Monday, March 30, 2015

Discrimination disguised as religious freedom

These days, there's an ongoing brouhaha over Indiana's new legislation signed into law by the governor - it's a "religious freedom restoration act" (RFRA) that effectively grants businesses the right to discriminate against persons on the basis of the business owner's religious beliefs.  An outpouring of disgust regarding this has resulted, including calls to boycott the state.  RFRAs are a total load of rubbish, of course.  The true origins of this legislation are rooted in the fear and revulsion (bigotry) that some people (mainly christian right-wing conservatives) feel about the LGBT members of their communities.  I'm not qualified to offer any sort of psychoanalysis of that fear's origins, so I'll not engage in "pop psychology".

In the USA, there's no need to restore religious freedom!  It's been guaranteed since this nation was founded within the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution.  Some christians are especially fond of seeing themselves as being persecuted on the basis of their religion - in a nation where the majority of its people are christians, christian churches are open and operating throughout the land, christian holidays are national holidays, and most of the people's elected representatives are christian.  Persecution?  What a load of self-centered nonsense!  If religious freedom is under attack by anyone, it's by the christian "religious reich", not the non-christians!  And one of the rights protected by our religious freedom is to be entirely free from religion, despite what christian religious reich apologists assert!  In some cases (e.g., within the military), Americans are literally being forced to participate in religion!

The absurd, convoluted rationalizations on behalf of these RFRAs are a communion wafer-thin veneer over the bigotry many of their supporters show regarding LGBTs.  Consider this:  a civil war was fought, and a massive civil rights protest leading to anti-discriminatory legislation was conducted, just to allow people of color in this nation to be granted their freedoms, rather than being enslaved and marginalized.  Open discrimination on racial grounds is no longer acceptable.  Similar rationalizations to those being heard today, also with their origins in religion were used, especially prior to the Civil War, to justify the evil institution of slavery (which is sanctioned in the Old Testament).  Not all christians see the bible as racist, but racists always have been (and still are) cherry-picking the bible in order to institutionalize their bigotry.  The battles to support civil rights for people of color in the USA have been fought - and, unfortunately, are still being fought to this very day - albeit not with armed conflict, but instead with political activism on both sides.  I'm sorry to say that racism is alive and well in the USA.

So we now have RFRAs designed to restore something that has never been interrupted in the history of the US:  "religious freedom".  What can be the real point of RFRAs?  No rational person today can argue that businesses are empowered to discriminate openly on the basis of skin color (race is now recognized to have virtually no meaningful scientific basis), of course.  Here and now, the fear and loathing are not openly directed at people of color, but rather at a person's sexual orientation.  And virtually identical arguments are being advanced that religion can justify that discrimination.  Of this, there can be absolutely no doubt!  The handwaving and rationalizations are only a transparent disguise on behalf of discrimination.  Please, let the christian conservatives supporting this legislation enlighten me:  just how does baking a cake for a gay couple to celebrate their marriage restrict your freedom to practice your religion?  Such a marriage may offend you, of course, based on your opinion of what the bible says.  Too bad for you, there's no Constitutional protection against being offended!  Are Christ's teachings such that he would discriminate against anyone for any reason?  In the entire New Testament, nothing is said by Christ about homosexuals whatsoever!  The Christ in the bible I read would send no one away, especially those he considered to be sinners.  The notion of homosexuality as a sin might have been extant at the time of Christ, but there's no scientific basis for seeing it as anything other than inborn sexual orientation - you can't catch it from someone else, and it can't be "cured" of it, any more than you can "cure" the color of your skin.  You don't choose to be gay, anymore than heteros choose to be "straight".  Homosexuality is a natural condition, as science has shown, and we share it with many other creatures.

Thus, it seems to me that the real intent of RFRAs is two-fold:  (1) To allow discriminatory business practices, and (2) to push a particular religion-based concept into the law of the land.  Both of these are direct violations of the Constitution, and are lynchpins of the religious reich.  All the other arguments, meant to deflect attention from the blatant bigotry of RFRA proponents, are just so much obfuscation.  They realize they can't simply discriminate against LGBTs, so they create this smokescreen to disguise their true intentions.


Chris Robbins said...

Excellent essay, Chuck. The whole thing makes me sick. Governor Pence was asked 6 times by George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" to clarify whether or not this particular RFRA was crafted to allow businesses to discriminate against the LGBT community, and he evaded the question each time. I think his evasion speaks for itself. I'm not an expert on RFRAs, but I do believe the very early intent of these were to protect religious groups (individuals) from government intrusion on their beliefs (for example, requiring the Amish to install LED brake lights on their carriages, which goes against their belief system).

Nowadays, the RFRAs are being used to discriminate (but clearly the Governor wouldn't admit that, despite being asked a simple yes/no question six times). I watched that interview and it was laughable at best. It pleases me to see a few cities and now the State of Connecticut, issuing government travel bans to Indiana. Also, some businesses, like Angie’s List, are pulling extremely lucrative business deals out of the State of Indiana. Replace "gay people" with "black people" and we're right back in the 1950s.

I'm sure the Supreme Court will eventually have its say on the matter, because the tide has changed. I believe public opinion on the issue of LGBT rights has changed faster than almost any other social issue in the history of our country, because EVERYONE knows and loves someone who is gay (whether it's their best friend from high school, one of their parents, their sons, their daughters, etc.). Public opinion among Republicans has also changed and a rapid pace. I was surprised to learn that one of the Koch Brothers was among the signatories on a brief to the Supreme Court encouraging them to rule in favor of gay marriage later this spring. Yet, some just want to continue discriminating -- and you're right, hate/discrimination is NOT something that Jesus taught or would've been pleased with.

Thank you for writing such an insightful essay on this issue. It will be interesting to see what happens in the days, weeks, and months ahead. –Chris Robbins

Anonymous said...

I would say that not only is there religious freedom but religion has stepped over the line of what is fair. There should be no special considerations for religious organizations and corporations should not be required to make any accommodations for so called religious beliefs. Religion is a choice. If you want to believe in a particular fairy tale, that's up to you. It should not be up to anyone else to accommodate your misplaced beliefs. Religion is getting more than it deserves as far as freedom goes. It needs to be reigned in and seen for what it is. The fact that someone may believe something for religious reasons is meaningless.

It's 2015 and this is supposed to be a civilized country. You can't deny people services based on things that they have no control over, race, age, sex, sexual orientation. If something is against your religion. Tough bananas. Too bad. Time to reevaluate your beliefs. On the other hand, discriminating based on a persons religion or being religious may make sense. It's a behavior and activity that people have full control over and says certain things about a person. Someone can either believe in a myriad of fairy tales or not. They can also keep their views private. Thus, if you are evaluating someone for a job, religion should be fair game. "I don't really want to hire someone who believes in fairy tales at the age of 30." I don't think this person would be a good fit for our organization. Too caught up in religion, isn't in the real world. May cause problems with gay employees. Just something to think about. If you have two similar employees, which one do you want?

Lisa MacArthur
Riverside RI