25 February 2014

Arizona SB 1062 - Looking for Government Support for Your Religious Beliefs

In the U.S., churches have the right to religious freedom. So do individuals. This great country was the first to institutionalize religious freedom and this has been the basis for the freedom of thought that has not only led to the religious entrepreneurship that has given us Scientology and Latter-Day Saints but the business and technological entrepreneurship that has given us Hooters and the world lead in patents.

Because religious freedom has so little opposition in this country, Arizona Republicans have wisely chosen to pass a new bill under that umbrella.

Arizona's state senate has passed SB 1062.  It makes only a couple of changes to existing law. For one thing, it extends the definition of "person" from "a religious assembly or institution" to "any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation, or other legal entity." Everyone agrees that people have freedom of religion. Now the Arizona senate has said that businesses are also people.  And freedom of religion means that we can't compel someone - or some business - to do something they don't believe in.

The gay community  feels that this is written to allow discrimination against them. You want a gay wedding at a lovely venue in Scottsdale? The owner of that venue can say "No" based on her religious belief that gay weddings are wrong. I suppose that gays are right that this is targeted at them but I don't see how - given how the law is written - it would prohibit a business from doing the same to someone wanting a Muslim wedding or inter-racial wedding or a wedding featuring a divorced Catholic ... or for that matter someone wanting to eat BBQ while wearing a Star of David.

For some people, the issue is never their exclusion of other people but instead, their right not to associate with those other people, whether they're gay or black or female. But for the most part, laws have evolved to the point that the minority's right for inclusion has greater power than the majority's right to exclude them. This, it seems to me, is a lovely thing and a sign of an evolved society.

But, you ask, don't religious fundamentalists who feel they're under attack for being forced to associate with publicans and sinners have a right to appeal to the government for laws that protect their right to exclude?

Our founding fathers wrestled with the question of when religious beliefs stopped and laws began. As you would imagine about men as brilliant as our founding fathers, they weren't exactly of one accord on the question. Some were traditional Episcopalians. Some were theists. Jefferson once spent time in the White House carving up the New Testament, expunging it of all instances of what he called magic - supernatural miracles that couldn't be explained by modern science. They had didn't opinions but they also didn't want their new country torn by battles over religious claims that were impossible to prove. They saw what that had done to Europe. They didn't believe that religion could be codified by laws. Jefferson and Franklin - admittedly two of our least traditionally religious founding fathers - felt that it wouldn't be much of a God to need the aid of a state.

Thomas Jefferson said, "Truth can stand by itself."  Whether it was the golden rule or the law of gravity, for him truth was something that could be proven by observation. He didn't want a declaration about what was true; he wanted proof.

Ben Franklin shared his sentiments. "When a religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one."

You don't like Jews coming into your restaurant? You want the government to support your exclusion of them from your lunch counter? Well, you won't find much support from Ben and Tom or the government they established. Instead of appealing to the government, maybe you could just ask your God to strike them dead. If you can call down lightning to strike dead those you find morally reprehensible even a few times, I'm sure that eventually your community will agree to pass whatever laws you define. It worked for Moses. Of course that sort of thing is evidence that even Thomas Jefferson would acknowledge and not just based on someone's declaration about who is and who is not deserving of brisket.


Lifehiker said...

WHAM-O! Sometimes your carefully chosen words just can't hide the anger. I'm with you all the way on this one, Ron, and I predict the governor will put this bill in the trash, albeit for the wrong reasons.

Anonymous said...

But what about Sodom and Gomorrah? God wiped out everybody there- the sinners, and the ones unfortunate enough to be seated next to the sinners. I don't want to be smote just because the guys over at the next table were inhospitable to strangers.