Category Archives: Uncategorized

PRESS ADVISORY: PRPCP Responds to the Reintroduction of FADA in U.S. Senate

Press Advisory
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 8, 2018 

SUBJECT:

“First Amendment Defense Act” (FADA) is reintroduced in the Senate. Bill would establish vague, overly broad, and unnecessary religious accommodations and would seriously harm other Americans’ legal rights and protections. 

CONTENT:

“Not only is this bill unnecessary to the protection of religious liberty in the United States, its language would be harmful to the constitutional rights of millions of Americans.”

CONTACTS:

Professor Katherine Franke, 212-854-0061, kfranke@law.columbia.edu
Elizabeth Reiner Platt, 212-854-8079, ep2801@columbia.edu

New York, March 8, 2018–The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project is dismayed that the deceptively named “First Amendment Defense Act” (FADA) was reintroduced into the U.S. Senate today by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and 21 Republican co-sponsors, including Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Orrin Hatch (Utah).  Not only is this bill unnecessary to the protection of religious liberty in the United States, its language would be harmful to the constitutional rights of millions of Americans.

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project Faculty Director, Columbia Law Professor Katherine Franke, testified against the First Amendment Defense Act on behalf of twenty leading legal scholars when it was pending in Congress in 2016.  In her testimony before the House Governmental Oversight Committee she provided an in-depth analysis of the meaning and likely effects of the proposed legislation, were it to become law.  The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project was particularly compelled to provide testimony to the Committee because the first legislative finding set out in FADA declares that: “Leading legal scholars concur that conflicts between same-sex marriage and religious liberty are real and should be addressed through legislation.”  As leading legal scholars we must correct this statement: we do not concur that conflicts between same-sex marriage and religious liberty are real, nor do we hold the view that any such conflict should be addressed through legislation. On the contrary, we maintained that religious liberty rights are already well protected in the U.S. Constitution and in existing federal and state legislation, rendering FADA both unnecessary and harmful.

The Act purports to protect free exercise of religion and prevent discrimination, yet in fact it risks unsettling a well-considered constitutional balance between religious liberty, the prohibition on government endorsement of or entanglement with religion, and other equally fundamental rights.

Professor Franke’s testimony can be found here.

This legislation failed to come to a vote and died in Committee in 2016.  It should receive the same fate today.

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project’s 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.

To learn more, please visit us at: http://www.law.columbia.edu/gender-sexuality/public-rights-private-conscience-project

 

Kira Shepherd, Director of the Racial Justice Project, to Moderate ABA Webinar on Civil Rights Protection in HHS

Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Announcement: Kira Shepherd, Director of Racial Justice Project, to Moderate ABA Webinar on Civil Rights Protection in HHS
Registration: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2177755790753598211

Tomorrow, March 8th, 2018, Kira Shepherd, Director of the Racial Justice Program with the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project will be moderating a discussion for the American Bar Association, titled, “Civil Rights Protection for Discrimination? Recent Developments in the HHS Office of Civil Rights.” Kira will be joined by panelists:

  • Jennifer C. Pizer, Law and Policy Director at Lambda Legal
  • Susan Berke Fogel, Director of Reproductive Health at NHeLP, and
  • Jamille Fields, of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America

The webinar will begin at 1:00 pm EST; Registration is required via GotoWebinar.com, at the following link: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2177755790753598211

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

A summary description of the discussion’s content follows:

On January 18, 2018, the Trump Administration announced a new division of the HHS Office for Civil Rights focused on the rights of health care providers to determine or deny care depending on the provider’s religious conviction. The following day, HHS issued a proposed rule to broaden the scope of existing laws that permit denials to care, and grant OCR new outreach, investigative, and enforcement authority to ensure that federal funding recipients defer to providers’ personal and institutional beliefs over patients’ needs. How are these developments likely to affect patients’ ability to obtain necessary health care? Is this new policy likely to have particular impacts on vulnerable communities such as transgender people, women and people of color? Does the new policy strike an appropriate balance between the rights of patients and the rights of providers? Our panel of experts will discuss the new division and rule in depth and offer their views of what appears to be expanded protection for health care refusals.

Kira Shepherd

Kira Shepherd is the Director of the Racial Justice Program at the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School. Before joining Columbia Law School she was the Executive Director and Director of Campaigns at The Black Institute (TBI), an action think tank that leads advocacy work in the areas of immigration, education, the environment, and economic justice.  Prior to working at TBI, Kira was a Campaign Manager at ColorOfChange.org, the nation’s largest online civil rights organization, where she worked on criminal justice and corporate accountability campaigns.  She also worked at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center where she managed a city-wide youth advocacy project that was instituted in every public high school in Philadelphia.  Kira has also worked with Families for Freedom, a human rights organization by and for families facing and fighting deportation, and Make the Road New York, the largest member-led economic justice group in New York.  Kira graduated from Rutgers University School of Law, Newark with a Juris Doctorate degree.

New Report Reveals Pregnant Women of Color More Likely to Receive Religiously Restricted Reproductive Health Care in Many US States

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  Friday, January 19th, 8:00 am

SUBJECT: New Report Reveals Pregnant Women of Color More Likely to Receive Religiously Restricted Reproductive Health Care in Many US States

Women of color are more likely to access Catholic hospitals, which prohibit doctors from providing contraceptives, sterilization, some treatments for ectopic pregnancy, abortion, and fertility services regardless of their patients’ wishes

CONTACTS:

Kira Shepherd, 215-908-4825, ks3377@columbia.edu

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, 212-854-8079, ep2801@columbia.edu

Kai Goldynia, 212-784-5728, kgoldynia@groupgordon.com

New York, Jan. 19, 2018–Pregnant women of color are at greater risk of being deprived of a range of reproductive health services in many US states as a result of their disproportionate use of Catholic hospitals, according to a new report released today by the Columbia Law School Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP) in partnership with Public Health Solutions. Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color compares racial disparities in birth rates at hospitals that place religious restrictions on health care.

Catholic-affiliated hospitals are governed by the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” a set of strict guidelines that prohibit doctors from providing contraceptives, sterilization, some treatments for ectopic pregnancy, abortion, and fertility services regardless of their patients’ wishes, the urgency of a patient’s medical condition, the doctor’s own medical judgment, or the standard of care in the medical profession. The report finds that in many states, women of color are far more likely than white women to give birth at Catholic hospitals, putting them at greater risk of having their health needs determined by the religious beliefs of bishops rather than the medical judgment of doctors.

This finding is especially troubling given that women of color already face a range of health disparities—including lower rates of insurance coverage and higher rates of pregnancy complications—which increases their need for comprehensive reproductive health care.

Among the findings in the report:

  • In 19 of the 33 U.S. states and one territory studied, women of color are more likely than white women to give birth in a Catholic hospital.
  • The racial disparity in Catholic hospital birth rates is especially striking in several states. For example:
  • In New Jersey, women of color make up half of all women of reproductive age, but an overwhelming 80% of births at Catholic hospitals.
  • Three-quarters of births at Catholic hospitals in Maryland are to women of color. Black women in Maryland had almost 3,000 more births at Catholic hospitals than white women, despite the fact that they had over 10,000 fewer births overall.
  • Hispanic women represent about half of births at non-Catholic hospitals in New Mexico, but three-quarters of births at Christus St. Vincent—the state’s only Catholic birth hospital and a sole community provider.
  • In Massachusetts, while about one in twenty births to white women occur at Catholic hospitals, one in ten births to black and Hispanic women take place at Catholic hospitals.
  • One quarter of births to black women occur in a Catholic facility in Connecticut, while just over one tenth of births to white women occur in a Catholic hospital.
  • One in three births to white women in Wisconsin are at Catholic hospitals while just over one in two births to black women are in a Catholic hospital. Wisconsin was the only state studied where more black women give birth at a Catholic than a non-Catholic facility.
  • 43 states and the federal government have enacted laws protecting institutions, including Catholic hospitals, which refuse to provide comprehensive reproductive health care to patients. Despite these protections, courts have not clearly determined when and whether health care providers can withhold treatment due to their religious beliefs, or who should prevail when a hospital’s legal duty to care for a patient conflicts with a faith-based refusal law.

“The pervasive health disparities that exist between white women and women of color can be attributed to bias and racism, which both impact access to care as well as treatment within the health care system,” said Kira Shepherd, Director of the Racial Justice Project at Columbia Law School’s PRPCP. “These disparities are compounded by the spread of Catholic health care, which by putting religious doctrine over best medical practice exposes women of color to some of the same oppressive treatment that many have fought against for decades— treatment that devalues their lives and ignores their bodily autonomy.”

“Our report reveals that pregnant women of color in many states throughout the country are more likely to give birth at Catholic hospitals, where the full range of reproductive healthcare services are not available” said Lisa David, President and CEO of Public Health Solutions. “This puts their lives and families’ lives at greater risk. Public Health Solutions is committed to working to correct these restrictive religious overreaches disproportionately affecting women of color, and is proud to partner with the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School to produce this seminal report.”

A panel discussion on the release of the report will be held this evening at 6:30 PM at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. The panel will be moderated by Kira Shepherd, and will feature OB/GYN and abortion provider Dr. Willie J. Parker, attorney Candace Gibson, reproductive justice advocate Cherisse Scott, public health educator Faith Groesbeck, and Laurie Bertram Roberts, a doula and activist who was denied emergency reproductive health care at a Catholic hospital.

Read the report: https://www.law.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/microsites/gender-sexuality/PRPCP/bearingfaith.pdf

RSVP for the panel discussion: at http://bit.ly/2kUJbHa.

 

Media Advisory: New Research and Report Launch

Media Advisory: 

New Research and Report Launch
Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color

Press Contact: 
Liz Boylan
Associate Director, Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, Columbia Law School
212.854.0167 | eboyla@law.columbia.edu

Columbia Law School’s Public Rights/Private Conscience Project and Public Health Solutions announce the release of a groundbreaking report on how the rules governing care at Catholic-affiliated hospitals in the U.S. impact women of color’s access to reproductive health care. In Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color, the authors present data showing that in many states, women of color disproportionately give birth in Catholic hospitals that place religious restrictions on care—even during medical emergencies. Such restrictions stand to exacerbate the existing disparities women of color already face in accessing quality reproductive health care.

The report will be discussed at an event at New York City’s Judson Memorial Church on Friday, January 19—just days before the 45th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Decision in Roe v. Wade—by a diverse panel of reproductive justice activists, including OB/GYN and abortion provider Dr. Willie Parker as well as Laurie Bertram Roberts, a reproductive health activist who was refused care at a Catholic hospital while experiencing a miscarriage. 

WHEN:
Friday, January 19, 2018
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

WHERE: 
Judson Memorial Church – Sanctuary Space
55 Washington Square South, New York, NY
Event URL: http://bit.ly/2kUJbHa

WHO:

Program speakers include:

  • Willie Parker
    OB/GYN and abortion provider
    Author, Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice
    Board Chair, Physicians for Reproductive Health
  • Candace Gibson
    Staff Attorney, National Health Law Program
  • Cherisse Scott
    Founder & Chief Executive Officer, SisterReach
  • Laurie Bertram Roberts
    Founder and Executive Director, Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund
  • Faith Groesbeck
    Director and Doula, Birth Quest Services LLC


[NEW YORK]
 The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP) at Columbia Law School is thrilled to announce the release of a groundbreaking report on how the rules governing care at Catholic-affiliated hospitals impact women of color’s access to reproductive health care. The report, written in partnership with Public Health Solutions, presents new research that women of color in many states disproportionately give birth at hospitals that place religious ideology above best medical practice.

The report will be launched with a panel discussion on Friday, January 19th at 6:30 pm at the Judson Memorial Church in downtown Manhattan. The panel, moderated by Kira Shepherd, director of the PRPCP Racial Justice Project, will explore the real-world impacts for women of color of laws and policies that subordinate the health and safety of patients to the religious beliefs of health care providers.

This program is free and open to the public. 2 New York State Continuing Legal Education Credits are available to all eligible participants. 

Please RSVP via Eventbrite: http://bit.ly/2kUJbHa

“The findings outlined in this report indicate that women of color are at greater risk of being denied care due to religious restrictions when they need it most– during childbirth” said Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Director of PRPCP. “This event brings together health care providers, lawyers, activists, and educators to explore the impact that religious health care restrictions have on women of color, and to discuss policies for ensuring that no patient has their health and safety subordinated to religious tenets.”

SAVE THE DATE: Report Launch and Panel Discussion – Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color

Friday, January 19th, 2018
Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color
Judson Memorial Church, Sanctuary Space
55 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

2 CLE (Continuing Legal Education) Credits are available for eligible persons who attend the program.
RSVP is Required via Eventbrite: http://bit.ly/2kUJbHa

Event Description:

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project is pleased to present a panel discussion upon the release of its report: “Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color.” The report presents new research finding that women of color in many states disproportionately give birth at hospitals that place religious ideology above best medical practice. Across the country, Catholic hospitals are governed by strict guidelines that prohibit doctors from providing contraceptives, sterilization, some treatments for ectopic pregnancy, abortion, and fertility services regardless of their patients’ wishes, the urgency of a patient’s medical condition, the doctor’s own medical judgment, or the standard of care in the medical profession. In many states, women of color are far more likely than white women to give birth at Catholic hospitals, putting them at greater risk of having their health needs subordinated to religious tenets. This finding is especially troubling given that women of color already face a range of health disparities, which increase their need for comprehensive reproductive health care.

________________________________
Our Panelists Include:

Kira Shepherd
Director, Racial Justice Project, Public Rights/Private Conscience Project

Willie J. Parker, MD, MPH, MSc
Author, Life’s Work, A Moral Argument for Choice
Southern Abortion Provider
Board Chair, Physicians for Reproductive Health

Candace Gibson
Staff Attorney, National Health Law Program

Cherisse Scott
Founder & CEO, SisterReach

Laurie Bertram Roberts
Executive Director, Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund

Faith Groesbeck
Doula, and Director, Birth Quest Home

________________________________
Information Regarding New York CLE Credits:

Columbia Law School has been certified by the New York State Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Board as an Accredited Provider of CLE programs. Under New York State CLE regulations, this live non-transitional CLE Program will provide 2 credit hours that can be applied toward the Areas of Professional Practice requirement. CLE credit is awarded only to New York attorneys for full attendance of the Program in its entirety. Attorneys attending only part of a Program are not eligible for partial credit for it, although they are most welcome to attend it. Attendance is determined by an attorney’s sign-in and sign-out, as shown in the Conference registers. On sign-out, attorneys should also submit their completed Evaluation Form, provided at the Conference. Please note the NYS Certificates of Attendance will be sent to the email address as it appears in the register unless otherwise noted there.”
________________________________
CLE Program reading materials:

Tamesha Means v. United States Conferences of Catholic Bishops – Complaint
https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/tamesha-means-v-united-states-conference-catholic-bishops-complaint

Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color
(Report to be released on Friday, January 19th, 2018)

________________________________
For questions or for further information about this program, please contact Liz Boylan, Associate Director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at 212.854.0167or eboyla@law.columbia.edu.

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

*****

[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.”

*****

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.

Columbia Law Experts Denounce DOJ Religious Liberty Guidance as Attack on Religious Liberty and Fundamental Equality Rights

Press Statement:
October 6, 2017

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

Columbia Law School’s Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP) denounces the memorandum released today by the Department of Justice (DOJ) entitled the “Federal Memorandum for Religious Liberty Protections.” This document, and its implementation guidance misinterpret the meaning and scope of religious liberty under the Constitution and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), demonstrating this administration’s continued commitment to elevating a particular set of religious beliefs over the safety and equality rights of women, LGBTQ people, people of color, and religious minorities.

As we have previously noted, we are concerned that this guidance will lead to the inappropriate and destructive under or non-enforcement of a host of essential health, labor, and antidiscrimination laws and policies. “Today’s DOJ guidance will have tangible consequences for a range of communities, including LGBTQ communities, particularly those who rely on government-funded services and programs to live and survive,” said Ashe McGovern, PRPCP’s Legislative and Policy Director. “This guidance essentially requires all federal agencies to incorporate the Department of Justice’s flawed interpretation of religious liberty law when considering new rules, programs, or guidance, and will undoubtedly lead to discrimination and denial of services, by granting legal impunity to organizations and programs that discriminate with taxpayer funds.”

PRPCP is also concerned that the regulation oversteps the boundaries of DOJ’s power, by improperly encroaching onto the judiciary’s duty to interpret important and sensitive questions regarding the meaning and scope of religious liberty. RFRA was passed by Congress in 1993 as an effort to support and protect religious minorities who experience discrimination, and to ensure that courts carefully balance religious liberty rights with other fundamental rights to equality and justice. “The DOJ has decided to put its thumb down on a scale that Congress carefully designed by enacting RFRA, and that courts have since interpreted as such, in a way that disregards the fundamental rights of those experiencing religious-based discrimination,” says McGovern.

The DOJ’s misinterpretation of RFRA and religious liberty law generally is likely to decrease rather than increase religious plurality. Inappropriately-broad exemptions run the risk of allowing religious objectors to become religious enforcers, permitting employers, health care providers, landlords, and service providers to impose their religious views on others who do not share them. “PRPCP is especially wary that complex questions regarding religious freedom and its limits are being made by cabinet members that appear to oppose the separation of church and state, and have supported discrimination against religious minorities,” said Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Director of the PRPCP. “Jeff Sessions has long sought to narrow the reach of the Establishment Clause, even suggesting in 2016 that states could establish an official religion. He has been an adamant supporter of the President’s anti-Muslim travel ban. This raises questions about his commitment to true religious freedom and plurality.”

“Ultimately,” McGovern says, “the DOJ’s guidance not only enables what advocates are calling a ‘License to Discriminate’ against LGBTQ communities, although that intent is clear. This guidance is also an attack on our Constitution, and the careful balance it strikes between religious liberty and other fundamental rights to equality and justice.”

Access a .pdf of this statement here: http://tinyurl.com/PRPCP-Release-DOJ-10-6

Learn more about PRPCP’s staff here: http://tinyurl.com/PRPCP-Staff

For more information on the PRPCP, visit our website: http://tinyurl.com/PRPCP-Columbia

Welcome to Ashe McGovern, Associate Director, Public Rights/Private Conscience Project

September 12, 2016

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law is thrilled to welcome our newest staff member, Ashe McGovern. Ashe joins the PRPCP as Associate Director, filling the role held by the project’s Elizabeth Reiner Platt prior to her appointment as Director of the project in June of this year.  Ashe will be working with the PRPCP leading our efforts to analyze the scope and effects of legislative language that seeks to broaden religious liberty rights and will coordinate our work with state Attorneys General.

Before joining Columbia, Ashe was a Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress (CAP) in Washington, DC, where they engaged in state and federal public policy research, analysis, and advocacy with a focus on LGBTQ poverty and the criminalization of LGBTQ communities. Prior to CAP, Ashe worked as an Equal Justice Works Fellow at New York Legal Assistance Group, where they launched the LGBTQ Health and Economic Justice Initiative to provide direct legal services and advocacy to low-income LGBTQ communities in New York.

While a student at Cornell Law School, Ashe worked at several civil rights organizations including the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Lambda Legal, and was a Holley Law Fellow at the National LGBTQ Task Force. They additionally participated in legal clinics representing clients on a variety of matters, including clients experiencing violence in prison, families seeking lawful immigration status and low wage workers seeking union recognition. Ashe is the author of When Schools Refuse to Say Gay: The Constitutionality of Anti-LGBTQ “No-Promo-Homo” Public School Policies in the United States, 22 CORNELL J.L. & PUB. POLICY 465 (2012), and their work has been published in The Nation, NPR, Huffington Post, The Advocate, and ThinkProgress, among other sites. Prior to law school, Ashe worked as an adult education teacher in Brooklyn.

“Ashe’s experience and leadership working at the intersection of racial, economic, and sexual justice will strengthen the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project’s work illuminating the meaning and stakes of the rise of religious liberty claims in the current civil rights climate,” said Professor Katherine Franke, PRPCP’s Faculty Director.

For more about Ashe, please see their staff page at the PRPCP website, here.  To learn more about the PRPCP’s work, please see our homepage, here, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.