CBS: Religious Freedom a ‘License to Discriminate’ for ‘Extreme’ Christians

In a slanted hit piece against religious freedom laws for CBS Sunday Morning, correspondent Mark Strassmann proclaimed: “North Carolina's public bathrooms are the new frontier in American civil rights law....Just since the beginning of this year, lawmakers in 34 states have proposed so-called ‘bathroom’ bills and ‘religious freedom’ laws that, critics say, target gay, lesbian and transgender people.”

The reporter argued that the source of such supposed discrimination was signed into law decades earlier: “These state actions descend from a little-known bipartisan bill signed into law by President Clinton back in 1993....The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, prohibited the government from unduly interfering in the way Americans express religious beliefs.”

A soundbite played from left-wing University of Pennsylvania law professor Marci Hamilton, who expressed her disgust over the legislation: “It’s really hard to explain what was happening. Basically, the civil rights groups dropped the ball. Everybody was just so excited about religious freedom – how could you be opposed to religious freedom? But the very smart, very conservative evangelical groups knew what their agenda was.”

Strassmann declared: “...she argues that RFRA, in effect, granted a license to discriminate.”

Hamilton fretted: “And it's tilted the balance so that people now have a concept that whatever they believe, they can get around the law....now, every law is under attack because of this message of complete liberty.”

After detailing the story of one “devout Christian” florist being sued for not agreeing to provide flowers to a gay wedding, Strassmann turned to Hamilton: “If your lifestyle offends me, why should I be obligated to provide a service when I'm not comfortable with you as a person?” The liberal prof sneered: “Because that's how the free market works. When you walk into Best Buy, nobody should be asking you what your religion is, or what your sexual orientation is, or what you did yesterday.”

She ranted: “It's Jim Crow. It's just that there are different targets at this point for some of the people.” Rather than challenge the harsh comparison, Strassmann teed her up: “And the targets are?” Hamilton asserted: “Targets are the LGBTQ community, sadly. Not just same-sex couples; the entire community is being targeted.”

Strassmann briefly got a legal perspective from the other side of the debate, talking to Kristen Waggoner at the Alliance Defending Freedom, which as he described, “represents Christian conservatives and has advised several states drafting religious freedom laws.”

Waggoner explained:

It has nothing to do with how someone identifies in terms of being LGBT or saying that they're straight.... I think that there's a more fundamental principle, which is whether we will continue to allow a diversity of viewpoints, or we will allow the government to personally and professionally ruin someone because of a religious conviction they have.

Strassmann was aghast at her call to “allow a diversity of viewpoints” on the subject: “Do you understand why some critics see this as extreme?”

She pushed back hard: “I don't understand why it's extreme to say that you wouldn't want to force someone to engage in speech and promote messages that violates their religious convictions, or why it would be extreme that you would want to live and let live and let other people who have a diverse viewpoint or a different viewpoint on marriage live consistently with that belief.”

Rather than let that such a defense of religious freedom stand, Strassmann quickly went back to Hamilton: “What these individuals are arguing now, in these groups, is that they have ‘rights’ in order to be able to discriminate against others. But the ‘rights’ that they're talking about are made up. They are not rights from the Constitution.” To her make her condescension even worse, she used her hands to make air quotes when she referred to religious freedom “rights.”

Here is a full transcript of the May 15 segment:

9:08 AM ET

CHARLES OSGOOD: Which public school restroom should a transgender person use? The Obama administration says it should be the one that matches a student's gender identity. That came after a lawsuit North Carolina filed following action taken against it by U.S. Attorney General Loretta lynch. Our cover story is reported by Mark Strassmann.

LORETTA LYNCH: This is about the dignity and the respect that we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them – indeed, to protect all of us.

MARK STRASSMANN: Joaquin Carcano wants that protection. The 27-year old activist living in Raleigh, North Carolina, was born a girl. Last year he transitioned into what he believes is his proper gender: a man. Who sees himself at war with his own state.

JOAQUIN CARCANO: As trans individuals, for me personally, there's always a fear that you carry with you, and so that is a part of it definitely, but that goes for any sort of space you navigate in. But I've never had an issue going into a restroom or coming out.

STRASSMANN: And what message in this law was the governor and the legislature do you think sending to you?

CARCANO: That we're not welcome. That, you know, they don't want to believe we exist. North Carolina is sending a message that we are not in a welcoming area.

STRASSMANN: North Carolina's public bathrooms are the new frontier in American civil rights law. That's because almost two months ago, state lawmakers passed a bill saying transgender people have to use the bathroom which matches the gender on their birth certificate.

Backlash was immediate and fierce, from Fortune 500 corporations, celebrity critics like Bruce Springsteen, and President Obama.

BARACK OBAMA: I also think that the laws that have been passed there are wrong and should be overturned.

STRASSMANN: But the law's supporters insist it was enacted to protect women and girls – both their privacy, and their risk of attack from sexual predators.

PAT MCCRORY: Our nation is dealing with a very new, complex and emotional issue: how to balance the expectations of privacy and equality.

STRASSMANN: Last Monday, Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican up for re-election, announced his state would sue the Obama administration. He was responding to the Department of Justice charge that North Carolina is violating civil rights law, which could cost the state almost $5 billion federal aid.

MCCRORY: We believe a court, rather than a federal agency, should tell our state, our nation and employers across the country what the law requires.

STRASSMANN: In many ways, this battle is the latest chapter in a story that has its roots in the Supreme Court's landmark Obergefell decision last June, which guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry.

Just since the beginning of this year, lawmakers in 34 states have proposed so-called "bathroom" bills and "religious freedom" laws that, critics say, target gay, lesbian and transgender people.

These state actions descend from a little-known bipartisan bill signed into law by President Clinton back in 1993.

BILL CLINTON: The free exercise of religion has been called the first freedom, that which originally sparked the development of the full range of the Bill of Rights.

STRASSMANN: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, prohibited the government from unduly interfering in the way Americans express religious beliefs.

MARCI HAMILTON: It’s really hard to explain what was happening. Basically, the civil rights groups dropped the ball. Everybody was just so excited about religious freedom – how could you be opposed to religious freedom? But the very smart, very conservative evangelical groups knew what their agenda was.

STRASSMANN: Marci Hamilton teaches constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania, she argues that RFRA, in effect, granted a license to discriminate.

HAMILTION: And it's tilted the balance so that people now have a concept that whatever they believe, they can get around the law. When I go to a stop sign, it just doesn't matter that I'm Presbyterian – I've gotta stop at the stop sign. But now, every law is under attack because of this message of complete liberty.

STRASSMANN: Baronelle Stutzman treasures that liberty. She's the owner of Arlene's Flowers, a 35-year-old family-run business in Richland, Washington. Rob Ingersoll was a favorite customer who shopped here for nearly a decade.

BARONELLE STUTZMAN: He's so much fun, I so enjoyed working with him. He has a really creative mind, and he would come in and he'd pick out these unusual vases or containers and tell me what the event was for. And then he'd say, 'Just do your thing.'

STRASSMANN: Three years ago, Ingersoll, who is gay, asked Stutzman, a 71-year-old devout Christian, to do the flowers for his wedding.

STUTZMAN: I just put my hands on his, and I said, 'Rob, I'm sorry, I can't do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.'

STRASSMANN: Why couldn't you do it?

STUTZMAN: Because my faith teaches me that marriage is between a man and a woman, and it symbolizes Christ and his relationship with the church. As much as I love Rob, my love for Christ is more important.

STRASSMANN [TO HAMILTON]: If your lifestyle offends me, why should I be obligated to provide a service when I'm not comfortable with you as a person?

HAMILTON: Because that's how the free market works. When you walk into Best Buy, nobody should be asking you what your religion is, or what your sexual orientation is, or what you did yesterday. It's Jim Crow. It's just that there are different targets at this point for some of the people.

STRASSMANN: And the targets are?

HAMILTON: Targets are the LGBTQ community, sadly. Not just same-sex couples; the entire community is being targeted.

KRISTEN WAGGONER: Well, I think what we're seeing is an unprecedented attack against people of faith who have religious beliefs.

STRASSMANN: Kristen Waggoner leads a team of lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom. This advocacy group represents Christian conservatives and has advised several states drafting religious freedom laws.

WAGGONER: It has nothing to do with how someone identifies in terms of being LGBT or saying that they're straight.

STRASSMANN: Gay marriage is the objection?

WAGGONER: Yes.

STRASSMANN: That's what this is really all about?

WAGGONER: I think that there's a more fundamental principle, which is whether we will continue to allow a diversity of viewpoints, or we will allow the government to personally and professionally ruin someone because of a religious conviction they have.

STRASSMANN: Do you understand why some critics see this as extreme?

WAGGONER: I don't understand why it's extreme to say that you wouldn't want to force someone to engage in speech and promote messages that violates their religious convictions, or why it would be extreme that you would want to live and let live and let other people who have a diverse viewpoint or a different viewpoint on marriage live consistently with that belief.

STRASSMANN: But Marci Hamilton says the law on this matter is clear:

HAMILTON: What these individuals are arguing now, in these groups, is that they have “rights” [makes air quotes] in order to be able to discriminate against others. But the “rights” [air quotes again] that they're talking about are made up. They are not rights from the Constitution.

STRASSMANN: In the case of Baronelle Stutzman, Rob Ingersoll and his partner, backed by the ACLU, sued her for discrimination. Washington State's Attorney General also filed suit, claiming she broke Washington's anti-discrimination law, and a state court ruled against her. Stutzman is appealing, but says potential damages could reach seven figures and bankrupt her business. She says she has also had menacing calls and emails.

[TO STUTZMAN] Did you feel threatened?

STUTZMAN: Yes, sir.

STRASSMANN: Genuinely threatened?

STUTZMAN: Yes, sir.

STRASSMANN: How many death threats?

STUTZMAN [CRYING]: I don't know. A few.

STRASSMANN: Too many.

STUTZMAN: Yeah.

STRASSMANN: But in states like North Carolina, it's people like Joaquin Carcano who feel threatened. [TO CARCANO] To you, this goes well beyond bathrooms?

CARCANO: Oh, definitely. I mean, I believe bathrooms are just sort of a cover for the real attack here. And I think it's just pure hostility.

STRASSMANN: Not long ago, the Washington State attorney offered to drop the lawsuit against Barronelle Stutzman if she paid a $2,000 fine and agreed to do flowers for gay weddings. [TO STUTZMAN] And you said?

STUTZMAN: No. My freedom's not for sale.

STRASSMANN: Even though that would have made it all go away?

STUTZMAN: I have a constitutional right that gives me the right to create and to live my freedom and live my faith. And everybody has that freedom. But once they start taking that away from us, then we don't have anything. We don't live in a free America when they can come in and do that.

NB Daily Culture/Society Conservatives & Republicans Liberals & Democrats Religion Anti-Religious Bias Christianity Sexuality Homosexuality Transgender CBS Sunday Morning Video Mark Strassmann

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