Last week, the Alaska Legislature denied confirmation of Drew Phoenix to the Alaska State Human Rights Commission. By a vote of 35 to 24, our elected representatives from across the state on both sides of the political aisle delivered a victory for impartiality.
Contrary to the recent piece by Paul Jenkins, the vote had nothing to do with a "fear of change" or because "some of us do not much like others of us."
Drew Phoenix, a transgender male, had taken a very public position as leader of Identity Inc., and as an ACLU employee against the freedoms of those who have traditional, biblical views of marriage, sexuality, rights of conscience and religious liberty. Phoenix had made it known very clearly that any vote cast as a member of the commission would be against freedoms for certain Alaskans.
Against the freedom to operate their lives in accordance with deeply held convictions — regardless if those views are not in line with culturally shifting winds. Against the freedom to live in a pluralistic society where diverse views are allowed. Against the freedom to practice your faith outside the walls of where you might worship.
As Alaska Family Action has said since Gov. Bill Walker nominated Drew Phoenix, the human rights commission is supposed to protect, not undermine, religious freedom. The commission has a statutory mandate to "eliminate and prevent discrimination" based on "religion" among other categories. Phoenix has actively and publicly opposed Alaskans' rights to operate their lives consistent with their deeply held convictions, siding with an ideological agenda to purge the public forum of biblical, traditional views on sexuality.
This vote affirms the right of Alaskans of all ideologies to be represented by an impartial commission — a quasi-judicial agency that decides real cases and controversies affecting the lives of real Alaskans. When individuals choose to become active in one side of a public debate, they should not expect public officials to overlook that when they want to sit on a commission charged with listening to both sides. In court, judges often recuse themselves from hearing cases where they have a conflict of interest. The Alaska Judicial Council, charged with sending up judicial nominees to the governor, often refuses to nominate individuals with impeccable legal backgrounds simply because they have publicly taken stances on issues that will come before them as judges.
I wonder how the legislators who supported Phoenix would have voted had the governor nominated someone from the other side of the equation. How about Dr. Jerry Prevo or myself? To be clear, I wouldn't expect them to vote for either of us. We are not impartial. We have taken a stand.
In an interview a few years back, Chai Feldblum, a lesbian professor of law at Georgetown University and Obama's pick for chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was quoted as saying that when religious liberty and sexual liberty conflict, "I'm having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win." In other words, there are people like Chai Feldblum and Drew Phoenix who believe that sexual liberty should trump religious liberty every time.
You run a Catholic adoption agency that cannot, in good conscience, place a child in a same-sex-couple home that purposefully denies that child the right to a mother or father. You lose and should be put out of business through government coercion.
You are a Christian florist, photographer, printer or other wedding vendor and, although you generally and gladly serve all customers, including LGBTQIA individuals, you cannot, in good conscience, participate in a same-sex wedding. You lose and should be put out of business through government coercion.
You are a Muslim counselor and cannot, in good conscience, provide relationship counseling to a lesbian couple. You lose and should have your license taken away through government coercion.
You are pastor of a church and cannot, in good conscience, allow men who identify as women to use the female restroom. You lose and should have your tax-exempt status taken from you through government strong-arming.
This is not the kind of state we want to live in and the Alaska Legislature should be commended for saying so. Drew Phoenix was always the wrong person for the job. Not because Drew Phoenix has had surgery to change gender. Not because of who Drew Phoenix loves. Not because anyone is frightened of Drew Phoenix.
Drew Phoenix was the wrong person for the job because he had made his mind up long ago about cases that would come before him on the commission. And that is not who we need on an impartial, quasi-judicial agency. The Legislature has done the right thing by telling Gov. Walker to find someone who has the qualities of objectivity and impartiality that will inspire confidence among all Alaskans.
Jim Minnery is president of Alaska Family Council, a pro-life advocacy group that supports traditional marriage and religious freedom.
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