The mini-tidal wave of legislation dating back to an ill-advised Federal law passed during the Clinton Administration under the guise of “Religious Freedom Restoration” is making a lot of headlines today because of Indiana’s passage of its own version of the law. As several other states have attempted — and some succeeded — in passing similar laws over the past few years, minor tempests have also brewed in local teapots. Never mind that the Federal law governor after governor has cited as precedent for their actions was found unconstitutional as applied to states and state law in 1997 by the Supreme Court. That’s just a minor annoyance.
As is so often the case with extremist viewpoints when their supporters try to get mainstream America to support their outlandish views, the very title of this legislation is directly misleading. Religious freedom in this country has not been diminished, abolished or otherwise found itself in need of any restoration. Those who support these laws do so out of either ignorance, ill-considered belief in the truth of ardent backers or deliberate obfuscation intending to hide simple bigotry.
There is absolutely no difference between the government actions these hard-right conservatives who have pre-empted the once good name of Christianity to their own nefarious purposes claim to object to, and the “freedom” to discriminate on the basis of race. In fact, one consequence of these un-American laws could well be to provide legal cover to racial discrimination while broadening the legitimacy of bigotry to include other kinds of behaviors and beliefs which, while perfectly legal in their own right, somehow offend prejudiced religious fanatics of many stripes.
Under these laws, nobody can be “compelled” to comply with a law that interferes with the reasonable pursuit of their deeply held religious belief.
Does this mean that a Muslim storekeeper can refuse service to any woman appearing in public with her head uncovered? How about an atheist restaurant banning anyone wearing apparel or jewelry supporting a particular religious cause? If one’s “deeply held” religious belief opposes government imposition of vaccination laws, can I demand to see everyone’s shot records as proof that they haven’t succumbed to government overreach?
These may seem silly or trivial to you but I promise you that somewhere in America there is a business owner who has exactly those feelings and would be overjoyed at being able to enforce his or her beliefs on the public by discriminating in public accommodations. Which is why we have a Civil Rights Act in this country.
Those who would “restore” religious freedom by allowing faith-based behavior to be imposed on others act directly counter to the democratic society and system they hide behind while invoking their right to be bigoted.