Sunday, March 29, 2015

Religious Freedom?

Governor Mike Pence of Indiana is having a rough weekend.  The reason?  His signature of Senate Bill 101, otherwise known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA.).  Upon signing the bill, Governor Pence said:  “The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”

Within hours of signing the legislation the backlash on the bill started.  Several significant business leaders have decried the decision including the CEO of, Apple's CEO Tim Cook, and the CEO of Gen Con LLC, who was planning on holding a major convention in Indianapolis and who now is considering canceling or relocating the convention.  The convention would infuse the state with an estimated $50M of revenue.   The reason people have come out so strongly against the decision to sign the bill is that they believe it gives corporations and individuals the right to discriminate against same sex couples.   Effectively, the law legalizes discrimination against gays.

The supporters of the bill argue that this supports religious freedom in that someone cannot be compelled to offer services or goods in violation of their religious beliefs.   This is not a new phenomenon.  Similar laws are on the books in 19 states, so perhaps Governor Pence felt like this wouldn't cause the firestorm of controversy the passage of the bill ignited.

The passage of the bill and the statement by Governor Pence (full text here) have set out another battleground in the current civil rights struggle regarding equality for LGBT people.  The bill's detractors are mobilizing en masse, and boycotts, social networking campaigns, celebrity and political voices raised against the passage are indicators that this issue will not be ignored.

What Governor Pence and the supporters of the bill claim is that they are protecting religious freedom.  Their point of view is that if you are religious, your religious beliefs trump the reality of day to day life.  You, as a religious person with a business can claim that your life is somehow adversely impacted by doing what you do every day, which is to sell your goods and services to consumers.  Somehow, simply because someone is gay and you are forced to serve them you have been injured.  The Governor and the authors of the legislation have a myopic view on this, because attempting to protect one's beliefs is causing injury to others.  There is an old maxim that is relevant in this discussion:  "The right for you to swing your fist stops at my nose..."  I think however, this has less to do with religious freedom than it does with religious disapproval of a person because of their sexual orientation.

The legislation, like many other similar laws passed by other states are in my opinion the dying throes of an antiquated and bigoted philosophy.  I sincerely believe that in 50 years our grand kids and their children will look back on this time and say "What were they thinking?"  It's already happening, but old prejudices die hard (see Ferguson) and hate has a long memory.   What I cannot abide though is the notion that a religious person (and face it folks, we're talking "Christians" here) would believe that the central figure in their faith would behave this way with gays anymore than he would with left-handed people, short people, fat people, tall people, and well you get the point.   Jesus Christ never had anything to say about gays.  Nothing, nada, zip.  The man was silent on a subject that seems to consume a large population of his followers to the point they will picket funerals, bully people, and pass laws that make discrimination against them legal.  I simply don't understand the idea that someone who said "Love thy neighbor as thyself" would sanction this behavior towards fellow humans.

Prejudice is all around us and in us. We all have our biases.  I for example, absolutely despise banjo music and think all banjos should be gathered up and thrown in a land-fill never to have their twangy, plucky, irritating sound heard again for eternity.  But, hey, I'm not trying to get anti-banjo legislation passed because my religious beliefs prohibit that horrible noise.   I get the prejudice. Guess what?  If you don't like gay marriage, don't get married to someone of the same sex.  If you don't like gay sex, then don't have it. There is an easy way to deal with this, and it's called "put on your big-boy pants and get over it".

I don't understand someone claiming treating people equally somehow violates your religious freedom.   If your religion compels you to behave this way perhaps you have the wrong religion.  Or, more likely, you're cherry picking the teachings of your faith to fit your particular prejudice.  It's not like it hasn't been done before.  For hundreds of years, "good Christian people" used religion to subjugate, terrorize, and murder people who didn't look like them or think like them or worship like them.  It's happening today with certain sects and factions in the Islamic community.  It will likely continue until people finally realize the commandments and directives they believe in are not derived by their gods but are actually manipulations written by some humans with an agenda.

It's no surprise to anyone who has read my articles that I am an Atheist.  The reason I am an Atheist is that I do not believe in a "God" who behaves worse in general than his/her/it's creation.   Am I certain there is no God?  No.  Just like those who believe in God are not certain there is.  Certainty requires evidence, and not simply faith.  Evidence of an omniscient, omnipotent, and beneficent deity is sorely lacking.  I digress though, as this isn't a rant against religion (that will come later).  The point of this post is twofold. One, we are humans and are different in as many ways as we are similar.  We are also a progressive species, and over time this ridiculous idea that gays are flawed humans or are "wrong" will fade into the dustbin of history.  Just as we don't burn witches at the stake anymore, we will one day not have absurd arguments about gays and their choice or lack thereof of life-style.

Finally,  and somewhat back to religion for a moment:  
I have an incredibly hard time believing that this guy (an ordained Presbyterian Minister) would be so hateful and prejudiced against other people because he spent his life telling people that "He liked them just they way they are".  Even though I'm an Atheist, I believe there has been no one in my lifetime that exemplified the teachings of Jesus Christ with respect to loving one's neighbor better than Fred Rogers.  If you think for a moment that this man didn't live his life in a manner that respects Jesus and truly represents Christianity, then your definition of Christian needs some additional thought.  Also, if you think for a moment that this gentle, wise and authentically kind person would support a law like the one passed in Indiana, then you need to go back and watch a few of the episodes of the "Neighborhood".  I think you'll come away with a different point of view. 

To couch this legislation as religious freedom protection should upset people of faith.  It is using their faith as a tool of manipulation to provide cover for bigotry and hatred.  I think the Governor and in particular the authors of this legislation should be ashamed of themselves and I would only ask them this:  If your child was gay, would you be proud that a store in Indiana can refuse to sell them a meal, or a suit, or a car because of who they are?  Seriously?

Tell me what you think,



  1. Spot on Dennis. These type laws and those who support them baffle me. Under legislation like this I assume you could start a religion that opposes Blacks or Scots or the bald (trouble for some of us) or banjo pickers or any other group you don't like and then refuse to serve them. Probably need to issue ID cards that spell out all the groups a person belongs to so businesses can determine who to allow as customers or clients. Maybe forehead tattoos should be required like a shamrock for the Irish, a rainbow for LGBTQIA's and so on. May some god help us from some other people's god.

  2. Discrimination cases have always evaluated the difference between denial of service based on identity and denial of service based on conduct.

    I suppose it can be hard to grasp as a concept, the multitude of cases evaluating such claims being evidence of the same.

    Still, Memories Pizza and the silly brouhaha created by a nonstory told by a local affiliate reporter would illuminate:

    Memories did not refuse to cater a GLBT wedding. (I find that fact unsurprising. Who has pizza for a wedding reception?)

    Memories also did not refuse to serve clientele in their restaurant based on GLBT identification.

    Memories did state that all were welcome to dine at their restaurant.

    Memories did say, however, that if asked to cater a gay wedding, they would decline because that was contrary to their religious beliefs.

    Notice, the careless but creative reporter did not further evaluate the nuances. Questions she might have asked:

    Have you ever catered a wedding reception? I mean a real one, not a made up one?

    Have you ever had a customer tell you their sexual orientation and ask if they were still allowed to eat at your restaurant?

    Does your pizza know if it is being eaten by a gay man, or a straight woman, or a questioning couple?

    Or something a bit more telling like these:

    Do you provide home delivery? Do you refuse home delivery to members of the GLBT community?