I’ve been on vacation/sick as a dog for the past week, and a ton of topics have stacked up, but this Indiana…thing…has taken up all my thinking time and must be addressed first.
If you’re not aware, this week, Indiana’s governor Mike Pence signed a law that will allow businesses to turn away anyone if serving that customer would place a “significant burden” on the business owner’s religious beliefs. Setting aside its incredibly vague and non-quantifiable language, the context and timing of this bill–as well as that of similar laws/bills in nineteen other states–is squarely aimed at allowing businesses to discriminate against members of the LGBT community. In the wake of the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby decision, so-called “religious freedom” is being used as a holy cudgel with which to beat secular society over the head, and give religious zealots carte blanche to foist their particular beliefs on non-believers.
Here’s the thing: You have a right to your religious beliefs–undoubtedly and without question–but you do not have a right to run a business in any way you see fit. Your faith is your own, but your business is a secular enterprise, and if it is open to the public, that’s with whom it must treat: the public.
All of the public. Not just the part of the public you like.
Supporters of these laws say they are not “legalized discrimination,” but that is their purpose: to allow a business owner to refuse service to a specific portion of the population for reasons of personal preference. Wrapping it up in the guise of “religious freedom” does not change that fact. With this law, someone from an Aryan Supremacist “church” could refuse service to people of color, or someone from an anti-Semitic sect could refuse to serve Jews. Signs of a bygone age–No Irish. No Jews. Whites only. Christians only.–now once again can find a legal foothold in our society.
Supporters also like to say that no legal action against such discrimination has ever found for the religious discriminator. This is both false and disingenuous.
First, it’s demonstrably false; the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby case shows that some religious zealots have won their cases. While it may be true that no florist or wedding-cake baker has successfully defended their discriminatory acts, it proves the point that this sort of logic has been used to justify such discrimination.
But even if all the supporters claims were true, and all persons bringing suit against a business that discriminated against them in this way were victorious, it does not change the fact that the discrimination took place or that this legislation legitimizes it. These laws mean that a person can walk into a business, be denied service, be turned away and humiliated, and must then bring suit in order to punish the person who, had this law not been in place, might not have discriminated against them in the first place.
After the fact restitution is cold comfort when you’re thwarted when trying to plan a wedding or (if we extend the application) a bar-mitzvah, an NAACP meeting, or a gathering of the Atheists of America club.
Americans have every right to believe in whatever God/god/gods they wish, including the right to believe it’s all hogwash. They can go to their church or pray in their home or even put down a prayer rug in the park and bow toward Mecca; no one can stop them. They can post all sorts of Biblical homilies and religious claptrap on their Facebook pages and the worst they’ll get is unfriended. But they cannot, in any way, discriminate against legitimate customers in the course of conducting their business. If a business is “open to the public,” that means all the public, including men, women, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Taoists, atheists, Wiccans, Republicans, Democrats, PETA supporters, vegans, hipsters, rock stars, ditch diggers, whites, blacks, Hispanics, the disabled, redheads, and, yes, even Methodists.
And if you didn’t get that last reference, go watch Blazing Saddles.