Saturday, July 11, 2015

Religious Freedom and Signs from Our Past: Reminders of How the Religious Freedom Argument Has Persistently Been Abused to Justify Discrimination

At his Facebook page, Mark David Gerson shares a collage of photos from the not-distant past, as he notes, 

As we ponder the "religious freedom" of those refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and those refusing to serve gays and lesbians, it would serve us to remember these signs from a not-distant-enough past, many also posted on religious grounds.

Mark David's photo collage dovetails nicely with a photo that one of my Facebook friends, Kay Davis, shared with me on Facebook yesterday, from the Facebook feed of Equality House:

It's interesting to me to see how the political and religious right continues to insist on tying itself into knots over the issue of (pseudo) "religious freedom" and the "right" of businesses and civil servants to refuse goods and services to others because of their sexual orientation. This week, a celebrity I've never heard of, Candace Cameron Bure, apparently made some amazingly ill-informed remarks about how business owners should have the right to claim religious scruples as they deny services and goods to gay folks, because, Bure maintains, the Constitution protects one's "freedom of association."

I well remember Southern business owners employing that very same argument after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. One business after another cited deeply held religious beliefs about the wrongness of mixing the races as the business denied goods and services to African Americans. This argument was definitively shot down by the federal government —e.g., in the Supreme Court ruling Bob Jones v. United States, regarding the purported "right" of a religiously based college to receive federal funding while discriminating against interracial couples. This and other federal rulings pointed out that the Constitution does not give the majority the right to discriminate against the minority even when the majority claims such discrimination has religious warrant.

Quite simply, if someone wants to operate a business serving the public, he or she cannot choose to serve some parts of the public and not others. I daresay that the moment Candace Cameron Bure happened to encounter a business owner who informed her that she had no right to the services or goods of that business because she's a woman, and don't we all know what the the bible says about women?, she'd scream bloody hell. And she'd be right to do so.

Why is discrimination against LGBT people based on (pseudo) religious-freedom claims justifiable, when it's not justifiable if those being discriminated against are people of color, women, Jews, or other minority groups, I wonder? And in Utah right now, Senator Mike Lee is pushing a similar "religious freedom" argument, one that is, at base, an argument for the continued right of people claiming religious grounds to discriminate against LGBT people, post-Obergefell

Because religion. That's the argument in a nutshell: if I shout religious conviction, I have somehow established a magic right to discriminate against you, with the backing of the U.S. Constitution, since the Constitution protects my right to engage in such discrimination if I claim it's based in sincerely held religious belief.

I suspect, however, that if any business owner or government agency used that argument to discriminate against Mike Lee as a Mormon — "Sorry, Senator, I can't serve you because my flavor of Christianity regards your Mormonism as heretical" — he'd shout bloody hell. And he'd be right to do so.

Isn't it interesting that these folks defending the right of people of faith to discriminate against LGBT people in business transactions and government services never seem able to place themselves in the shoes of those whose discriminatory treatment they're defending, when they'd never allow such discrimination against themselves and their kind on the very same grounds?

(I'm grateful to John Masters of the Deep Something blog for sharing Mark David Gerson's Facebook posting with me.)

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