Indiana: Where Freedom Requires Discrimination

Indiana Governor Mike Pence continues to defend the state’s new law authorizing discrimination in business transactions if it’s based on “religious beliefs.” Religious beliefs—you know, the kind that have previously defended civic virtues like slavery, child-beating, and denying women’s right to vote. That’s “religious freedom” in action for you.

The legislation is supposedly intended to protect people with strong religious beliefs who don’t want to provide services for same-sex weddings.

America’s Christian community (population 240 million) continues to be obsessed with non-existent threats to their freedom to worship. “You don’t have to look too far to find a growing hostility toward people of faith,” state legislator Scott Schneider of Indianapolis says. “This bill acts as a shield, not a sword.”

With Good Friday around the corner—a 100% religious event that all Americans are forced to observe through the closing of public schools, the stock market, and most state and federal offices—this is a perfect time to examine the extent to which America’s religious believers need “protecting.”

* Many of the law’s sponsors and defenders won’t even be honest about whom this is aimed at: gay Americans getting married or setting up households. If this law isn’t about gays, let’s consider all the other situations to which supporters say it will apply: none.

For example, no one is talking about how this law will protect:
~ Orthodox Jews who don’t want to sell milk to people who will use it in a meal with meat;
~ Catholic photographers who don’t want to work at weddings of the previously-divorced;
~ Evangelical Christians who don’t want to provide legal or mental health services to those accused of infidelity;
~ Muslims who don’t want to provide limo service for events serving pork.

* The idea of “protecting” people of faith from unwanted experiences out in the world started with the “conscience clauses” pioneered by opponents of abortion and contraceptive rights. As the 21st century dawned, pharmacists, hospital orderlies, and others discovered that their religion dictated that they couldn’t do the jobs for which they were hired or, indeed, licensed—if it involved dispensing medication or facilitating medical services they didn’t want people to have.

But our Constitution doesn’t guarantee anyone’s right to pursue their religion as far as they like. It simply says the government won’t interfere with someone’s “free exercise thereof.” You want to worship, go ahead. You want to burn down a library because your religious beliefs require it, the government won’t allow that.

So you want to preach against marriage equality, go ahead. You want to try to dissuade others from participating, go ahead. But you want a special “religious” exemption from the laws that govern how modern society works? No. For that, you need to move to Iran.

Some people say they can’t obey anti-discrimination laws because they’d be helping others behave in ways they find unacceptable. That’s like refusing to stop at a red light in front of a mosque because you’d be enabling people to pray to Allah. Or your taxi company refusing to take Blacks to White neighborhoods because you’d be helping the races mix.

* What are these people so afraid of? Every business person, tradesperson, and professional in America has already served gays without realizing it, and it hasn’t sent them to hell. And these days, virtually every religious person is discovering that someone they love or admire is, gulp, gay. Hey, bad news for every Christian cardiac surgeon—you’ve probably saved a gay person’s life!

* Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Corporation, is gay. If these religious people are serious about not doing business with gays, they should stop using Apple products, and they should sell their Apple stock.

* How perfect that Indiana uses the word “freedom” to name a law that institutionalizes bigotry.

* This law is a perversion of religion, anyway. Show me, people, where your religion says you can’t do business with people who are non-believers, or people whose personal practices you abhor. Religion is simply an excuse for extraordinary narcissism, paranoia, and barely repressed rage. Because people cloak it with “religion” it’s called freedom.

* Freedom of religion under attack? Shame on Americans who say that. A year of living in Saudi Arabia or Nigeria might help such people understand what it really means to lose freedom of religion.

* The non-gay response to this law across the country has been gratifying. CEOs, politicians, and entertainers from across the country have weighed in, attacking discrimination that in this case is against gay people.
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For two centuries, American society has generated a steady expansion of freedom—for groups, for activities, for individuals. Indiana, where freedom apparently requires discrimination—has interrupted this progress by making freedom a zero-sum game. What a dangerous, authoritarian idea.
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To tell Governor Pence what you think of his new law, phone him at 317/232-9677.

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