Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Supremes and Cake Bakers' "Artistic Expression": Back to Piggie Park, But This Time with (White) Catholics on Board

As Antonia Blumberg and Amanda Marcotte note, if the Supremes rule for business owners' right to discriminate against LGBTQ people and call that discrimination religious freedom, we're back to Piggie Park. We're back to South Carolina barbecue joint owner Maurice Bessinger in the 1960s, with Bessinger's claim that religious faith mandated he discriminate against African-American customers, and he should be permitted religious freedom to discriminate because his belief was sincere.

In 1968, the Supremes would have none of this patent absurdity.

Today, it's entirely possible that, given where our society has chosen to head after permitting the party of opposition to steal a Supreme court seat for an ideologue of the hardest right, the Supremes will rule for "Christian" cake bakers and their "right" to protect their "artistic creations" from unwanted intrusion of customers who violate the religious beliefs of said cake bakers.

If the Supremes swallow the "artistic creation" nonsense being presented to them by the political and religious right as it defends the right of businesses to discriminate against queer people, nothing at all will stand in the way of barbecue joints proclaiming that their sandwiches are artistic creations and should be doled out only to customers of whom God approves. Or hairdressers. Or drugstore owners. Or county clerks. Or, or, or.

We are, in other words, poised to go back beyond 1968 with this Supreme Court decision — back to a time in which overt discrimination against black people on grounds of race by white people claiming to be doing God's will as they discriminated was socialy acceptable and legally permitted. What we are about right now as a society is the dismantling of a social contract that has, for decades now, sought to protect people in their old age through Social Security and Medicare benefits, to assist the needy through welfare programs, to take care of poor children's healthcare needs through CHIP, to protect people from discrimination on grounds of race or gender (and, now, tentatively and slowly, on grounds of sexual orientation) — no matter what sincere "religious belief" opponents of this social safety net offered as they wanted to dismantle it.

In the past, many American Christians strongly defended the arrangements I've just named, noting that taking care of the poor, the elderly, the needy and sick, and protecting minority groups from discrimination — these are all obligations of people of faith.

This time around, however, American Christians, white ones, are actively involved in the dismantling of our country's social contract, and have chosen to accelerate the process by placing the current moral monstrosity in the White House with a majority of their votes (which included nearly 6 in 10 white Catholic votes). It's especially appalling to hear so-called "liberal" Catholics like Professor Cathleen Kaveny of Boston College voicing support for cake bakers who want to claim that their artistic integrity and religious beliefs will be violated if they bake cakes for all customers who come to them.

There was a time in which Catholics stood — or pretended, at least, to stand — unambiguously for civil rights. There was a time in which Catholics were open to hearing the valuable testimony of people outside Catholic boundaries (remember that quaint Vatican II notion that the Spirit blows where She will and speaks to us through people who may not share our religious beliefs and may not be religious at all?) about matters like civil rights. There was a time in which Catholics listened (or pretended to listen) to the testimony of those combating racial discrimination in the American South, and to their warnings about what would happen to the nation as a whole if we allowed the discriminatory, religion-fueled claims of white Southerners to prevail across the nation.

If we allowed any business owner or hospital or government servant to chant that he or she just can't possibly accommodate this or that person because religious faith prohibits serving those kinds of people . . . .

That time is clearly over and done with. Many American Catholics at present, including so-called "liberal" ones, are now perfectly at ease with the notion that "religious freedom" should permit people of faith and their institutions to target LGBTQ human beings, to single them out, to treat them differently than other human beings are treated: to discriminate against them. Because church teaching. Because bible. Because "artistic expression" and "freedom of speech."

If those Catholics had paid any serious attention to what was being said by white Southerners pushing for the "right" to discriminate against people of color in the 1950s and 1960s — and to call that discrimination "religious freedom" — they'd see immediately that we cannot go the cake-baker-as-artist route without also going the Piggie Park route.

All over again.

With all that this attack on the social safety net and its attempt to protect the least among us means for many different kinds of Americans in need.

With full blessing and full complicity of white Catholics, including so-called "liberal" ones, who claim to be "pro-life" and to be standing for human rights. (As long as those rights are not applied to queer human beings.)

Those folks who have weaponized bad faith and shamelessness, about whom Chris Hayes is speaking in the tweet at the head of this posting? They include white Christians in the U.S. A majority of whom voted — across the board, from mainline churches to Catholic and Mormon ones to evangelical ones — for the moral monstrosity now sitting in the White House. And, it has to be said, also for the dismantling of America's social safety net and its commitment to protect the least among us . . . .

You can't pick one group out and target it, pretending you're doing so in God's name, without opening the door to similar treatment of all other marginalized groups. And you really, really cannot claim to be "pro-life" and all about defending "Catholic values" when you behave this way.

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