Twelve Democratic senators are trying to thwart a highly regarded civil rights attorney in his position at the Health and Human Services Department because of his work on religious liberty issues. Roger Severino served as a trial attorney in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division for seven years during the Obama administration. He also worked for a brief time on religious civil liberties at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society.
Yet in a threatening letter to HHS Secretary Thomas Price, the senators claim to be “deeply troubled” by his hiring, alleging, without any evidence, “a long history of making bigoted statements toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and attacking women’s access to health care services and reproductive rights.” The letter does not substantiate the charge in any way.
The letter suggests Severino would not respect and serve all people, including immigrants, people with disabilities, or people of varying religious backgrounds and beliefs. To disparage him, the senators ignored Severino’s lengthy civil rights record, which includes cases dealing with just those things:
This first HIV discrimination case brought by the United States under the Fair Housing Act was lauded by gay rights groups. The United States won a suit alleging that the owner and property manager of a building in Chicago violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to rent to a woman because she was HIV-positive.
St. Bernard Parish agreed to a settlement in excess of $2.5 million to resolve lawsuits alleging “it engaged in a multi-year campaign to limit or deny rental housing opportunities to African-Americans in the parish in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.” Severino’s division alleged that the parish’s actions both were intended to and had the effect of disproportionately harming African-Americans seeking rental housing in the parish.
Severino’s division settled a lawsuit in Texas regarding discrimination against persons of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent.
A case involving familial status discrimination, specifically families with children, in housing in Pennsylvania.
This complicated case dealt with the subjection of poor, black, single female tenants to unwanted verbal and physical sexual advances, denial of housing benefits based on sex, and adverse action against female tenants who refused sexual advances.
Severino contacted mall authorities after a Muslim group referred the case of a security guard kicking a Muslim housewife out of the mall for wearing a hijab. The case was resolved without officially having to file a suit when the mall took action against the employee for his behavior.
The Justice Department resolved its lawsuit against Lucky Joy restaurant in Flushing, New York over its refusal to serve Falun Gong practitioners. The restaurant ownership admitted that, in violation of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the restaurant’s staff had ejected patrons who wore Falun Gong T-shirts.
This case dealt with hundreds of violations of the Fair Housing Act’s requirement that apartments in the complex be designed and constructed to be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. Violations include lack of wheelchair access, excessively steep slopes on accessible routes, kitchen sinks and ranges that were inaccessible, outlets and thermostats that were too high or too low, and door thresholds that were too high.
In this case, an apartment complex limited individuals with service animals, subjected them to pet fees, required such animals to be licensed and certified, and in some cases banned service dogs altogether.
Severino’s lengthy civil rights work since he graduated from Harvard Law School — both within the government and in religious civil liberty positions — is to be commended, not derided by activists. Yet the senators in their letter critique his work on behalf of religious liberty, a constitutionally protected natural right.
The letter also mentions “offensive statements.” One supposedly troubling comment he made was that “The radical left is using government power to coerce everyone, including children, into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology over and above their right to privacy, safety, and religious freedom.” Perhaps trying to kick a civil rights attorney who cares about religious freedom, safety, and privacy out of his office because he doesn’t pledge allegiance to the denial of science inherent in radical gender ideology is not a good way to rebut the charge.
If this is the standard for bigotry, anyone who doesn’t believe laws should be rewritten or reinterpreted to match the desires of the most radical of trans lobbyists is a bigot. If concern over poorly developed gender ideology’s effect on the privacy, safety, and religious rights of others is bigotry, then any human who recognizes the reality of sexual distinctions is a bigot.
Matthew Franck noted at the time of Severino’s hiring that there is a need for political appointees to reverse some of the problems caused by an agency that pushed discrimination against others in recent years. “During the Obama administration, HHS became an aggressive discriminator against employers, insurers, and health care providers who only wanted to be left alone to act on their moral principles in favor of innocent human life, and on their religiously informed consciences against cooperation with evil,” he said.
Some radical groups have a history of denigrating religious values and even religious liberty — the first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights — with bigotry and hate. Sometimes this conflation has sparked violence through venomous labeling, such as the case of a man who attempted to commit mass murder at a religious values organization. He was spurred on by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s irresponsible designation of that organization as a hate group. The same type of irresponsible rhetoric is at play in this letter from these senators, and the radical lobbyists egging them on.