MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A new Southern Poverty Law Center ( SPLC ) report profiles the top Christian Right groups on the frontlines of the campaign to enact state "religious freedom" laws, demonstrating that the movement is merely the latest strategy to deny equality to the LGBT community.
The report — "Religious Liberty" and the Anti-LGBT Right — shows that the most active national groups backing Religious Freedom Restoration Acts ( RFRAs ) in various states have long track records of working furiously against LGBT rights. Many of these groups have networks of state and local allies to push RFRA bills.
"These vehemently anti-LGBT groups give lip service to religious freedom, but that is clearly not their goal in pushing these so-called 'religious liberty' laws," said Heidi Beirich, report author and director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project. "This is about discriminating against LGBT people, plain and simple."
RFRAs are named and loosely modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. But that law was intended as a shield to protect religious liberty. These laws, such as the one enacted and then modified under intense public pressure in Indiana last year, allow individuals to deny goods and services to LGBT people on the basis of their religious beliefs.
They are especially dangerous because they have the potential to create an atmosphere of bigotry and discrimination by legitimizing the very idea that LGBT rights threaten religious liberty, the report says. It also notes that few cases of such discrimination ever find their way into a courtroom, because most people who face discrimination on a daily basis have nowhere to turn.
"Religious liberty is a cherished constitutional value, enshrined in the First Amendment," Beirich said. "But, as earlier efforts to offer biblical justification for slavery and Jim Crow segregation have taught us, religious liberty should not, and must not, be used as an excuse to discriminate."
The six groups profiled in the report include the Alliance Defending Freedom, the American Family Association, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and the Liberty Counsel.
Three of the groups, the American Family Association, the Family Research Council and the Liberty Counsel, are listed as anti-LGBT hate groups by the SPLC for their propagation of known falsehoods — demonizing claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, ugly name-calling.
The report can be viewed at splcenter.org/religious-liberty-and-anti-lgbt-right .
The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, see www.splcenter.org .