At a House Committee Hearing last Thursday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) described herself as “a woman of faith,” saying, “and it is part of my faith, that all people are holy, and all people are sacred, unconditionally.”
Ocasio-Cortez went on to say, “It’s very difficult to sit here and listen to arguments in the long history of this country of using Scripture and weaponizing and abusing Scripture to justify bigotry.” She then compared people who believe God’s design for marriage and sexuality to “white supremacists,” “those who justify slavery,” and “those who fought against integration.”
The hearing, held by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and by the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, was titled, “The Administration’s Religious Liberty Assault on LGBTQ Rights.”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) co-chaired the hearing. A press release about the event stated, “The Trump Administration has distorted religious liberty based on a misinterpretation of law and faith and turned it into a pretext for denying LGBTQ citizens equal participation in the economy and society.”
Members of the House are upset that the Trump Administration has moved, through a variety of government agencies, to protect the religious freedom of those who don’t want to be forced to participate in practices that go against their deeply held religious beliefs. These include:
- Christian doctors who disagree with prescribing puberty blockers or opposite sex hormones for children with sexual identity confusion
- Christians who establish faith-based adoption and foster care agencies and want to place children in homes with a married mother and father.
- Christian hospitals that refuse to allow surgeries to remove perfectly healthy organs from women who believe they are men.
Ocasio-Cortez was given five minutes to ask questions of those who had testified at the hearing. She used most of her time to speak out against people of faith who she believes use religious freedom to discriminate: “I am tired of communities of being of faith being weaponized and being mischaracterized because the only time religious freedom is invoked is in the name of bigotry and discrimination.”
She asserted that “if Christ himself walked through these doors and said what he said thousands of years ago, that we should love our neighbor and our enemy … he would be maligned as a radical and rejected from these doors.”
Ocasio-Cortez did not mention Christ’s statement in Matthew 19 where He affirmed that God created humanity in His image, male and female. Nor did she reference Jesus’ assertion in that passage that marriage is the union of a husband and wife.
In her opening statement, Chairwoman Maloney said that “one of the most cynical aspects of the administration’s efforts is how it has emboldened discrimination by distorting claims of religious liberty.” She continued, “I am a strong supporter of religious liberty, but it should not be distorted and twisted into a weapon to enable discrimination.”
Several of those who spoke referenced LGBT-identified individuals who have been murdered or targeted by violence. They then drew a straight line from people of faith, who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman, to those crimes.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) put the term “religious liberty” in air quotes because it “is simply this administration’s latest excuse to continue its painful oppression of other people, including our LGBTQ neighbors.” She then spoke about two gay-identified men and a transgender-identified woman who were murdered in 2019 in Detroit, where she serves.
Tlaib said, “Violence of this nature is fueled by systemic issues like racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia… coming from people of faith who say that they’re less than, that they are disposable.” She said we should not use “faiths or anything like that to infuse fear which later infuses violence.”
Hiram Sasser, from First Liberty, a group that advocates for free speech and religious liberty, testified at the hearing. He emphasized the importance of protecting religious beliefs and said that “religious accommodations and exemption laws, and their constitutional underpinnings, have a long history in our country.”
Sasser cited the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, as one example of an established body of law the works to protect people of faith from government overreach. He explained that the current administration, is actually following the original statutes approved by Congress, rather than reinterpreting those laws.
Rather than being a “license to discriminate” or “bigotry and discrimination,” religious liberty gives people of faith the freedom to hold to deeply held beliefs about family, marriage and sexuality, even while reaching out with love and grace to those with whom they disagree.
Photo from Flickr