aNewDomain — Did you know the U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act was written by and signed into law by Democrats?
The idea behind it was that sometimes laws have a disparate impact on people of faith regardless of their lack of intent to harm. The issues of the day were sacred tribal land and the use of psychoactive drugs in religious ceremonies.
But U.S. states didn’t like that version of the law.
The red states called it an overreach and so did the Supreme Court. The law stands but does not affect the implementation of any state laws, only federal ones. And some states, mostly blue states, added versions of the law to their own rolls.
Recently, it turned out that red states want in on that action.
While the federal version was targeted at and used mostly by non-Christian religions, Indiana’s law seems targeted towards Christian conservative voters.
Like the Supreme Court Hobby-Lobby decision, the intent of the law seems to be to protect people of majority faith from having to do anything outside their Biblical notions of good conduct.
For some reason, such voters seem to be easily distracted by the words “abortion” or “gay.”
So in a world with rising temperatures, rising sea levels, steadily increasing wind speeds, arable regions that are migrating towards the poles faster than our farmers, with the promise of famine, warfare and the culmination of mass-extinction currently in progress, the whole nation is arguing over whether some fundamentalist Christians need to cater gay weddings.
It’s pretty simple. Nobody’s religious freedom has been abridged in a way that needs a new state law to correct it. You get to go to whatever church you want, wear all the religious paraphernalia you want, read the books you want, sing the songs you want and raise your kids how you want.
Nobody is asking anyone to convert to other faiths or abandon their own.
When it comes to businesses making profit, though, we do have to accept some limitation, and that’s because of our history of bigotry. In other words, our federally protected rights to freedom are not a matter of faith or of public opinion, and respecting the freedom of others impinges on no recognized religion.
Here’s the thing:
When Khazan, McCain, McNeil and Richmond sat down at that Woolworths’ lunch counter in 1960, it was legal for them to do so, and it was legal for Woolworth’s to deny them service. Woolworths’ policy was to follow the local customs in the places in which their stores operated, and so they followed the local custom of segregation. They later remitted to overwhelming public opinion and opted to desegregate where it was legal to do so.
It took some time and effort for that public opinion to swing around. In the South, in many places, it still hasn’t. If we left it up to business owners to decide (as Ron Paul seems to think we should) segregation would still be a de facto fact of life in the South.
It is for this reason that the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason is sorely abridged. When we are making a profit, we have decided that the right is more important than what people think the right is. That is, that business entities are not able to discriminate along certain dimensions such as race or gender. Sexual orientation is quickly becoming such a dimension. Not every state has legal protections against such discrimination but that is changing too quickly to even keep track of.
And now we are back around to the opening question: Whose religious freedoms are protected by law like the RFRA when applied to keeping women from accessing contraception or same-sex couples from accessing bakers or pizza or photographers? The rights of the employees to not follow their employers’ religious beliefs appears to have been abridged here; it’s not like they work for a church and volunteer to sign a faith clause.
Why Do State Governments Draft These Laws? Pandering.
The rights of non-Christians to obtain goods and services absent discrimination also appears to be on the verge of being abridged.
Now when it comes to the Memories Pizza people, bless their hearts, I am actually at least a little bit in sympathy.
First, they really don’t have the right to refuse service based on sexual orientation, whether or not that is yet legally codified. But neither do those of us with more liberal persuasions have the right to write false reviews of their establishment or to threaten them with violence.
The best part of a million dollars in sympathy might be overdoing it — or it might not. We’re a vindictive sort of country, along with our other various faults; our retributive nature might be second only to our generosity. The $800k or so they raised on the Internet might enable them to hide out long enough to get a fresh start and, hopefully, a fresh perspective.
The broader issue here for me is why state governments feel they need to draft these laws to begin with. The answer, in a word, seems to be “pandering.”
Christian bakers could already sue if they thought the law unduly infringed upon their rights. They didn’t really need this law. But we have some elections coming up (we always have elections coming up) and state representatives, governors and so on all need to demonstrate to the voters that they’re doing a good job for them.
Whether a majority of people would think that doing a good job necessitated a bunch of talk about abortions, rape, gay weddings and the persecution of Christians is beside the point. The majority of people don’t have a lot of influence in an average election. Stop by the Wikipedia page illustrating Indiana’s voting districts. What you will see is two Democratic districts and seven Republican ones, all fairly secure.
The Cost of Job Security
That security is not an accident. Indiana doesn’t have the most gerrymandered districts in the nation, not by a long shot, but the districts are set up to give job security to particular people. That job security comes at the cost of accountability. Districts that change hands rarely if ever with long-term incumbency are the order of the day.
This strategy has started to backfire against Republicans, though: Politicians have been picking their voters for so long that they have created rabidly fundamentalist political voting blocs where you can never be Republican (or Democratic) enough.
It’s like the bodybuilder looking in the mirror. We see that he has built himself up to an extreme, impressive or even grotesque extent. All he sees in the mirror is a guy whose abs are not quite ripped enough or whose biceps need to be a bit larger.
Long-standing incumbents have started to lose to upstart Tea Party candidates who profess more ideological purity, less willingness to compromise. None of that is a secret. It’s not even a new idea.
But it does force states like Indiana to produce these sorts of laws to appease the frankly extreme voting blocs they themselves have created. Despite some backlash, the law will likely be a net gain for her governor and state reps.
There is an alternative, of course. Rather than continue to support bigotry and rile up the faithful with stories of persecution, state governments like Indiana’s could go back to the drawing boards on their voting districts. In other words, vote for a little less job security for themselves while voting for a little more ability to move away from the fringes of the party, towards the center where most of us live.
For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.
Cover art: Giovanni Dall’Orto (Own work) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons
Inline image one: Pauljoffe at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Inline image two: Giovanni Dall’Orto (Own work) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons