By Zac Losey
Despite our great tradition of being a unique melting pot (or salad bowl, if you prefer) and promoting equality for all, the United States has been dastardly slow when it comes to actually establishing any sort of legitimate equality. History shows that we have been shamefully resistant to ending discrimination against women, Jews, the Irish, Native Americans, African-Americans, the LGBT community…the list goes on and on. Yet somehow, despite this pervasive and ever present habit of discriminating and oppressing, we still fancy ourselves as the pinnacle of freedom and equality in the world.
Now, I’m not saying that we aren’t, per se. But I’m definitely not saying that we are. On the whole, that’s a debate for a different day. My point for now is that for some reason, America has this nasty habit of touting freedom and equality while simultaneously systematically discriminating and oppressing large groups of people. All. The. Time. There are a lot of different groups that could be used as fine examples of this, but today I’m going to talk about a particular group which has received the brunt of American discrimination as of late.
Today’s story starts with the lovely, immigrant hating conservatives of good ol’ Arizona, who have decided it is about time to protect religious liberty in America! Because when religious privilege and freedom are at high tide and not actually under any legitimate threat at all, they must be preserved. Fearing change to our traditional white, heterosexual, Christian, male power structures, but feigning persecution and suffering, the Arizona GOP has passed a bill they say is intended to “create a shield for all citizens’ religious liberties.”
Essentially, this “religious freedom” bill will permit individuals, corporations, businesses and organizations to refuse service to same-sex couples if they sincerely believe doing so somehow compromises their religious beliefs.
I’m sad to say I’m not surprised. This comes from the same state where science education standards are being bashed by Republicans who are mad about programs using “fuzzy math” that substitutes letters for numbers in some examples. You know, algebra. It’s been said before, but it seems fitting to say again: you can’t spell ‘crazy’ without R-AZ.
Spurred by a case in New Mexico where a same-sex couple sued a photographer for refusing to take pictures of their wedding, and a case in Colorado where a baker refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, Republicans in Arizona have been able to push this Jim Crow, Jr. bill through the legislature and it now awaits the governor’s stamp of approval or veto.
Thankfully, there has been some hard and fast pushback against the bill, even from the very same representatives who championed it in the first place. While this pushback is ballpark good, the reasoning behind it is less than ideal.
The primary motivation for much opposition has not been a stance against its egregious discriminatory power, but instead seems to be centered on the economic consequences it might have on the Arizona business community.
Personally, I’m rather appalled and disheartened that boycotts by companies on board with gay rights have been cited as the reason for Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the measure. This attitude is disturbingly reminiscent of the businesses in Germany who were concerned with losing the purchasing power of Jews during Hitler’s regime. While economic considerations are always important, I’d much rather see opposition to this atrociously discriminatory bill on moral grounds instead of “it might mean we make less money” grounds.
Speaking of Nazi Germany, I wonder how exactly businesses are going to know which of their customers to serve anyway? Will the Arizona legislature mandate that gay consumers wear rainbow stars out to the shops so businesses will know who to refuse service to? Or is everyone who walks into the Hobby Lobby going to have to sign papers attesting to their straightness? How are we going to determine whether or not the religious beliefs being cited to discriminate are “sincere” or not?
Also, if we’re going to allow one’s personal religious beliefs to be grounds for refusing service to homosexuals, is this sort of refusal going to be extended beyond Christians? In America, all religions have equal standing under the law, or at least they’re supposed to, according to that little document we call the Constitution.
So are adherents to Islam going to be allowed to refuse service to women who do not cover themselves? Unlikely. Will Hindus be permitted to refuse service to beef eaters? Doubtful. No, this is not a bill to protect religious freedom, just one intended to protect a specific brand of Christians freedom to cause harm. It’s merely more Christians exhibiting the persecution complex, claiming oppression whilst actually doing the oppressing because the long standing privilege they have enjoyed for so long is being questioned, and perhaps a little bit compromised.
The fact that legislation like this has made it as far as it has, and is now only being criticized by its architects due to potential economic repercussions, is reprehensible. Discrimination is wrong. That’s all there is to it.
If you’re a Christian who is appalled at the idea of serving someone who lives a lifestyle you find “sinful,” remember that Jesus surrounded himself with and served the sinners of his day. Jesus was an advocate for the marginalized, not the religious power structures. His disgust was not with tax collectors, prostitutes or lepers: it was with the judgmental, pompous, self-righteous religious jerks of his day.
So maybe instead of fighting for the right to oppress, hurt, discriminate and hate, it’s time to quit worrying about what other people do with their privates in private. Maybe instead it’s time to worry about that log in our own eye and lead a life of love, compassion and service that actually reflects the example of that man so many of us are so eager to imitate.