Editor’s Note: Rev. Jennifer Butler is CEO of Faith in Public Life and former chair of the White House Council on Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships during the Obama administration. She is the author of “Born Again: The Christian Right Globalized.” The views expressed here are hers. Read more opinion on CNN.
One of the first things Christians teach our children is to love our neighbors and not to judge. We hear about how Jesus spent time with the outcasts, people in prison, and other downtrodden people who were rejected or punished for their differences by mainstream society.
Yet far too often, politicians instead choose to use faith as a weapon to judge the same marginalized people that Jesus commanded us to love. This weaponization of faith as a political tool has grown more acute in the last few years, with politicians like President Donald Trump using so-called moral or religious objections to push their own discriminatory partisan agenda in defiance of the very values they claim to embrace.
Among the latest examples of this trend: Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services has proposed a rule that would roll back anti-discrimination protections under the Affordable Care Act for transgender people or people who have previously undergone an abortion, and also finalized a rule to allow medical providers to refuse treatment and services for religious and moral reasons, which critics say could justify denial of service to trans people.
Coming on the heels of the transgender military ban, the proposed rule removes protections against gender-identity discrimination from the nondiscrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which bans sex discrimination in federally funded health care (after a final rule implemented in 2016 explicitly included gender identity). The new rule would strip civil rights protections in healthcare from an estimated 1.4 million transgender adults and 150,000 trans youth ages 13 to 17 in the US.
Denying some people equal treatment to satisfy religious liberty for others in a civil society is a ploy to advance an agenda that has nothing to do with morality or Christianity. It is rather about turning back the clock for women and LGBTQ people who do not conform to an antiquated or “traditional” vision of our nation.
The existing provision under the ACA protects patients from being turned away and denied coverage if they need care that’s related to their trans identity. For trans individuals living in one of the more than two dozen states that lack state-level protections, federal law offers the last layer of defense from discrimination. If the most recent proposal to repeal the section 1557 protections from the Affordable Care Act is finalized, trans patients living in those states will be left without any relief. In 2016, several lawsuits were brought against the rule when it was released, and in one instance, a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction to stop gender identity and termination of pregnancy provisions; that injunction remains in effect.
The existing protections HHS is now trying to retract are intended to ensure all patients would have access to the care they need, allowing doctors to provide the best care when they felt it necessary.
Research and analysis from the Center for American Progress shows that the majority of patients who filed gender and sex discrimination complaints with Health and Human Services (HHS) between 2012 and 2016 were denied general care – that is, care unrelated to transition-related treatments – because of their gender identity. Trump’s proposed new rules would likely intensify these refusals, eliminating much-needed protection for transgender and gender non-conforming patients, and expanding the authority for health care workers to opt out of providing care to LGBTQ people and people seeking reproductive health care.
According to a report from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, transgender people are already four times more likely to live in extreme poverty; 90% of those surveyed said they had experienced harassment, mistreatment or discrimination in the workplace. Yet, Trump is actively working to legalize loopholes that promote discrimination that harms them.
As a pastor, I’ve often thought about who Jesus would befriend in today’s world: it’s not hard to imagine him spending time with the transgender community – the very people society so often harshly judges and mistreats based on misunderstanding and fear. The number of trans and nonbinary people murdered has hit record highs in recent years, and without laws explicitly protecting them from the prejudice that is clearly already present, trans Americans are left without any legal defense.
This rule change is also the latest in a slew of attacks against women’s health care that denies them basic freedom to make decisions about their own bodies. It reinforces shame, stigma and sexism – not righteousness.
For women across the country, this attack is not new.
From the growing number of restrictive abortion bills being presented in states across the country to the Trump administration’s attacks on Title X federal funding for family planning and preventative health care services, this administration has added new barriers to women seeking health care.
Jesus told his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Taking away freedom and discriminating against people because they are different is the opposite of love – as is denying people the care they so desperately need.
Faith calls every Christian to stand up against these perverse politics and embrace the fairness, inclusion and justice we learned in Sunday School.