By Nicholas Riebel || Staff Writer
Social conservatives have learned a great deal from Orwell: the right to irrational bigotry and discrimination is now “religious freedom” if you can justify it with the Bible or some other religious authority. Just ask Indiana Governor Mike Pence, a proud conservative Republican, who recently signed a “religious freedom bill” into law.
Called the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” it means that the government of Indiana “cannot ‘substantially burden’ a person’s ability to follow their religious beliefs, unless it can prove a compelling interest in imposing that burden or do so in the least restrictive way” (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/03/30/religious-freedom-law-indiana/70659788/).
It is very likely this bill was designed so businesses can discriminate against gay people. If sued, the individuals or businesses could fall back on religion as a legitimate defense for banning the LGBT community from their establishment; Pence denied it, but, until April 2, he refused to sign a slightly-altered version of the law (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/02/mike-pence-religious-freedom_n_6996144.html).
All of the liberals, like me, could be completely wrong about this. Maybe this was just an egalitarian law to defend our Constitution rather than tread on it so that “Big Government” can’t control people who only want the freedom to hate whomever their deity or deities tell them to. Maybe, just maybe, Pence was trying to protect the right of Wiccans to have naked pagan rituals in the moonlight as they worship the Goddess, so they can “sing, feast, dance, make music and love” together in their religiously-sanctioned and ordained rites: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/03/31/mike-pence-s-new-fan-club-wiccans.html.
Perhaps Governor Pence, concerned by rising anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and hatred against other religions in the Western world, including in America, is taking preventative measures to ensure that all of us may worship however we want.
Perhaps it is the biased progressive part of me that shows undeserved cynicism towards this sort of “religious freedom,” but if I am to hazard a guess, I would say Pence wants to help homophobes from having to deal with people they hate, just as, back in the Jim Crow era, racist Southern conservative politicians made laws that allowed and mandated all sorts of discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities.
Senator Tom Cotton, who sent a letter to Iran that Fox News would have viewed as an act of treason if the parties of the senators who signed that letter and the president in office (and largely in charge of our foreign policy, for good or ill), knows for sure that gay people are treated better now than black people were back before Civil Rights began to take effect. In his view, maybe the LGBTQ community should consider themselves lucky.
After all, as the freshman senator from Arkansas explained, gays are executed in that nation he has suddenly become an expert on: “I think it’s important we have a sense of perspective. In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay” (http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/04/02/3642060/senator-says-critics-indiana-get-perspective-thankful-state-doesnt-execute-gays/).
Indeed, I guess gay people should be glad they can live in this country with minimal fear of being tortured and murdered by the state. So, it’s not as big of a deal if they are allowed to be discriminated against, sanctioned by American states including almost in Arkansas: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2015/04/02/arkansas-religious-freedom-bill/70831330/.
If there is one religious group that needs protection in this nation, surely it is the Christians. If there is one religious freedom we absolutely must have, it is the right to justify our hatred with religion and use it to deny people business. I could go on, but I would merely be rehashing the Civil Rights arguments, which dealt with this exact thing.
Christians are not oppressed in this nation; they have not been historically. The more fundamentalist, serious ones occasionally throw temper tantrums that they do not get their way enough, that America is not more of a theocracy, that not enough people believe exactly as they do. At the end of the day, homophobia may be in the Bible, but so are provisions against getting tattoos and eating lobsters.
Let’s protect the right to believe whatever we want to, as long as our religion does not harm anyone else. Let’s not use the state to justify bigotry.
At least Governor Pence is signing a revised version of the law now, as is the governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson. The problem is that these bills got anywhere in this supposedly free nation.