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Monday, October 24, 2016

It’s a good thing Americans have no serious problems, because the time and energy we expend fighting over symbolic issues could become a problem. Sure, symbols can be important. The swastika is a symbol, also the U.S. flag. But this week’s farcical casus belli involves a couple of spectacularly ill-conceived “religious freedom” statutes in Indiana and Arkansas.

As originally written, these laws would give every private business in both states — every butcher, baker, and wedding cake maker — powers and privileges equivalent to the Pope of Rome. But is that what their authors actually intended? Moreover, even if the laws stand, which looks unlikely at this writing, would anything important really change in actual practice?

As a longtime Arkansas resident, I very much doubt it. Political posturing aside, person to person, are people here really so self-righteous and mean-spirited as to treat their LGBT neighbors like lepers? Or, more to the point, like blacks in the bad old days before the civil rights revolution of the 1960s? Would we revert to open discrimination in broad daylight?

No, no, and no. Those days are gone forever. Nobody really wants them back. What’s happened here is that the Chicken Little right has worked itself into a yet another existential panic over the U.S. Supreme Court’s expected ruling legalizing gay marriage, badly overplayed its hand, and set itself up for yet another humiliating defeat.

Anyway, here’s what I meant about the Pope of Rome. A while back, I got myself into hot water with old friends by failing to express indignation about a Catholic girls’ school in Little Rock firing a lesbian teacher who announced her marriage to her longtime companion.

My view was simple: as a lifelong Catholic, the teacher knew the Church’s position, and she ought to have known what would happen. It’s an authoritarian institution, the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church. By all accounts a terrific teacher — she landed another job immediately — the newlywed had somehow persuaded herself that as her homosexuality had long been an open secret, openly defying Church doctrine wouldn’t be a problem.


Now, you’d think the Catholic Church’s own appalling failures would have rendered it mute on questions of sexual morality for, oh, a century or so. But that’s not how they see it. When and if the doctrine changes, it won’t start in the Mount Saint Mary’s Academy faculty lounge. Damn shame, but there it is.

Was I being smug because I’ve never faced such difficult choices? Could be. But here’s the thing: No American has to be a Roman Catholic; it’s strictly voluntary.

But the United States isn’t supposed to be an authoritarian country. And that’s precisely what’s so potentially insidious about both the Indiana and Arkansas statutes as written, and why they cannot be permitted to stand. Under the guise of “religious liberty” they would give zealous individuals and private businesses near-dictatorial powers with no legal recourse.

Under Arkansas HB1228, aka the “Conscience Protection Act,” it’s every person his own religious dogma — “person” being broadly defined as any “association, partnership, corporation, church, religious institution, estate, trust, foundation, or other legal entity.”

Dogma would trump civil rights at every turn. What it could mean in practice is that if your landlord’s God objected to your being gay, he could evict you. Should your employer’s religious scruples cause him to object to your marrying another woman, he could fire you.

And there wouldn’t be a thing you could do about it.

Advertised as preventing “government” from forcing conscience-stricken wedding photographers to document Bob and Bill’s nuptials, the Arkansas law would also make it nearly impossible for private citizens to file lawsuits against “persons” professing religious motives.

“Persons,” remember, including corporations, estates and trusts. You could end up losing your job because some dead person’s will stipulated “no faggots.” Or no Muslims, Catholics, or redheads, I suppose.

But what such laws really threaten isn’t so much tyranny, University of Arkansas-Little Rock law professor John DiPippa points out, as anarchy. “With HB 1228,” he writes “county clerks could seek exemptions from issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, or for interracial couples, or divorced couples. Teachers could refuse to teach the required curriculum.”

All this because certain literal-minded religionists can’t get it through their heads that marriage can be two things: both a legal contract between consenting adults, and a religious ceremony. If your church chooses not to sanction certain kinds of marriages, nobody says it must. But as a legal matter, other people’s intimate arrangements are really none of your business.

Why is that so hard to understand?

So no, these laws are not going to stand as written. Hardly anybody wants to go back to the 1950s. When Apple, the NCAA, Angie’s List, Walmart, and Charles Barkley are all lined up on the same side of a political controversy, that side is going to win.

Image: “Hoosier Hospitality” by Mike Ficht (Flickr)

This post has been updated.

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  • Ran_dum_Thot

    No amount of laws is going to change how a religious person thinks. The obsession with organized religion to think they can impose their standards on anyone is the crux of the problem. However, once a person, by any definition, opens his doors of business to the public, public rights should prevail, such as guaranteed by the Constitution and a whole slew of equal rights laws that are on the books. If a business owner wants only customers that believe as he does, then he must openingly advertises his bias so that the public can choose to patronize, or not, that business. Real estate sales are bound by the Fair Housing laws. If I were a devout christian, do I have the right to not sell, rent or lease to a devout muslim, or homosexual? Absolutely not.

    • idamag

      Proselytize by example.

      • Ran_dum_Thot

        I care not what someone else believes. As long as he/she/it and I can co-exist, accept each others lifestyle and not cause harm to others, all the better for mankind. Diversity is what makes life interesting. Those that only see their way of life as acceptable for everybody else are the source of evil.

        • dtgraham

          “Those that only see their way of life as acceptable for everybody else are the source of evil.” That’s a very cute and inclusive sounding way of denying gay Americans their basic human rights that everyone else enjoys.

          No, you do care what someone else believes. Those that only want the same human rights as others, despite how they were born (in terms of their orientation), are not the issue. “Accepting the lifestyle” of those who want to deny these fundamental human rights to gay Americans is not “acceptable.” That kind of diversity does not only not make “life interesting”, it makes it unfair and intolerable for those whose lives are made worse as a result.

          • Ran_dum_Thot

            How on earth did you get denying gays their rights out “Those that only see their way of life as acceptable for everybody else are the source of evil.”? “Rights” extend far beyond one’s sexual proclivity.

          • dtgraham

            Wrong. Rights do not extend to those who want to deny very basic human rights to others who just happen to have a homosexual orientation. “Rights” do extend far beyond your sexual orientation, true, but they don’t extend to those who want to deny basic human rights to others based purely on their religious beliefs. You’re free to practice your religion (as another right) within some semblance of human reason, but the moment that religion starts advocating discrimination towards others based on nothing more than it’s own teachings, it must get trumped by other human rights.

            Religious fundamentalists who only see their way of life—concerning the teachings of sexual orientation—as acceptable for everybody else are the source of evil here. Not gay Americans who only want to be treated equally.

          • Ran_dum_Thot

            Nothing I said is directed to a specific sector of the population. Your argument hinges on the definition of “basic human rights” often defined by one’s religious training. Thus, ISIS thinks it is their right to murder non-Muslims. Like I said, if group A believes that group B lives a life style not acceptable to the A’s, too bad. A’s can choose not to associate with the B’s and vice versa. Neither group has the right to force it’s beliefs on another. The picture is complicated by community rights, which sets standards for all to live by–good and bad unfortunately. Defining “basic human rights” or “inalienable rights” as stated in the Declaration of Independence has been a much debated and legally challenged issue and will continue far into the future.

      • dtgraham

        Ran_dum_Thot wrote two consecutive sentences that are 100% in contradiction to the other. You caught on to that in your response. I didn’t the first time around. I read the first and skimmed the rest. I’ve since removed my upvote. That was a very sophisticated libertarian troll post.

  • FireBaron

    I hate it when their dogma attacks my karma.

    • Sand_Cat

      My karma ran over my dogma.

  • rvn_sgt6768

    These laws are just a continuation of what happened with the Citizens United ruling. As explained by a spokesperson from the Heritage foundation the real intent is to have the Federal law overturned by SCOTUS. When asked if under this law a person could then discriminate his answer was well yes and that should be their right and then let the courts settle it. Of course the courts have already settled it but these John Birtchers are hoping for a different ending in light of the Hobby Lobby ruling. They also figure that by tying up the courts with these lawsuits they can then pass the real meat of their agendas with no one noticing. This is the new Civil War for them. Their goal is States rights to do whatever they want without interference from the Federal Government. A new Federalism with a better chance of succeeding than what happened during the Civil War. That is why they packed the courts with people from the Federalist Society before they started their assault on America.

    • dtgraham

      Citizens United turned businesses into people, and that was the start… agreed. In the case of for-profit business discrimination cloaked in religion, it was the Supreme Court’s Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores and Photography v Willock cases that specifically opened that up as you mentioned. However, those two cases flowed as a logical extension of Citizens United. Without the original Citizens United, they couldn’t have happened. What’s next for business’s “human rights?”

  • Daniel Jones

    And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply
    So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why.
    He said you look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do
    So I took off my hat I said imagine that, huh, me working for you!

    Here’s the upshot; the less sensible a moral application is, the more stridently some people will try to legislate it. You can apply that to about half the stories the Memo has ever covered.

  • anothertoothpick

    As the dark clouds were gathering on the horizon, Galileo continued to believe that reason would prevail-a huge mistake when it comes to challenging faith.

    • Ran_dum_Thot

      Yeah, he forgot about ignorance, stubbornness, tradition, and stupidity–traits that seem to shackle humans to misery.

  • Alvin Harrison


    All the furor over the Indiana Religious Freedom act comes down to one thing…for me….and this is a tough one. Who makes the laws in this land. The people or the church. Gay and Lesbian marriages have been been made legal by the mandate of the majority and made law by the federal government. Yet, somehow states have decided that they can make their own laws that supersede those of the federal government, when their states contain a vocal religious majority that disagrees with the laws of the majority for religious reason.

    I believe that a business owner should be able to serve who he wants…within reason. Civil rights protections withstanding. Gays and Lesbians have been afforded inalienable rights to certain protections federally. Your religious beliefs should not exempt you from those laws. Some believe only those that are subsidized by the government we all pay into must follow the laws to make their services available to all….like churches (which do not serve all but we allow it). I would submit that having a business in a community means you are subsidized. After all…do not the gays and lesbians pay taxes that help to subsidize police and fire departments. If the taxes gays and lesbians pay are helping to protect your business from criminals and fire, do they not have a right to expect you will serve them. I would not pay to protect someone who will not provide me with the same services as others just because he has religious objections….or racial objections …or just does not like the way I look….or I might say…I object to that religious holier that thou attitude. We are a ridiculous species, we humans.

    WE are heading down a slippery slope here. We left England for religious freedom, that is not disputed. We then formed a Republic based on Democracy rule, that separated church and state with the state holding the trump card. When the state makes laws the majority approve that should be the end of it…we have spoken…or do we give EVERY Religion the right to do what they want whenever the law does not suit them.

    Their will be law suits up the ying yang over this. I would not be surprised to see gays and lesbians suing to have their taxes withheld from departments like fire and police because those who discriminate against them are receiving benefits from their tax dollars.This is going to be a big mess in the courts costing who knows how many dollars and wasting who knows how much time…there will be one beneficiary….Lawyers.

    I am starting to really get annoyed with this fanatical religion thing in some states and politics. So you do not approve of gay marriage, they do not approver of your religious beliefs. How about you bake their cake and head off to church….and they will promise not get married there…..see problem solved.

  • anothertoothpick

    A transparency law would solve these problems.

    All business’s that do not want to sell to everyone should post a sign on the front of their stores.

    The should include this warning in all advertisement and even when they run ads for employment.

    Problem solved.

  • HowardBrazee

    Most “isms” are about this. Not just religions, but nationalism, capitalism, sports fanaticism and other ways we identify “us”. Nothing illustrates this better than comparing the values of Jesus Christ as shown in the Bible with the extremely different values the American Religious Right is fighting for.

  • phylin

    In most countries businesses are. required to have licences to operate and they can be withdrawn if they refuse service to people they do not like. But apparently that is not the case in the United States. A country were states can make their own laws does not seem to be very united..

    • idamag

      You are so right. There is a big push by anti-government people right now to embolden the states rights. However; experience shows this is a bad idea. Lynching and Jim Crow Laws are a prime example of what backward states would be doing if there wasn’t the protection of the Federal Government.

      • Ruby

        One can argue that the Feds have over legislated and are forcing states to stand up for the individual rights of citizens. Citizens can be an ornery bunch and that may be why groups of people of like minds tend to clump together. Hence, we have all these great ethnic/cultural groups all over the USA. The thought of living in a homogenized society is down right scary. Diversity, conflict, resolution, win-some-lose-some, are all part of life. I’ll take that any day over totalitarianism. If one were to study the writings of our founding fathers, you would know that strong states and a weak federal government was their intent.

        • tomtype

          But not too weak. The were getting rid of the Articles of Confederation, because it was too weak to override the states when they became too ornery and tended to endanger the all important union. Somehow everyone who keeps on about how the federal government was supposed to be weak, doesn’t understand that it can’t be too weak to allow the states to just do what they want. And they actually made it as strong as they could and still get it passed.

    • Sand_Cat

      The national motto is “Out of the many, one.” Most of us here – I hope I can say that – don’t mind, and may in fact find it pleasant, so long as the states don’t use their freedom to abuse citizens of the United States, or others who are protected by its laws and Constitution. Unfortunately, most cases where “states’ rights” are asserted seem to fall into that prohibited area; I can’t think of any meaningful instances where that wasn’t the case except perhaps more rigorous environmental protection and cases where states or towns attempted to withhold their support from murderers and other human rights abusers that the Feds (guess which party) supported.

  • Godzilla

    Based on the logic of the Left, we are gonna have a lot of lawsuits pending in this country. It is the RIGHT of a person, whether in business or not, to choose who he/she associates with, whether it is on a professional basis or not. It’s a natural RIGHT to discriminate, based on the RIGHT of choice. To attempt to legislate otherwise or let Judge’s do your bidding will eventually fail, because it fails human nature.

    Based on Left Wing logic, a overweight 50 year old can sue a 21 year old supermodel for refusing to have sex with him, claiming “Fat discrimination”. A 69 year old woman can sue a 35 year old man for refusing sex, claiming age/sex discrimination. People who live in high crime minority neighborhoods can sue a plumber for refusing to provide his services to the neighborhood, claiming race discrimination. I can go on.

    What happens when Liberal’s are sued by conservatives claiming political discrimination? or vice versa? Voters who vote for higher taxes getting sued by those who don’t want to pay higher taxes is coming soon as well, because that is what Liberal logic will lead too. Midgets will sue the NBA. Someone will eventually sue a Tranny for being so ugly it caused a child emotional distress.

    It’s OK, sue the baker and make a mockery of freedom when another down the street is willing to bake the cake. Same with the photographer and the florist. All this will cause is animosity where none is needed. I want to see a LGBT member sue a Muslim baker, florist or photographer. Isn’t it exactly the same? Do the Muslim minority also have to serve the LGBT against their religious will? Do Jew sign makers HAVE to make signs that say “Destroy Israel” or “Gas the Jews”?

    Remember, when what you ask for cause YOU to be hated, then YOU deserve it. And YOU are asking for it.

    • Sand_Cat

      All the crap in your post is not according to any “left”; it’s according to you.
      Why don’t you spend your time getting some education and learning to think instead of posting bigoted crap advertising your ignorance and malice?

      • idamag

        Have you ever noticed that those with the least to say – use the most words to say it?

  • howa4x

    One thing that I don’t understand is, if you’re a small business in Indiana there is a very finite consumer clientele, so why would you discriminate against a group in the new world of social media where your 1 act can become a news feed to thousands. Now even if they are not gay they may detest the fact that people are discriminating and post that or tweet it. Already one Pizzeria went public in Indianapolis saying they would not serve a gay wedding on religious grounds. 1st off what gay would have pizza at the wedding? Secondly she already got hundreds of nasty messages from people who said they would never eat there. So how long do you think this place will be in business?
    If Chick-a-filet, a national concern succumbed to a backlash when they said gays would not be welcome and changed with in 1 week, what chance does a small business have? This is why the conservative Chamber of commerce came out publically against this. It’s bad for business.
    Keep religion in the home or church.

    • Ruby

      One has to wonder why a business owner has the right to step all over the beliefs of its employees by imposing personal religious practices, but it’s not ok to do the same to customers. It goes without saying that the 1) Hobby Lobby decision by SCOTUS and 2) a corporation considered the same as person, also reinforced by SCOTUS over the last 5 years, are very wrong and detrimental to the country’s well being.

  • Whatmeworry

    More bloviating from the hippie counter culture. These laws were never necessary until homo’s decided that it was OK to go after peoples businesses. I’ve been in a bakery or florist that ever asked if someone was gay. It only becomes an issue when gays demand that these individuals sanction their life style and they refuse to do so

    • Ruby

      If non-heterosexuals want to live their life style, so be it. I don’t have to like it, but I am not required to live with them either. I don’t like habitual drunks, drug dealers or crooked politicians but they are out there and I probably at one time or another provided a business function to them. So what. But I don’t have to tolerate a minority group’s platform, whatever it may be, in my face 24 hours a day. Let’s get back to what is important for the governments–which is not telling me how to conduct my private life. They are to provide for the health and safety of the general public–bad people, good people, jerks and saints.

      • idamag

        If we see a man and a woman walking down the street, does our mind automatically go to their bedroom? I suppose some people get their jollies out of fantasizing about what people are doing when they see them. I don’t. What propels these haters, besides a doubt about their own sexuality, is their fantasies. I say, to all homophobic bigots Get your noses out of other peoples’ crotches.

        • Ruby

          Isn’t this the truth. In all the years, well decades, I have worked as an employee, employer, or business owner either in the public or private sector, was some associate’s sexual preference or religion ever an issue.

      • dtgraham

        You say that you’re not required to live with them (homosexuals). Actually, you are required to live with (around) them unless you’re talking about prison sentences for being gay. Providing business functions to them and affording them the same basic human rights that you have, means that you’re ‘tolerating their platform.’ Congratulations.

        • Ruby

          Tolerance is what most people seem to be lacking these days. It matters not if it in USA or Syria. One could blame the rise of monotheism for that. I’m not required to live near or with anybody. I’ve moved to get away from the big city and all its problems, for example. Both in my private and public life, I choose friends and associates based on mutual beliefs and interests. Ones sexual preferences are not normally a consideration. There are exceptions, of course. Pedophiles are not welcome in my life, ever.

          • dtgraham

            I believe you on the preferences thing. Even if sexual orientation was a big consideration in your friends and associates, no problem. Everyone has a right of non-association with those they disagree with. The problem comes when those same people lobby their government to enact discriminatory policies against others based on no good reason other than personal belief and prejudice.

  • “No, no, and no.”

    Wrong, wrong, and wrong. An intense loathing of progress and diversity and desire to see America restored to the post-civil-rights era is EXACTLY what is motivating these people. Religion is just the excuse — the shield they are cowardly trying to hide behind as they launch their latest attacks on freedom and equality in America.

    If you don’t believe me, all you need to do is wait and see what it is that ultimately gets this law repealed: The first person who asserts that their religion / conscience will not allow them to serve Christians. When that happens, the Religious Right will throw an even more massive tantrum than they are throwing now over people mocking the law, the courts will assert that the law must offer equal protection to non-Christians or not be a law at all, and the Religious Right will opt towards the latter.

    This is what has undone all of their pushes for “religious freedom” every single time: Their complete refusal to ever, under any circumstances, allow that same religious freedom to be practiced by anyone else.

    • oldtack

      Most people in the US would affiliate this position on”our way or perdition” to the Muslim faith. But – take time to read a few verses in the Judaic Torah. The Torah and the Quran bear such resemblance as to appear to be the same text with a change of names for the main characters. Christians are an off shoot of the Judaic faith so go figure. They are all peas in a pod.

      I believe in a strict separation of Church and State with the State controlling and enforcing laws that prevent bigots from persecuting those who are in disagreement with their ideologies.

  • Ran_dum_Thot

    If you are open to the public, you serve the public. If it is so important that you serve only members of your faith, so advertise it on the door. I’ll make sure I take my business elsewhere as well. Using religion as an excuse to discriminate against someone is wrong. There are plenty of laws on the books covering this issue, starting with the Constitution. I don’t know of too many religions that DON’T preach and teach tolerance.

    • dtgraham

      The members of other faiths that are denied service also pay taxes. Those taxes pay for the myriad of physical, service, and educational infrastructures that greatly assist that business to operate successfully. You know, that same business that won’t serve them. Can those denied groups then ask for some refund of their taxes?

      That was just a dispassionate financial analysis. That doesn’t take into account how it must feel for a human being to know that they’re not good enough to receive service from a business no matter how much money they may have in their pocket.

      Give your libertarian head a shake. Your philosophy can sometimes sound good in the cloud, but it doesn’t work in real life.

  • Ruby

    This law is supposed to be about a person having religious freedom while conducting a public business.Since when does providing a service or goods to another become a violation of one’s faith? Does it stop you from being a faithful follower? If it does, you are in the wrong live of work. If the citizens think they can use this type of legislation to discriminate against non-heterosexuals, what stops me from refusing service to a Muslim-a member of a very intolerant violent religion, or Catholics because their religion has a problem with pedophilia among its priests? If I am an atheist, do I have the right to deny service to anyone whose religion is centered around a mythical entity? Sometimes, less is better. Let discrimination cases be handled under the plethora of civil rights legislation and let the practice of religion be free of government constraints.

  • stcroixcarp

    Would s clerk in drugstore chain be able to refuse to ring up birth control pills or condoms and not risk being fired for her closely held religious beliefs? Could a Quaker refuse to sell you a gun at the Walmart and not risk being fired because of closely held beliefs?

    • It’s the business ownership that decides how it does business. If an employee won’t go along with that business’ policies, he or she shouldn’t have that job.

      Caltholic schools are private institutions and should run themselves as they see fit. Nobody has a “right” to work for them, or any other private entity.

      Government employees are a bit different if only because government is supposed to serve everyone equally, according to the law.

  • Frank KIng

    The most important lesson to be learned in todays course of events in Indiana and elsewhere is that the religious cannot control the secular without causing upheaval, friction and loss of freedom. WE all live in the natural world seeking survival as best we can and the values we cherish can be obtained on common ground without the interferences and encumberances of religious dogmas or concepts. Religious fundamentalism in any form is a threat to freedom by definition.

  • Matt D.

    The primary purpose of the institution of marriage is to beget, protect, and raise children.

    • Sand_Cat

      So I guess the infertile, the aged, and those who do not intend to have children should be banned?

    • dpaano

      Interesting…..I’m married, but we chose not to have children. Does that mean we should be shunned? There’s too many people in the world today as it is….we chose not to add to the population growth. Doesn’t mean we don’t love each other and believe in the institution of marriage.