Saturday, March 01, 2014

Religious Abuse And Excuse

It's all over in Arizona, for now, where Republican governor Jan Brewer vetoed an alteration to the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  But the fight over the ability to discriminate in public accommodations apparently continues. The New York Times Adam Nagourney writes

Nelson Warfield, a conservative consultant who advises Mr. Scott, said that many conservatives applauded the intent of the law, to permit business owners to follow their religious conscience. But the battle over the law was lost, he said, as soon as it moved from being a fight over religious freedom to one of “personal dignity.” He said laws like the one vetoed in Arizona would certainly be embraced by some Republican presidential candidates in 2016 during the primaries, but would be toxic for a Republican candidate in a general election.

“You can bet your last dollar somebody will run on it for the nomination next time,” he said, referring to the Republican presidential battle of 2016. “But the issue was framed in the worst possible way for those people who are supporters of the bill,” he said. “It became about human rights and human dignity and not religious conscience. As soon as it shifted from a debate about religious conscience to a respect for human dignity, it was a loser.”

However, to the conservative activists who dominate GOP primaries and caucuses, the issue is likely to be about religious conscience rather than respect for human dignity- and the winner of the Repub contest could be elected president.   National Review columnist Rich Lowry claims

The question isn't whether businesses run by people opposed to gay marriage on religious grounds should provide their services for gay weddings; it is whether they should be compelled to by government. The critics of the much-maligned Arizona bill pride themselves on their live-and-let-live open-mindedness, but they are highly moralistic in their support of gay marriage, judgmental of those who oppose it and tolerant of only one point of view on the issue- their own.

For them,  someone else's conscience is only a speed bump on the road to progress. It's get with the program, your religious beliefs be damned.

But SB 1060 wasn't about gay marriage, though perhaps Lowry (who is usually wrong) can be forgiven for conflating the two issues when on Wednesday Chris Hayes (who is invariably right) did so, arguing "But under what conceivable logic is that type of discrimination by a baker or photography, outrageous and acceptable, and yet is totally fine for the state itself to discriminate against gay people by not recognizing their marriages in the first place?"

The "conceivable logic," of course, is that the one has nothing to do with the other, same-sex marriage pertaining to whether government must put its imprimatur upon all marital relationships, the other about discrimination in public accommodations.   Notwithstanding Lowry's opposition to compulsory fair treatment (and the legislation's scope was far broader), former Republican governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma (!), an opponent of same-sex marriage, nailed it when he noted "This isn’t 1964 anymore.  We’ve moved beyond that. If you open up your doors to the general public, you can’t pick and choose who you are going to deal with.”

But Republicans in numerous states- as well as presidential contender(s)- will continue to frame the issue as one of conscience and/or religious liberty.  But Ian Millhiser of Think Progress (from which the photo below is taken) explained

as Wake Forest law Professor Michael Kent Curtis explained in a 2012 law review article, many segregationists justified racial bigotry on the very same grounds that religious conservatives now hope to justify anti-gay animus. In the words of one professor at a prominent Mississippi Baptist institution, “our Southern segregation way is the Christian way . . . . [God] was the original segregationist.”

Theodore Bilbo was one of Mississippi’s great demagogues. After two non-consecutive terms as governor, Bilbo won a U.S. Senate seat campaigning against “farmer murderers, corrupters of Southern womanhood, [skunks] who steal Gideon Bibles from hotel rooms” and a host of other, equally colorful foes. In a year where just 47 Mississippi voters cast a ballot for a communist candidate, Bilbo railed against a looming communist takeover of the state — and offered himself up as the solution to this red onslaught.

Bilbo was also a virulent racist. “I call on every red-blooded white man to use any means to keep the n[*]ggers away from the polls,” Bilbo proclaimed during his successful reelection campaign in 1946. He was a proud member of the Ku Klux Klan, telling Meet the Press that same year that “[n]o man can leave the Klan. He takes an oath not to do that. Once a Ku Klux, always a Ku Klux.” During a filibuster of an anti-lynching bill, Bilbo claimed that the bill

will open the floodgates of hell in the South. Raping, mobbing, lynching, race riots, and crime will be increased a thousandfold; and upon your garments and the garments of those who are responsible for passage of this measure will be the blood of the raped and outraged daughters of Dixie, as well as theblood of the perpetrators of these crimes that the red-blooded Anglo-Saxon White Southern men will not tolerate.

For Senator Bilbo, however, racism was more that just an ideology, it was a sincerely held religious belief. In a book entitled Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, Bilbo wrote that “[p]urity of race is a gift of God . . . . And God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordained it that when man destroys his racial purity, it can never be redeemed.”    Allowing " the blood of the races (sto) mix," according to Bilbo, was a direct attack on the "Divine plan of God." There"is every reason to believe that miscegenation and amalgamation are sins of man indirect defiance to the will of God."

Bilbo was one of the South’s most colorful racists, but he was hardly alone in his beliefs. As early as 1867, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld segregated railway cars on the grounds that “[t]he natural law which forbids [racial intermarriage] and that social amalgamation which leads to a corruption of races, is as clearly divine as that which imparted to [the races] different natures.” This same rationale was later adopted by state supreme courts in Alabama, Indiana and Virginia to justify bans on interracial marriage, and by justices in Kentucky to support residential segregation and segregated colleges.

In 1901, Georgia Gov. Allen Candler defended unequal public schooling for African Americans on the grounds that “God made them negroes and we cannot by education make them white folks.” After the Supreme Court ordered public schools integrated in Brown v. Board of Education, many segregationists cited their own faith as justification for official racism. Ross Barnett won Mississippi’s governorship in a landslide in 1960 after claiming that “the good Lord was the original segregationist.” Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia relied on passages from Genesis, Leviticus and Matthew when he spoke out against the civil rights law banning employment discrimination and whites-only lunch counters on the Senate floor.

For Bilbo, racism may well have been a sincerely held religious belief.  Times have changed, however, such that few people know what both "miscegenation and amalgamation"  are and fewer still are able to pronounce it.  And rare would be the individual who would claim "purity of race is a gift of God."

In light of the Apostle Paul's criticism of homosexuality (though Jesus was silent on the topic), one may oppose same-sex marriage primarily on a Biblical basis, though relatively few would do so. It is far more difficult to condone the refusal to serve gay men or women (or anyone else) on a religious basis, especially given Paul's statement "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."  (Critics might charge that places non-believers in a separate and lower category but not on the basis of religion, gender, or status of servitude.)  That wouldn't completely stop people, of course.  But it should.

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