Americans United for Separation of Church and State launched a new initiative on Tuesday that it says will fight the “growing idea that ‘religious freedom’ gives people a right to thwart marriage equality for LGBT Americans.”
At a news conference at the National Press Club, Americans United’s top three leaders said the group’s new ‘Protect Thy Neighbor’ project would also challenge efforts by the religious right to deny women access to reproductive care and use taxpayer dollars to discriminate.
“Same-sex couples may have won the right to marry, but that doesn’t mean that extreme fundamentalist zealots who oppose any expansion of LGBT rights are going to sit by quietly,” said Rev. Barry W. Lynn, an attorney who serves as executive director of Americans United.
“In fact, we know what’s coming,” said Lynn. “They will try to erect as many barriers as possible on the road to true equality. It’s an immature reaction, yes, but that doesn’t mean it won’t get traction.”
Lynn was joined at the news conference by Maggie Garrett, Americans United’s legislative director; and Gregory Lipper, the group’s litigation counsel. The three said the new project would be a three-pronged effort to challenge so-called religious freedom advocates seeking to take away rights.
They said the project will fight proposed discriminatory laws in state legislatures and in Congress as well as through litigation and legal work and through public education.
“Emboldened by the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and indignant over the high court’s recent ruling in the marriage equality case, legislators across the country are introducing bills that would undermine marriage equality, trump non-discrimination laws, and deny women access to reproductive healthcare — all in the name of religion,” Garrett said at the news conference.
Lipper said that if Americans United and its allied groups aren’t able to block discriminatory legislation, he and his legal team will challenge those laws in court. He pointed to successful efforts in the 1960s to challenge businesses such as restaurants that used ‘religious beliefs’ to refuse service to African Americans.
“But now, we’re seeing bakers, florists, T-shirt makers, and even pizzerias and DJs, argue that their religion allows them to discriminate against same-sex couples,” Lipper said. “We will continue to argue in court that businesses do not have the right to tell customers that ‘we don’t serve your kind.’”
Lynn said the Protect Thy Neighbor project, which can be accessed at protectthyneighbor.org, is aimed at attracting a diverse range of Americans “regardless of where and if they worship, no matter their political beliefs, their gender, their age or who they love.”
“With Protect Thy Neighbor, we are putting the Religious Right on notice,” he said. “Your politics of division, homophobia and exclusion will not stand.”