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Is Religion the New Jim Crow?


Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), addressing the crowd after defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker, said he won despite GOP Jim Crow voter suppression tactics that sought to make it harder for his supporters to cast their ballots.


Challenging those who claimed that his victory was proof there was no voter suppression in Georgia, Warnock said he won because people refused to be intimidated, standing in blocks-long lines in the cold to cast their ballots.


"It simply means that you, the people have decided that your voices will not be silenced," he said.


Jim Crow was the name given to a series of laws and practices aimed at restricting the rights of minorities. They established “separate but equal” facilities for Whites and Blacks. They created specific, often impossible, criteria for Blacks to vote. They fabricated new policies for housing and employment.


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was meant to address many of these wrongs. It outlawed these discriminatory practices and granted people of color the same rights as their White counterparts. Later legislation granted these rights to same-sex couples and other members of the LBGTQ population.


With Jim Crow essentially dead, those on the right are trying to roll back these hard fought gains through the courts, the classroom and by enacting new restrictions on voting rights. In many cases, they are using religion as a means of making these changes. That begs the question, is religion the new Jim Crow?


The Supreme Court

A quilter, a baker and a web designer walk into a bar…. Yes, it sounds like the start of a joke, but the bar isn’t your local watering hole; instead it’s a legal one. Each of them has filed a lawsuit aimed at using their religious beliefs to deny what were once legally protected goods and services. This begs the question, can religion be used as an excuse to deny these services to other segments of the population?


Hobby Lobby, the go-to store for crafters, successfully used religious grounds to allow it to opt out of providing health insurance to its employees under the Affordable Care Act. The basis for their lawsuit was that the ACA, more commonly known as Obamacare, violated their religious principles because it included funding for contraception. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the company, citing religion as the reason they were being allowed to refuse vital health insurance benefits to their employees.


This ruling was not just limited to one company, however. It extends to any family-owned company. This opened the door to all sorts of lawsuits based upon religious beliefs. This meant that religion could be used as a basis to justify a plethora of issues, from abortion to xenophobia.


A Colorado baker cited religious grounds for his refusal to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. Again the Supreme Court allowed these grounds as a basis for denying someone their rights. The couple had to go elsewhere to get the cake they desired.


While this may not seem like much of a hardship, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the baker, it set a dangerous precedent. Not since the days of “separate but equal” has the court permitted anyone to be excluded based upon a business owner’s personal beliefs. If someone can be excluded because another’s religious beliefs disagree with a person’s sexual identity, what’s to stop someone else from objecting based upon a person’s race, religious beliefs, nationality or even political ideology?


While the decision to overturn a woman’s right to an abortion was couched in terms of giving the individual states the authority to decide, it was based on a push from the religious right, who sought to force their beliefs on the entire nation. They were finally granted their wish when the ultra-Conservative majority allowed them to overlook precedent, something each of them promised to honor at their confirmation hearings, and effectively ban abortions throughout much of the nation.


Which brings us to today’s court, which is currently deciding whether or not a web designer can refuse to create a product for same-sex couples because she claims it clashes with her religious beliefs. Rather than simply turning away those who sought her services, which any business-owner can do, the plaintiff decided to make it an actual federal case, taking her fight all the way to the Supreme Court. She is challenging a Colorado law, enacted after the aforementioned baker’s case, that prohibits discrimination based upon sexual preference. Instead, she is arguing that doing so would violate her religious principles.


The Conservative majority is leaning toward ruling for the plaintiff, making religion the basis for new forms of discrimination.


Voting Rights

Following the 2020 presidential election, Republicans sought to institute a new series of voting restrictions. They cited unspecified, unsubstantiated reasons (They lost) as a reason for making these changes. Citing the need to protect “election integrity” these laws were primarily aimed at making it more difficult for minorities to vote.


One such effort was aimed at preventing a practice conducted by many Black churches known as “Souls to the Polls”. Following their Sunday services, pastors who wanted to take advantage of early voting, organized transportation to polling places.


States attempted to halt this practice by demanding that polling places close on Sundays. It was a losing effort, but was yet another way the right tried to use religion as a means of limiting the rights of minorities.


Education

In a move to “return God the the classroom”, the religious right is attempting to demonize educators to enact their own restrictive curriculum. They are calling for banning books that they claim promote a “Woke agenda”. They are demanding that parents have a greater say in what is being taught in classrooms. They are accusing teachers of being groomers, or worse yet, pedophiles.


By controlling the education system, the religious right seeks to indoctrinate an entire generation with bigoted religious beliefs, which is exactly the same thing they are accusing educators of doing with their “Woke agenda”. Despite overwhelming losses on the state and national levels, they have made huge inroads in taking over local governments and, in particular, local school boards, where they can enforce their belief system onto unsuspecting children.


One Nation (Under God?)

The religious right would have you believe that America is a Christian nation. This is despite the words of our Founding Fathers to the contrary. While it may have been said that these naysayers are limited to their pulpits, it’s becoming more evident that they are also in the halls of Congress. They make wild assertions that our country needs to be ruled by both the Constitution and the Bible. And they are using this newfound political power to enact greater restrictions on those who have lifestyles that run contrary to their own rigid dogma.


They are, in essence, the new Jim Crow.

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