Thursday, February 20, 2014

Controversial Arizona Bill Protects Homophobic Discrimination as Religious Right

Religion Crossby Nomad

New draft legislation in Arizona would give citizens the right to refuse service to gay customers based on their own religious beliefs. 

According to the sponsors, those with sincere religious beliefs are being denied their rights. Is discrimination based on religious values a constitutionally-protected form of free speech?

Arizona State Senators have voted to allow businesses to refuse service to gay citizens based on the owners’ “sincerely held” religious beliefs. An article in Arizona Daliy Star reports that the vote on SB 1062 was 17-13 with the Republican majority carrying the majority. No Democrats voted for the bill.

One of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler explained:
“This bill is not about discrimination It’s about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”
The bill approves of the right to refuse service based on religious beliefs, but fell short of requiring a business to post signs stating the fact. Critics of the bill sought to include this provision. As Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix stated:
“If there is an organization or a business out there that wants to use the defense of religious freedom, I believe that consumers have a right to know.”
The GOP rejected its inclusion. Perhaps that would have been too obvious. Like segregated drinking fountains.The Republicans would prefer a more discreet form of discrimination.
Gallardo  told reporters:
“We all have the right to our religious beliefs. But I do not agree that we have the right to discriminate because of our religious beliefs. I do not believe we have to throw our religious beliefs to others that don’t share our same beliefs.”
Supporters of the legislation are turning the tables on that idea, suggesting that by forcing business to serve homosexuals, it is they who are being discriminated against. Yarbrough said SB 1062 is “aimed at preventing the rising attempts at discriminating against folks because they are sincere."

Republican Senator for Lake Havasu, Kelli Ward, concurred, saying,
“A person does not lose their First Amendment freedoms when they start a business. In America, people are free to live and work according to their faith.”
Here's how supporters of the bill portray the legislation:
  • · Arizona needs SB 1062 to protect the religious freedom rights of every citizen.
  • · In America, people should be free to live and work according to their faith. Our nation was founded upon the ideal of religious freedom and the right to freely walk your faith.
  • · People don't forfeit their religious freedom rights simply because they go to work or start a business.
  • · No one should ever be forced to choose between their conscience or religious beliefs and their profession. The Constitution doesn’t only guarantee our “freedom to worship” but our freedom to practice and promote our faith. Americans don’t have to leave their faith and convictions at their church door; we have the right to carry it with us in all aspects of our lives.
  • · Participation in religious communities should be celebrated, not penalized. Persecuting individuals or groups for their religious beliefs creates second-class citizens who are seen as less valuable because of their faith.
Giving the bum's rush to gay couples from your shops and hotels is, they suggest, a celebration of your religion. Amen, brother!
While there is no mention of one specific religion, it is quite clear which religion the Arizona Republicans have in mind. (Hint: it's not Buddhism)

However, to many Christians, the idea that their religion should be misused in such a way, as an excuse for prejudice, is extremely offensive.

Secular Objections
When asked to cite instances where Christians are being denied the right to worship or believe what they wish, the supporters of this bill would have very little to point to.
One pro-bill site has this to say:
The bill clarifies that the definition of “person” includes all types of businesses and legal entities. Although the question of whether private business owners should be afforded First Amendment protection should be a non-issue, opponents of religious freedom continue to argue that for-profit businesses do not have consciences. They argue that businesses cannot operate according to a sincerely held religious belief and make a conscientious objection to a government mandate.
Hmm.. does a business have a conscience? or do only individuals who run the company have one? 

Christians in Arizona are  free to believe whatever they want, they are also free to protest and to promote their ideas as they wish.  They are certainly not allowed to use taxpayers money in any way to discriminate against taxpaying gay citizens. That means, any agency or any business with government contracts, or who have received government loans or who wish to use the government resources in any way might find problems ahead. And then there's the probable backlash to businesses who chose to discriminate against minorities. 
After all, customers have consciences too. 

ACLU has already pointed out that even without the kind assistance of Arizona Republicans, this form of discrimination is becoming more widespread. From graduate students, training to be social workers, refusing to counsel gay people to pharmacies turning away women seeking to fill birth control prescriptions, the common demonstrator is  the same.
 Religious is being used as an excuse  to discriminate against and harm others. 
Everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs, but when you operate a business or run a publicly funded social service agency open to the public, those beliefs do not give you a right to discriminate.
Which Religion?
The bill's sponsor justified the bill by saying:
“I understand that the freedom of religion can be inconvenient But this is what our Constitution contemplates.”
But actually the constitution says something else altogether. The First Amendment of the Constitution reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

The drafters were clear that government should not interfere in promoting or in prohibiting personal religious beliefs. It was simply not a domain of the State. That's quite a bit different that what Yarbrough is suggesting.

For the Arizona law, this is where the constitutional problems really begin. How is this not establishing the prominence of one particular religious value? 

In order to be broad enough not to be seen as promoting one religion- namely Christianity- the Arizona legislature was forced to use the more general term "sincerely-held beliefs." However, it is clear they mean only Christian beliefs. That's because hey really think the US is a Christian nation. (But a sincere Christian nation, as opposed to the insincere kind.)

One problem with that.  There is no State religion in the United States. There never has been and there never will be. Our founding fathers understood too well how bitter and nation-destroying religious in-fighting can be. 

It's important also to point out that the Christians and clergy that sanctioned the burning of witches in Salem also felt they too were merely demonstrating their religious values. The Puritans were a bit more robust in how they exercised their religious freedoms upon thee wicked womenfolk.

When it comes to the Arizona bill, this is the fatal defect. It can easily be applied more broadly with some devastating unintended consequences. Once you open the doors for everybody to impose their religious prejudices on others, a whole lot of mischief can ensue. 

For example, are we prepared to live in a society that allows Christians to turn away Jewish customers, citing their own religious beliefs? Where different sects of Christianity can refuse service to each other?  Or where fundamentalist Muslim-owned businesses turn away  female customers are exposing too much skin and are not wearing head-to-toe eye-slit hijabs? Where atheists can turn away customers who were a cross necklace? 
Is Arizona really prepared for this kind of unnecessary chaos? 

Which Christian Value?
And Christians also should be wary of the draft bill. This is only one interpretation of Christianity. based on St. Paul's beliefs (as stated in Romans). Jesus never mentioned homosexuals. The Old Testament has a fiery diatribe against men with men and women with women, but then you find a lot of other scary things in the Old Testament. like stoning practically everybody you disagree with.
However, there is an equally valid Biblical verses. In fact, in the very same Book of Romans, one can find the blunt statement:
For God shows no partiality.
Logically, therefore, discrimination is a sin because if God shows no partiality, then how, by showing partiality for one human over another, can mankind think itself superior to God? Indeed, the Bible also says:
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.
And one verse in Galatians would seem to nullify the whole discussion:
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.
If we are all one under Christ.. then.. well, you get the idea.
According those passages then, it is debatable whether anti-gay attitudes are actually Christian values at all or whether they are merely interpretations. If this is only an one person's interpretation of words found in the Bible, then one cannot claim the law is protecting religious freedoms. The law is merely protecting a bigot's right to discriminate. And it is using Christianity to get away with it.  

For Christians, this legislation- while appearing to be supportive- is actually divisive to their faith. With all of the passages found in the Bible, some of which are mildly contradictory, who is to stay which Christian value should outweigh any other value? Is it more Christian to refuse service to homosexuals than to love one's neighbor? Is it more Christian to march a lesbian couple off your premises than to forgive sinners, as Christ advised? 

And why the heck is the Arizona legislature getting involved at all? Is there nothing better for politicians to do there?

In the end, one of the best arguments for the separation of Church and State is that religion, as a personal moral guide, is inevitably cheapened by power-hungry politicians. Not the other way around. If you value your religion, then, some would say, the very last thing you'd want is for politicians interfering in it.

To those who have managed to find a religious excuse for discrimination, the book of Proverbs has an excellent quote which should bring a blush of shame to their cheeks.
There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
For sowing seeds of discord by drafting such a shameful bill, the Republican Senators in Arizona would, if this Biblical passage is anything to go by, be hated by God. 
Therefore, the devout Christians of that state have every reason to briskly escort these Senators out of their shops. It would just be exercising their religious values.