Pennsylvania Lawmaker Promotes Discrimination on MLK Day

As the nation honors the life of Martin Luther King Jr. Monday, a Pennsylvania lawmaker is attempting to amend the state constitution to formally roll back the civil rights of state residents.

Philadelphia Daily News reports that Rep. Gordon Denlinger (R-Lancaster), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Fiscal Policy, is circulating a co-sponsorship memo seeking support in his effort to amend Article 1, Section 3 of the state constitution from punishing a person or employer for making any kind of discriminatory decision. He’s calling it the “Freedom of Conscience Amendment.”

From the Daily News:

Under this proposal, employers, storeowners, realtors, motel managers, etc., could deny jobs, groceries, homes or rooms to anyone (tall, short, pregnant, Catholic, Jewish, gay, Goth, Democrat, newspaper columnist) offending their beliefs. Just as long as such beliefs are “sincerely held.”

If that language sounds familiar, it’s because “sincerely held belief” is one of key concepts at the root of the challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s mandatory birth control provision. In fact, Denlinger admits the whole idea of legalizing all forms of discrimination in Pennsylvania is directly inspired by the challenge to birth control mandate.

Rep. Denlinger, an ultra-conservative even by Pennsylvania standards, is a graduate of Bob Jones University, a faith-based school that is notorious for a history of racism. His biography states that he is the founding chairman of the Values Action Team, “a coalition of like-minded legislators working to advance traditional family values in our State Capitol.”

According to the Daily News, “Denlinger says he’s introducing [the amendment] because of his friendship with the Mennonite family that owns Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Lancaster County cabinetmaker.”

Conestoga Wood Specialties, operating in the same county Denlinger represents, is a for-profit company challenging the federal mandate, as part of the Affordable Care Act, that employers must provide insurance plans covering birth control. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case in March.

On his Facebook page, Rep. Denlinger announced the amendment after declaring his support for Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns that operates nursing homes in Colorado and Maryland. Little Sisters made news recently for its case arguing that signing the paperwork to exempt the group from the mandate was a substantial burden on its religious freedom, even though the mandate didn’t apply to the group in the first place.

“What we have seen is an attack on individuals who allow their faith to inform how they live their lives or conduct their businesses,” wrote Denlinger.

Denlinger is running for state senate this year, a position in which he hopes he can have “greater impact.”

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