Protesting Students Joined by Alumni: “Change the Church”

In late December, while marriage equality became law in New Mexico and Utah, a Washington vice principal and coach at a Catholic school got fired for marrying his partner, and a Philadelphia Methodist minister was defrocked because he performed a wedding ceremony for his son. Earlier in the month, Notre Dame University filed suit to ensure that student and staff insurance wouldn’t cover contraceptives, while a Michigan couple simultaneously sued the Catholic Bishops claiming that religious directives in a Catholic hospital had forced her doctors to commit malpractice during a miscarriage and nearly cost her life.

In all of these cases, Church dogmas and mandates are out of line with not only America’s secular government and growing population of nontheists, but also the spiritual and moral beliefs of members—beliefs about what God wants and how we should then live. Defrocked Methodist minister, Frank Schaefer, reports that even those making the decision on his regional Board of Ordained Ministry were torn. Per Schaefer, some came to him with tears in their eyes, “They said, ‘We really don’t want to do this, you know that, don’t you?’”

In Bellevue, Washington, students at Eastside Catholic responded to the firing of their beloved teacher and coach by pouring en masse into the street outside the school, where they chanted, “Change the church!” Students at other Catholic schools responded with tweets and solidarity sit-ins. But changing the Church is easier said than done. Even Pope Francis, who is increasingly beloved for allying himself with the poor, has made no substantive movement on issues of equality for women and gays. In fact, the first priest excommunicated under his rule was stripped of authority because he advocated ordination of women and performed a gay wedding. As one 71-year-old practicing Catholic put it, “I believe that the Catholic Church will come to the point where we will legitimize gay marriage. But it’s going to take time.”

Christians see themselves as a light shining on a hill—a moral beacon to the world—and the faithful love to say that they have taken the lead in humanity’s moral growth, in the abolition of slavery, for example. Indeed many great abolitionists were inspired in part by their faith. But the darker reality was that Christian texts and teachings had been used for centuries to justify slavery and less extreme forms of economic servitude, and the Christian abolition movement emerged only in concert with broader cultural and economic changes. A close look at history suggests that moral and spiritual changes occur independent of religion, and then religion gives voice, organizational structure and moral authority to those changes—and often claims the credit.

Why do churches so often have to be forced to admit what has become obvious on the outside—that slavery is wrong, that no skin color or bloodline is spiritually superior, that love can grow between two people of any gender, that women and children are fully persons and not possessions of men, that the pleasure and pain of other species matter profoundly, or that bringing babies into the world with thoughtful intention helps families to flourish?

Religion, by its very nature, is change averse. Each religion explains and sanctifies a specific set of cultural agreements—a worldview that is a snapshot of human history. Most of today’s largest religions emerged during what is called the Axial Age—a time in which male superiority was assumed, the wheelbarrow had yet to be invented, and nobody knew that the other side of the planet existed. People at the time were doing the best they could to understand what was real and what was good, what caused what, and, especially, why there was so much suffering and death. They fused what they knew about the way things worked with their understanding of human power hierarchies, and they made gods in the image of men, both literally and psychologically. They turned rules into Rules.

At the time the original agreements emerged, many of them served human wellbeing. But what is adaptive in one context can be maladaptive in another—and what is moral in one context can become immoral in another. When rules become Rules, when they become sacred, people forget why they existed in the first place. I once heard a joke that stuck in my mind because it so beautifully illustrates this aspect of how religion works:

A girl is watching her mother prepare a roast. The mother carefully trims a thin slice off of each end before putting it in the pan. “Why do you trim the ends off?” asks the girl.

“I don’t know,” answers the young mother. “That is the way your grandma did it.”

The next time the woman speaks with her own mother she asks, “Why do you trim the ends off of a pot roast before cooking it?”

“I don’t know,” comes the answer, “That is the way my mother did it.”

It happens that the girl’s great-grandmother is still alive, and sometime later the family pays her a visit. “Why do we trim the ends off of a pot roast before cooking it?” the young mother asks. “I don’t know why you do it,” the great-grandmother answers. “I always did it because I had one small baking pan and a small oven, and that was the only way the roast would fit.”

Tribalism, patriarchy, and pro-natalism had their place in history. There was a time when blood-loyalties and hierarchy likely increased cooperation and reduced conflict. There was a time that infant mortality was high, men and women had no control over their fertility, and it made sense to honor and maximize childbearing. In this context, the Abrahamic religions may well have helped people survive and thrive. But the very structures that once let communities and families flourish have become a source of strife. Rules and rituals that bound people together now drive them apart. They have become mere tools of entrenched oppression.

The high school students who stood in the cold chanting “Change the Church” can be seen as naïve idealists who don’t understand how religion works and why. Alternately, they can be seen as people whose eyes aren’t clouded by the veil of history, who are free to trust their own sense of compassion and fairness and draw hope from the future rather than some idealized past.  Eastside Catholic - Act JustlyAnd yet even they get inspiration from struggles of our ancestors, gleaning what seems timeless and wise from among the mixed fragments in the Bible and Christian history. One young girl stood in the crowd holding a sign with the words of the Hebrew prophet Micah (6:8): Do Justice. Love Mercy. As news of student protests spread, alumni of the same Catholic schools took up the torch. When the hierarchy didn’t budge, the students announced that they are taking their fight for justice to the next level:  a national day of protest, dubbed Z-day (in honor of Mark Zmuda), on January 31. Sometimes it takes a teen to remind us of who we are and what really matters.

Originally published at Away Point

Testimony Given at WA Health Dept. Hearing on Certificate of Need Rules – Nov. 26, 2013

There were probably 80 – 100 people at the WA Health Dept. Hearing on hospital mergers including reps from the SEIU, ACLU, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, Secular Humanists, Catholic Watch, etc, along with 30+ of our petition signers, a Hospital Administrators Assoc. Rep. and the general public.

Of those testifying, at least 90% expressed that the proposed rules didn’t go far enough in requiring transparency of a hospital’s contraception and end of life policies, given patients’ need to know. Also that the whole issue of the denial of legal health care due to the Bishops’ Directives (ERDs) when Catholic hospitals affiliate and merge with secular health care facilities was inadequately addressed in the proposed rules.

The Hospital Administrators Assoc. expressed that the proposed rules were not only not needed but counter-productive and too expensive to implement.  Others expressed that the Catholic hospitals have provided significant health services in our state for decades and shouldn’t have to yield to another set of government regulations, that abortions and Death with Dignity were red herrings.

Other testimony:

Hospital mergers and affiliations often result in staff reductions, changed staffing patterns, pay freezes or pay reductions, elimination of some legal health services and emphasizing others, all designed to turn the acquired facilities primarily into profit centers rather than primarily health care centers.

Health Care Best Practices should always be primary and not be subject to profit motives.

Catholic Bishops’ policies refuse to honor certain provisions of Advanced Directives, so without the patient, patient’s family or transporters (EMTs and ambulance drivers) knowing in advance what a particular secular hospital’s policies are (Catholic Bishops’ policies?), some patients end up inadvertently at the wrong hospital where their legal final wishes are denied due solely to religious dogma. Communities need to know what a facility’s policies are so patients don’t spend their final days in pain and embarrassing condition, unless they choose to.

Doctors and other health care workers are required to sign allegiance to the Catholic Bishop’s Directives (ERDs) to be able to have privileges at Catholic hospitals and this allegiance also applies to their private practice, further restricting legal health services to residents of their communities.


In some parts of the state, due to the Catholic Bishops’ Directives, there are no family planning services and there is only skewed end of life care within a 100 miles.


Patient Rights should always come first before religious ideology or insurance company and hospital profits. Testimony by Chuck Bean at WA Health Dept. Certificate of Need Hearing  Nov. 26, 2013 on behalf of 5,100 signers of a Petition to ” Prohibit the Denial of Legal Health Care Services in WA State”  and on behalf of the Seattle Chapter of American’s United for Separation of Church and State:


As more secular hospitals merge and affiliate with religious ones, nearly half of WA state hospital beds are now controlled by Catholic ideology that prohibits contraceptive counseling and contraceptive methods including condoms, birth control pills, IUDs, vasectomies and tubal ligations; and that prohibits fertility assistance, abortion and end of life “death with dignity” & “advance directives”, all of which are legal in WA State.

Non-Catholics and Catholics alike increasingly find themselves in situations in which the only health care available is limited by these restrictions, dictated by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs).

WA State has the highest percentage of religious control of hospital beds in the U.S. and it is continuing to increase (26% in 2010, 45% so far in 2013).

Hospitals receiving payments from Medicare, Medicaid, direct subsidies from public funds or tax breaks, should be prohibited from denying legal family planning and end of life “death with dignity” services based on religious ideology.  The majority of WA voters created the rights to those legal health services and expect WA State government to guarantee that they will be available to all Washingtonians.

The WA State Dept. of Health and County Public Hospital Districts need to ensure that, if a healthcare system is allowed by law to not provide certain family planning and end of life services directly, that that system finds another way for citizens to get those services nearby and refers them to the appropriate place to receive them. The refusing healthcare system needs to pay for all costs of their being provided by another.

Regarding transparency, and in the interest of a patient’s need to know, we support the recommendation that a checklist of key reproduction and end of life services be required to be prominently posted by all hospitals on their websites, but not just on their websites which is a limited and specialized window, but also prominently posted in hard copy in their waiting rooms and near their admission desks so folks entering their facilities can also be informed.  This posting should be in large print and in lay persons’ language clearly indicating the hospital’s policies and where any denied services can be obtained, nearby.

Putting an ENDA to workplace discrimination

You would think that any employee who performs well in the workplace would be rewarded with a raise or promotion. Such an exemplary employee would never have to labor under the shadow of termination. You would assume that’s just common sense and sound business practice, right?

You might be wrong. Over half the states in America—a country which allegedly takes pride in equality of economic opportunity—do not protect workers from discrimination due to their sexual orientation.

In other words, even the best employees can be fired simply for being gay. Or lesbian. Or transgender.

Passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would remedy that situation on a national scale. The Senate will likely vote in support of ENDA this week.

But, like most common-sense legislation that finds favor with a majority of Americans, ENDA might just wither on the vine and die in the obstructionist, do-nothing House of Representatives controlled by a tiny minority of Tea Party Republicans.

At least one local activist from the State of Washington is doing his darndest to see that doesn’t happen.
Seattleite Brad Delaney started a pro-ENDA petition on urging folks to apply pressure on their members of Congress to see that ENDA comes to a vote and is successfully passed.

Why is Delaney so passionate about this cause? “I am gay and I can’t fathom the thought that in over 29 states LGBT people can be fired just because of who the are or who they love,” he wrote in a recent email interview. “I believe that your work performance should dictate whether or not you have a job, not who you go home to at night.”
Delaney claims to know of several instances in which employees were discriminated against, including one example where someone was fired outright simply because she told her boss that she’d soon be transitioning.

“I would like to see LGBT workers treated as equals to their straight counterparts in the workplace,” says Delaney, who assisted with last year’s successful effort to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington.

So how can others help promote workers’ rights regardless of sexual orientation?
Call your legislators, particularly those of a more conservative bent, immediately and often. Remind them that equal economic opportunity is a basic American principle, while bigotry is not.
Write letters to the editor and speak out on social media. Share your thoughts and experiences.
Patronize those businesses that promote workplace equality and avoid those that don’t. Here’s an excellent guide from the Human Rights Campaign:
Tea Party Republicans don’t like it when courageous citizens like Brad Delaney stand up for causes “We the People” proudly support, like workplace equality.

For Tea Party Republicans, it seems that “liberty” is a word reserved for rich, white, straight folks.

Maybe those Tea Party Republicans in Congress deserve to be fired for poor job performance.

Originally published at

Can the State compel an "artist to paint a picture"?

Recently, Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed suit against Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts of Richland, Washington, for refusing to supply floral arrangements for a gay wedding. State law requires businesses serving the public to accommodate customers without regard to sexual orientation.

There is no question the florist violated state law and that the Attorney General has both the authority and duty to uphold the law. The question is, can public accommodation laws be applied to creative expression without running afoul of the First Amendment? An attorney representing the florist thinks not, characterizing application of the law in this case as

“compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment. The state cannot require a florist to express appreciation for, or acceptance of gay marriage any more than the state can require a musician to write a song about it, or an artist to paint a picture.”

I find this argument intriguing. If I were an artist that painted wedding portraits, could the state require me to paint a picture? Wouldn’t that violate my right to free expression under the First Amendment’s umbrella of free speech? If so, wouldn’t that invalidate state public accommodation law when applied to the creative arts?

African American Methodist bishop under attack for supporting same-sex marriage

We Stand with Bishop Talbert’s Courageous Witness

In September 1960, a young pastor named Melvin Talbert was arrested and jailed alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. for sitting in at a segregated lunch counter. He went on to become a bishop in the United Methodist Church and serve as president of the National Council of Churches.

Fifty years later, Bishop Talbert is under attack again – this time for calling on Methodist pastors to join him in an “act of biblical obedience” by putting Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors ahead of “immoral and unjust” church rules that prohibit same-sex marriage.

Sign petition.

Chick-fil-A unveils Bigot Burger

Chick-fil-A finds bigotry a tasty addition to their menu.

In the aftermath of the recent tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, it became abundantly clear that the right-wing culture of fear and anger received its talking-point ammo and lockstep marching orders from the National Rifle Association and draft-dodging, flag-waving Republican chicken-hawks.

Now Chick-fil-A has joined the ranks of fearmongers and demonizers, with President Dan Cathy (which would make a great name for an LGBT rock band, mind you) expressing his distaste for same-sex marriage.

Why are all these chickens crossing the political road? To try to make a u-turn. Back to the days when it was perfectly fine to discriminate against folks who don’t look like us, think like us, or love the way we think they should. Which is apparently one white man and one white woman. Preferably in the missionary position. Amen.

Now maybe, just maybe, Mr. Cathy does not subscribe to the Tea Party screed that President Obama is a Kenyan. And a Muslim. And a Socialist. And a Nazi. And maybe, just maybe, Mr. Cathy doesn’t believe the right-wing talk radio lie that undocumented immigrants are the greatest threat to our economy and national security since Pearl Harbor. Or 9/11. Or Islamo-terrorists. Or the very first Japanese transistor radio. But, given that Mr. Cathy shares the fundamentalist right-wing hatred of The Other, it’s a safe bet he believes all of the above.

Listen: Mr. Cathy has every right to express his opinion on gay marriage. And we liberals have every right to call him out for that opinion.

Mr. Cathy, you walk like a chicken, peck like a chicken, and talk like a bigot.

Mr. Cathy, you are a bigot. And fair-minded Americans ought not patronize your Chick-fil-A establishments anymore. Period.

We’ve fought your back-of-the-bus, separate-but-unequal kind before, Mr. Cathy, and beat you like a chicken-fried steak. Civil rights will win again.

Oh, one more thing. Here in Washington State, we’re promoting marriage equality through organizations like Washington United for Marriage and ballot measures like Referendum 74.

And, no, Mr. Cathy, I don’t want Waffle Fries with your Bigot Burger.

(originally published here)