News & Politics

Okla. Lawmakers Move to Impeach Obama, Protect Religious Freedom, In LGBT Bathroom Fight

United States President Barack Obama (Rex Features via AP Images)

Oklahoma lawmakers have entered the fray around the Obama administration’s transgender bathroom policy, filing legislation on Thursday to urge impeachment of Barack Obama and to protect religious freedom for students in Oklahoma schools.

These dramatic moves follow a “Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students” issued on May 13 by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED), broadening the definition of “discrimination on the basis of sex,” which is already banned under federal law, to include transgender people. This means schools must accommodate people’s gender identity in sex-based facilities like bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms.

Republicans have attacked the move as a gross abuse of power, effectively rewriting laws from the 1960s and 1970s to apply to an issue that only picked up steam last year. Another complaint is that the DOJ and ED’s letter — addressed to all schools receiving federal funding — seems to have no protection for religious institutions which might object to accommodating transgender students, based on their belief that God (or Jehovah or Allah) created humans male and female.

The Oklahoma legislature has no standing to impeach President Obama, so its resolution only urges the state’s representatives in the U.S. Congress to do so. The resolution also urges impeachment for U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. In addition to these impeachments, the Oklahoma resolution calls upon the state’s own attorney general to “defend, by any means necessary, the interests of this state against the overreach of the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice and the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education.”

The call for impeachment is stated in no uncertain terms:

The members of the United States House of Representatives elected from this state are hereby requested to file articles of impeachment against the President of the United States, the Attorney General of the United States, the Secretary of Education and any other federal official liable to impeachment who has exceeded his or her constitutional authority with respect to the letter references in this resolution, based upon the grounds that the Constitution of the United States does not grant the executive branch of the federal government any authority whatsoever over the public education system, nor over the use of restrooms or other facilities thereof.

To be clear, the resolution does not support discrimination of any kind. It also states that the Oklahoma legislature “is fully supportive of providing a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for and protecting the privacy of all students.” Indeed, it is this very commitment which makes the Obama administration’s letter so egregious. “The policies, proscriptions and conditions set forth in the letter clearly and unequivocally exceeds the authority of the federal government,” the resolution flatly states.

Next Page: Religious Freedom protections, and why the transgender guideline is an example of federal overreach.

But a call for impeachment was not enough for this conservative legislature. It also sought to protect the religious freedom of students. This bill would allow students to ask their school district for an “accommodation based on the student’s sincerely held religious beliefs” to avoid having to share restrooms, athletic changing facilities, or showers with transgender students.

This second measure reveals how truly desperate many conservatives feel about the issue. The basic discomfort of sharing showers and changing rooms with someone of the opposite sex is apparently not enough of a consideration to merit protection. Instead, a student would have to resort to religious freedom protections (also extremely important) in order to object.

Representative John Bennett, a Republican who supported the impeachment resolution, described the federal guidance as “biblically wrong” and called for continued opposition to it. “Oklahomans are simply not going to stand for this utter nonsense,” he declared in a statement.

Bennett condemned the Obama administration’s move as a violation of Oklahoma’s sovereignty and an “attempt to use our children as pawns in a liberal agenda.” For these reasons and more, he promised, “We are going to do everything we can to protect our women and children.”

On Friday, a group of 78 U.S. representatives signed a letter asking the ED and DOJ how exactly they plan to enforce the new guidelines. The group, led by North Carolina Representative Mark Walker, asked how draconian the Obama administration would be in applying such standards, and asked if there would be any provision made for the privacy and discomfort of non-transgender students or the religious objections of faith-based schools.

Walker called out the administration for unilaterally redefining federal provisions outlawing “discrimination on the basis of sex” to include gender. When protections were written into law in 1964 and 1971, no lawmaker intended to protect people who identified as a gender opposite to their biological sex of male or female, Republicans argued. “This guidance expands the ED and DOJ’s interpretations of sex discrimination to include not only an individual’s biological sex, but also an individual’s internal sense of gender,” the letter read.

Walker attacked this as “another clear overreach of the federal government.” He declared that “the federal government has no business making these decisions, much less, to threaten stripping federal funds from schools for not following their politically motivated orders.”

Next Page: Media outlets are already spinning this as another civil rights movement, with conservatives backing “separate but equal” facilities.

Despite these arguments, media outlets have already started framing the Oklahoma resolutions in terms of segregation, echoing the civil rights movement. Reuters’ Heide Brandes did so in no uncertain terms.

Brandes explained the religious freedom measure as allowing “students to claim a religious right to have separate but equal bathrooms and changing facilities to segregate them from transgender students.” [emphasis added] Her blatant use of the phrase “separate but equal” resonated with the battle against racial integration in the 1960s. Brandes also restated this connection, stating that “the Oklahoma bill would allow for segregation at school restrooms, athletic changing facilities and showers.”

Nevertheless, the Reuters author has a point when it comes to budget difficulties Oklahoma is already facing. Brandes emphasized the “costly construction” of alternate facilities when Oklahoma already cut education funding in order to meet a $1.3 billion budget shortfall.

“In a time when our state is facing an unprecedented economic crisis, our lawmakers should be focused on righting the ship rather than stigmatizing transgender youth,” Troy Stevenson, executive director of the LGBT group Freedom Oklahoma, told Reuters.

Perhaps the same argument goes in the other direction. When our country is facing a continued economic crisis, threats from overseas, and an utter breakdown in people’s confidence in the federal government, the Obama administration should be less focused on “stigmatizing” those who object to his LGBT agenda.

Conservatives do not wish to promote discrimination against transgender people — they are merely concerned over the potential abuse of perverts masquerading as transgenders and over the immense discomfort of biological men and women being forced to share a changing room with the opposite sex. This is not a civil rights issue, and there is more than one solution to it. Nevertheless, it seems that once more for this president, the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.