We all love a good Martin Luther King Jr. quote. The empowering words of the most visible spokesperson and leader of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement still need to be heard, we’re just not sure they need to heard this way. On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced its decision to open a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within its existing civil rights office. The event was hosted by Roger Severino, a longtime anti-LGBTQ activist who now leads the department’s Office of Civil Rights.
The overhaul of the HHS civil rights office is part of a larger plan to protect health workers who don’t want to perform abortions, treat transgender patients trying to transition or provide other services to which they might have religious or moral objections.
Under the proposed rule, the civil rights office would be empowered to further shield these workers from legal consequences and punish organizations that don’t allow employees to express their religious and moral objections. That would be a significant shift for the office, which currently focuses on enforcing federal civil rights and health care privacy laws for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The goal of the office is gross, but they way they celebrated its creation is especially nauseating.
The disgusting speech introducing the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division
Think Progress reports:
Over the course of the event, Severino managed to compare people who think that the law applies equally to nonbelievers and people of faith to Nazis. And he placed himself and other government officials working to undermine anti-discrimination laws on the same side as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In his speech introducing the event, Severino told a story about how he developed a commitment to “the notion of conscience” after reading about Jews on Nazi Germany who were forced to tread upon Hebrew words that, presumably, those individuals viewed as sacred. “I could see the common humanity of why if somebody’s forced to violate their conscience in every step they take, how it’s an attack, really, on their human dignity,” the anti-LGBTQ activist-turned-government official said.
Then things went even further off the rails. Severino compared his efforts to use religion as a justification for discrimination to the work of Dr. King — a man who devoted his life’s work to abolishing discrimination. “I had a chance to reread Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Severino said, before comparing Dr. King’s decision to go to jail in defense of African Americans’ civil rights to modern day religious conservatives’ appeals to conscience.
We’re sure if Martin Luther King saw the injustices happening today he would be speaking out against them. If only he knew his own words are being used to justify this discrimination. He’s probably rolling in his grave.
Of course, while the words announcing the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division are extremely upsetting, what’s more upsetting is what this office means for LGBT people trying to receive medical services — especially our trans brothers and sisters. The idea that someone could refuse them care at their time of need is unjust and discriminatory, no matter whose name it’s done in.