CT Comptroller Kevin Lembo / CT News Junkie file photoAt the outset, I have to concede this is something of a tempest in a teapot. We aren’t talking about very much money here, and the stakes aren’t very high, on either side of this conflict. Still, it is an example of someone daring to take on a well-known and vocal Religious Right group, which is actually rare, since they’ve been so successful at intimidating others and bullying them into acquiescence.

Now then, on to the story … !

The state of Connecticut has a program by which its employees can have money deducted from their paychecks and sent directly to a number of charitable organizations. To be included in this program, charities must sign up and agree to abide by certain standards. But in the case of the American Family Association, that proved to be a problem. CT’s comptroller, Kevin Lembo, whose office administers the program, wants to find out if the AFA is actually living up to that agreement; but as CT News Junkie reports, the AFA is none too happy about that (WebCite cached article):

After asking a Christian organization that’s against LGBTQ rights for more information about how it conforms with Connecticut’s nondiscrimination clause to qualify for state employee payroll deductions, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo became the group’s newest target.

The American Family Association, a Mississippi-based group that is known for its anti-gay and anti-transgender boycotts of businesses, is flooding Lembo’s office with calls and emails. As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, Lembo said his office had received 4,455 emails from people associated with AFA.…

Last week, Lembo, who is the Connecticut’s first openly gay constitutional officer, announced that his office was investigating [cached] whether the group conforms with the anti-discrimination policy for the Connecticut State Employee Campaign for Charitable Giving program. Lembo said the group signed the anti-discrimination clause, but their website seems to offer a different story.

As one would expect, the AFA went ballistic over Lembo’s investigation. It probably didn’t help that Lembo is openly gay. They claim his move is an “attack” on their religious freedom, and Lembo’s way of trying to wipe out devout, dutiful Christians like themselves … but it’s not. At stake here is just one very small question: Whether or not the AFA is allowed to remain in CT’s payroll-deduction program for state employees. That’s all. Nothing more. Whether they’re in this program or not, will not change their lives in the slightest. It won’t force them to give up their beliefs. It won’t close any of their churches, it won’t rip Bibles out of their homes or hands. It won’t do anything of the sort, even if they claim it would. What’s more, as CTNJ explains, we’re talking about a small amount of money:

Between 2011 and 2016, AFA has receive $202 from three state employees. Since the group is part of a larger group of 13 charities within the account, it’s unknown exactly how much it received in undesignated funds. The group of 13 charities under the Neighbor to Nation heading received a little more than $4,000 a year between 2011 and 2014.

That kind of money isn’t going to make or break the AFA. It just won’t, no matter how sanctimoniously enraged they may be at this insolent, profane gay man who dared take them on, even in a small way such as this.

Really, the problem here is with the AFA. They reached an agreement with the state of CT in order to be included in this program, and that agreement included anti-discrimination terms, which they haven’t abided by, and which they even insist they’re obliged to ignore by dint of their religious beliefs. In other words … they signed an agreement whose terms they damned well knew, from the very start, that they never intended to live by. They weren’t coerced into signing up for that program or signing that agreement; no one put a gun to their heads and forced them to do so. They did that of their own volition. It now appears they did so dishonestly. I salute the Comptroller for pointing out their duplicity and for taking them on … even if the end result won’t accomplish very much (at best, the AFA will be deprived of a few hundred dollars a year in contributions, should they be removed from the program).

Really, for me — as I stated at the beginning of this post — what’s significant here is that Lembo was even willing at all to try to take on the AFA. Most of the time, public officials won’t contend with Christofascists. Rather, they tend overwhelmingly to bend over for them and give in to their bullying tactics. This is how they’ve succeeded as much as they have over the last three or four decades. They always seem to resort to their claim of sincere belief and “religious freedom,” as though this means all of humanity is required to knuckle under to all their demands, all the time, and that they’re never to be questioned, ever, for any reason. The world doesn’t work that way, and there’s no reason officials should act as though it does.

Photo credit: CT News Junkie.

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