Thursday, January 7, 2016

"If I Believe It Sincerely Enough, I Have the Right to Deny You Rights": Religious Freedom Argument Remains Alive and Well in 2016

Religious freedom (as in, "If I believe it hard and sincerely enough, I have the right to deny rights to you: because my God tells me so!") remains in the news as 2016 begins, and in all likelihood, will continue to be in the news this year, especially as the election cycle heats up:

As Jon Green notes at Americablog yesterday in response to an Atlantic article by Emma Green, the current iteration of the religious freedom argument in American culture quite specifically contests LGBT rights. It proposes that people of sincere faith who oppose LGBT rights should be permitted the special right to trample on the rights of LGBT people, though previous arguments advanced by the predecessors of these religious groups that religious groups should enjoy a special right to deny rights to people of color and women have been rejected. 

Jon Green sums up his critique of the current anti-LGBT religious freedom argument as follows:

That is, after all, the very definition of religious freedom in a secular liberal democracy such as the United States: You get to practice your faith in private, but you don't get to impose it on anyone else. You don’t, for instance, get to say that you won’t make a pizza for a black person but you will make one for a white person. Nor do you get to say that you’ll sell a suit to a man but not to a woman. And you certainly can't make it store policy to ask your customers if they're Muslim before deciding whether to give them a loan at a bank. 
You could claim a sincerely-held religious belief for all of these actions, but no one would take you seriously if you did. That’s because we decided that it isn't alright to discriminate on the basis of race, gender or religion in hiring, housing or places of public accommodation decades ago. And what few exemptions were carved out for religious beliefs at the time were established on astonishingly weak grounds. In other words, Christian conservatives are demanding the rights to discriminate against LGBT people that we've already decided they don't or shouldn't have against any other demographic. Christian conservatives have a term for that, and that term is "special rights."

And as Jon Green mounts this fine argument, Alabama "Ten Commandments in the Statehouse" Chief Justice Roy Moore has once again sought to throw a monkey wrench into the justice system of his state by issuing an order — another order — instructing Alabama probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in defiance of the Obergefell ruling. As Jay Michaelson notes, this monkey-wrench order not only demeans all married couples in Alabama: it also throws all those probate judges under the bus, forcing them to decide how they'll respond.

Here's how at least one of them has responded: David Badash reports for NCRM,

Saying he thinks Chief Justice Moore "has jumped the shark at this point," Judge [Steven] Reed [of Montgomery County], as reports, "said he doesn't know if Moore's order today was an attempt by Moore to 'get on Donald Trump's radar,' or generate publicity for some other reason."
Reed "said the order is an embarrassment to Alabama and to the Alabama Supreme Court. 'I think it sets a bad example when the chief justice behaves like this,' Reed said."
And then he called for Moore to quit. 
"We don't get to pick and choose what laws we follow," he said. "If he (Moore) can't follow those laws he ought to step down."

But you know who does insist that we have the right to pick and choose what laws we follow, on the basis of our sincerely held belief? A large number of the U.S. Catholic bishops, who have made this claim the centerpiece of their bogus "religious freedom" crusade for several years now . . . .

And they have very strong support among the right-wing Catholic men who form a strong voting bloc on the nation's highest judicial bench, the Supreme Court . . . . So, no, this discussion is not about to disappear anytime soon, especially during an election year.

Stickers like the one at the top of the posting (from a WIBC report in Indianapolis) proliferated in Indiana and Arkansas last year when the legislatures of both states tried to push through "religious freedom" bills legalizing anti-gay legislation. Steve and I now look for signs like this when we go to local restaurants in Little Rock. We patronize restaurants that advertise that they're open for business for everyone. We also have to admit we like the sign a restaurant in our neighborbood put up as the Arkansas legislature deliberated about "religious freedom" as a right to discriminate, which announced that the restaurant reserves the right to deny service to Arkansas legislators.

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