religious objection. While most providers will do the right thing when it comes to serving their clients, some will only do so when required by law. The report concludes that because so many service providers are religiously affiliated, these laws pose a considerable threat to the health and well-being of LGBT older adults.

In conjunction with the release of the report, a panel discussion is being held on Friday, December 15, at Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University featuring speakers from Center for Faith and Community Partnerships, The LGBT & HIV Project, American Civil Liberties Union, The Movement Advancement Project, The New Jewish Home, New York City Commission on Human Rights, Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, Columbia Law School, the Union Theological Seminary, and SAGE.

Watch the discussion live on SAGE’s Facebook page at SAGEUSA Facebook, starting at 12 noon on December 15. For more information about the event, visit http://www.utsnyc.edu/SAGE.

“This report and the amicus brief SAGE filed in the Masterpiece Cake case clearly demonstrate that personal religious beliefs should never be a license to discriminate against LGBT people or anybody else,” said Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE. “That’s why we are bringing together aging experts, religious leaders, and our elders, to expose the dangers that so-called ‘religious exemptions’ pose for LGBT elders who need care and services. We must not allow the door of a nursing home or other critical care provider to slam in LGBT elders’ faces just because of who they are and whom they love.”

“This important report reveals the many ways in which the privatization of elder services, largely to conservative religiously affiliated providers, leaves LGBT older adults no choice but to obtain care in facilities that do not welcome them,” observed Katherine Franke, Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Faculty Director of PRPCP at Columbia University. “The many LGBT elders who are adherents of faith-based traditions themselves suffer a special indignity when they are forced to seek care in settings that deny the dignity of both their LGBT identity and their faith-based beliefs.”

“LGBT older adults already are more likely to be isolated and vulnerable. It is unconscionable that state and federal governments are working to allow providers to deny critical health care services and vital social supports to LGBT older adults simply because of who they are,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project. “Imagine how much harder it would be to reach out for help if you knew the organizations that were supposed to help you could legally reject you, and the government would back them up.”

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The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) is an independent think tank that provides rigorous research, insight, and analysis that help speed equality for LGBT people. MAP works collaboratively with LGBT organizations, advocates and funders, providing information, analysis and resources that help coordinate and strengthen efforts for maximum impact. MAP’s policy research informs the public and policymakers about the legal and policy needs of LGBT people and their families.  Learn more at www.lgbtmap.org.

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School’s (PRPCP) mission is to bring legal academic expertise to bear on the multiple contexts in which religious liberty rights conflict with or undermine other fundamental rights to equality and liberty. We undertake approaches to the developing law of religion that both respects the importance of religious liberty and recognizes the ways in which too broad an accommodation of these rights threatens Establishment Clause violations and can unsettle a proper balance with other competing fundamental rights. Our work takes the form of legal research and scholarship, public policy interventions, advocacy support, and academic and media publications.

SAGE is the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults. Founded in 1978 and headquartered in New York City, SAGE is a national organization that offers supportive services and consumer resources to LGBT older adults and their caregivers, advocates for public policy changes that address the needs of LGBT older people, provides education and technical assistance for aging providers and LGBT organizations through its National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, and cultural competency training through SAGECare. Headquartered in New York City, with staff across the country, SAGE also coordinates a growing network of affiliates in the United States. Learn more at sageusa.org.

VIDEO: “Religious Exemptions 101: It Ain’t About the Cake”

Cross-posted to Medium

On Tuesday, December 5th, Professor Katherine Franke, Faculty Director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School, and Kira Shepherd, Director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project’s Racial Justice Program led a webinar with our project partners at Soulforce titled, “Religious Exemptions 101: It Ain’t About the Cake.

The webinar was presented on the day when oral arguments began in the Supreme Court case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  In a recent article, Professor Katherine Franke and Johnathan Smith note that “the case as raises the important question of whether businesses can rely on religious justifications in order to avoid compliance with state’s non-discrimination laws.”

Soulforce’s primary goal in hosting the webinar was to create an open “discussion on how the abuse of religious exemption laws by Christian Supremacy culture target all marginalized people – especially People of Color, LGBTQI people, Women, and religious minorities – and will impact all of our civil rights” and to brainstorm ways in which participants could “work [to] untangle the logic of Christian Supremacy – the logic that absolves those who abuse these exemptions of the moral consequences that come with their weaponized religions.”

A video of the webinar is available via Soulforce Media’s channel on Youtube at the link embedded below.  If you have trouble accessing the video at the link below, please paste the following URL into your browser bar to navigate to the video directly:  http://bit.ly/2Ba3NVG.

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project joins the #OpentoAll Campaign

Cross-posted to Medium and the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law Blog

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project and the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School are pleased to be co-supporters of the Open to All campaign.  Launched by the Movement Advancement Project in November, the Open to All campaign addresses how the engagement of #ReligiousExemptions by service providers to refuse service to persons on the basis of their religious beliefs undermines anti-discrimination laws in the United States.

The Open to All Campaign comes as the Supreme Court of the United States is hearing arguments in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop claims that he has a right to refuse service to persons on the basis of his religious beliefs, and that if he were required to bake and decorate a cake for a same-sex marriage, this would represent a substantial burden of his religious liberty rights.

Masterpiece Cakeshop, however, is about anything but cake: it is about an individual’s desire to be exempted from anti-discrimination laws in the United States, thereby upholding White Christian Supremacy in the United States over minority populations.  On its face, a decision in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop would be a boon for “religious liberties” in the United States, however, the precedent it would set is the privileging of a white Christian majority’s caprices over the rights of marginalized persons.

Professor Katherine Franke, Director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, and Faculty Director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project wrote on this issue with Johnathan Smith of Muslim Advocates in Slate on December 4th, noting, “A victory for Phillips would not only harm people of faith, but also those who value our nation’s commitment to religious pluralism and civic equality.”

The Op-Ed by Franke and Smith follows on the submission of an amicus brief in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in October of this year by the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project and Muslim Advocates on behalf of 15 community-based organizations.  The amicus argues that:

…non-discrimination laws, such as the Colorado law at issue in this case, often play an indispensable role in protecting the rights of religious communities. These laws serve as a critically important check against discrimination by businesses, employers, landlords, others; without such protections, individuals or groups—especially those outside the mainstream—would not be able to fully participate in civil society, and would be vulnerable to unjust persecution and harassment at every turn.

In following on the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project’s work in this arena, PRPCP and the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law are pleased to be parties to the “Open to All” campaign.  The campaign mission statement notes that:

Open to All is a nationwide campaign to help protect our nation’s nondiscrimination laws. These laws ensure that when businesses open their doors to the public, they serve everyone on the same terms. But these laws are under attack. Those who don’t want to follow nondiscrimination laws are trying to claim that their religious beliefs mean federal and state nondiscrimination laws should not apply to them—and they are also asking the Supreme Court to create a right to discriminate in our nation’s Constitution.

Learn more about the Open to All campaign at www.opentoall.org.

Read Professor Franke and Johnathan Smith’s Op-ed at Slate, here.

Read the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project’s amicus brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission here.

Media Advisory: Experts Available for Interviews on Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

MEDIA ADVISORY

12/5: SCOTUS Hearing – Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission
Religious Freedom or Discrimination?

Experts Available for Interviews on Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

Columbia Law School Professor Katherine Franke and Elizabeth Platt Filed an Amicus Brief in the Case on Behalf of a Coalition of 15 Civil Rights and Faith Organizations.

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Media Contacts:

The Office of Public Affairs, Columbia Law School
212.854.2650
publicaffairs@law.columbia.edu

Elizabeth Boylan, Associate Director, Center for Gender & Sexuality Law
212.854.0167
eboyla@law.columbia.edu

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New York, December 1, 2017—Columbia Law School Professor Katherine Franke, a leading expert on law, religion and rights— drawing from feminist, queer, and critical race theory—and Elizabeth Platt, Director of The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP), are available to discuss Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the case in which a baker claims that free speech protects his right to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.

Oral arguments will be presented Tuesday before the Supreme Court.

In October, under the aegis of The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, Franke and Platt filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of a coalition of 15 civil rights and faith organizations. They argued that overly broad accommodations of religious liberty undermine not just LGBT rights but religious liberty itself.

“The Supreme Court’s most significant religious liberty cases have drawn a connection between the protection of religious liberty and principles of non-discrimination,” Franke said about the case. “Masterpiece Cakeshop’s argument throws a wedge between these two fundamental American values, a position that poses a particularly dangerous threat to the rights of people of minority faith traditions.”

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project is a think tank housed within the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School. Its mission is to bring legal, policy, advocacy, and academic expertise to bear on the multiple contexts in which religious liberty rights conflict with or undermine other fundamental rights to equality and liberty.

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Note: The Law School also has a broadcast studio on campus equipped with an ISDN line and TV connectivity through VideoLink. Please contact the Public Affairs Office for bookings.