Mr. President, Discrimination by Any Other Name…


July 4, 2014

Dear President Obama,

I certainly don’t have the kind of influence and power as the ministers who recently wrote you about their concerns over not being allowed to discriminate against LGBT folk, but since I am a citizen, I do believe my voice matters as much as theirs. I thank you for taking the time to listen to it and to consider my words.

Like many of them, I am an ordained minister (Presbyterian Church, USA), but I am not in agreement with them. In their letter to you they say, “We must find a way to respect diversity of opinion.” I disagree with them, because I have cause to believe that extending equality to all people is not something about which we get to have an opinion — or at least not an opinion that should affect policy. That which gives me “cause to believe” is the Constitution.

As it turns out, my religious holy texts also encourage me to see all people as being created equally in the image of God.

And while I do not support the setting of policy based on one religion’s beliefs, I do find it comforting to see the Constitution reiterating this basic humanitarian perspective: We all deserve to be treated equally under the law.

The authors of the letter also said, “Americans have always disagreed on important issues, but our ability to live with our diversity is part of what makes this country great, and it continues to be essential even in this 21st-century.”

Yes, we have always disagreed on important issues — like slavery and women’s rights, just to name a few. I, for one, do not believe we should allow those kinds of “disagreements” to dictate access to equality for anyone. We’ve seen how that works before, and we’ve seen the lingering, generational effects of laws that accommodate those “disagreements.” (And it’s not pretty.)

It also turns out that my religious texts encourage me to stand up for justice by speaking out for those whose access to equality is being limited, but they have very little interest in the question of same-sex relationships. On the other hand, the Christian scriptures practically get pedantic in talking about extending love, justice and grace to all people.

It’s difficult to trust the judgment and the intent of those who wrote you when they say, “We have great appreciation for your commitment to human dignity and justice, and we share those values with you,” while, in the same breath, saying it is essential that they be given an exemption from extending human dignity and justice to a specific group.

As one of my personal heroes, the Rev. Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

This is one of those shifting lines in the sands of equality. The recent Supreme Court ruling on the Hobby Lobby case has already began to blur that line in a way that has the potential to pull this nation backwards in its movement towards improved equality— back to a time when access to power entailed being white, male, straight, rich and Christian. I implore you, Mr. President, do not let the line be further blurred.

I applaud you for your intent to take a clear stand on all forms of discrimination. Congress had an opportunity to do the same and chose to allow discrimination to continue in the hiring practices of federal contractors. The exception that Rev. Rick Warren and his co-signers are asking for quite simply allows one group to actively discriminate against another. It really is not as complicated an issue as they would like others to believe. It would be yet another step backward in American history, back to a time when discrimination and injustice were thought permissible by means of divine judgment.

Back to a time when you could not have been President. Maybe that is what they want.

This is not a question of religion, nor should it be. This is a question of basic human dignity and basic human rights. This is a question of continuing to become a nation of true freedom and true justice, the principles that we celebrate on the Fourth of July.

This is a question of continuing to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice. It does not bend easily. It does not bend un-aided, but it does bend and we must be its guide and protector in the face of such needless, relentless opposition.


Rev. Mark Sandlin

(Edit: You can now “co-sign” this letter by signing this petition —

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