The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for American Progress have launched a joint project, with material titled “Connecting the Dots.” The ACLU produced a legal briefing while the Center for American Progress released a short video May 19 linking to the briefing.
The advocacy is the product of a partnership between the two groups and the Movement Advancement Project, a strategic communications and development organization in LGBT advocacy founded by the influential millionaire Tim Gill.
“Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value—but that freedom does not give institutions or individuals the right to harm others,” the Center for American Progress said May 19. “Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, his administration has expanded religious exemptions in an attempt to gut civil rights protections and codify discrimination against people of minority faiths, women, and people who are LGBTQ.”
The ACLU’s May 2020 briefing paper “Connecting the Dots,” argued that the Trump administration was working to “create a license to discriminate across the country.”
“In the name of religious liberty, Trump and his allies have pursued a strategy to legalize discrimination based on religion and sex — including sexual orientation and gender identity — and other personal characteristics,” the briefing said.
“Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value, so fundamental that it is protected by the First Amendment to our nation’s Constitution. But that freedom does not give institutions or individuals the right to harm others, including by discriminating and especially with taxpayer dollars,” it continued.
The ACLU said that the Trump administration authorized or expanded religious exemptions “that enable institutions, businesses, and individuals to refuse to comply with laws they assert interfere with their religious beliefs.” Such laws, in the legal group’s view, include non-discrimination laws, health care laws, and adoption and foster care laws.
For his part, Franck rejected the legal group’s claims.
“What the ACLU calls ’discrimination’ is not, under federal statutes as currently interpreted, unlawful,” Franck told CNA. “That may change if the Supreme Court willfully misreads Title VII in two pending cases. But whatever happens in these cases, the fact that the ACLU and the Center for American Progress call the defense of personal and institutional conscience an ’abuse’ of the religious freedom protected by the First Amendment says more about those organizations’ abandonment of the traditions of American freedom than it does about the Trump administration.”
“The Obama administration, sadly, ’normalized’ all these attacks on religious freedom as administration policies. The Trump administration deserves credit for working to reverse such policies,” Franck said.
Several topics in the ACLU briefing concern cases where Catholic institutions are involved.
The legal group opposed accommodations for employers with religious or moral objections to providing health care plans that cover contraception, including drugs that can cause abortion. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious congregation that provides care for the indigent elderly, are still tied up in court over the coverage mandate, which dates back to the middle of the Obama administration.
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The briefing objected to the Trump administration’s September 2019 statement of interest in a fired high school teacher’s lawsuit filed against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The archdiocese had ruled that the teacher violated archdiocesan policy and Catholic teaching by contracting a same-sex civil marriage and said that the Catholic high school must terminate his job to maintain its Catholic affiliation.
The ACLU characterized the Trump administration’s action as “arguing against employees who are fired for being gay.”
Regarding a California legal case against a Sacramento-area Catholic hospital, the ACLU briefing claims its client, Evan Minton, was “turned away from a religious hospital for being transgender.”
Minton, who presents as a transgender man, filed a lawsuit against the Dignity Health Catholic health system after a Catholic hospital refused to perform a planned elective hysterectomy. Health system officials arranged for Minton to be transferred to a hospital not affiliated with Catholicism. In September 2019, a California court allowed Minton’s lawsuit to proceed, overturning a lower court’s decision that the transfer of Milton was sufficient to avoid charges under state anti-discrimination law.
“Catholic hospitals do not perform sterilizing procedures such as hysterectomies for any patient regardless of their gender identity, unless there is a serious threat to the life or health of the patient,” Dignity Health said in September 2019.
A 2016 letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services signed by the general counsel for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, together with other groups, affirmed that the denial of surgery to someone seeking to change their gender would not be discriminatory. The letter rejected claims that it is discriminatory to decline to perform a mastectomy or a hysterectomy on a healthy woman who is “seeking to have the appearance of a man.”