Sunday, April 5, 2015

Religious Rights Under Fire?

Just in time for Easter, Rebel Commander Ezra Levant, has a rant about religious freedom. And he's got a zippy graphic of Jesus on the cross with a pride flag in the background. When you mouse over the text link, it turns red. I point all this out because the piece pretty much goes downhill from there. Mr Levant is enunciating, as only he can, over reaction to Indiana's RFRA legislation, which has recently been modified amidst human rights complaints. 

First, here's what Ezra and his vest had to say about RFRA - Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act -- SB 101.

Levant begins where apologists for the legislation begin -- by saying it is virtually identical to legislation of the same name passed under President Bill Clinton two decades ago. They're similar in name, but that's about it. The national legislation provided some protection to persons of faith who found themselves in violation of federal law in their practice of religion. As Mr Levant puts it, it protected "religious minorities." Levant sneers at concerns that the law could support discrimination against LGBT minorities, conveniently ignoring that there is no State non-discrimination clause for queer Indianans, and most of the State has no county or city protections. He opines, sarcastically:
This law could theoretically protect, say, a Christian baker from having to make a pro-gay-marriage-same-sex-marriage-wedding-cake. That's the theoretical example. And this law would say well there really is no compelling interest to force this baker to decorate a gay wedding cake. You're violating their Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Sikh or Hindu beliefs.
Here's the thing. Baking a cake isn't a religious sacrament; it's merely a service. In asking the shopkeeper to bake the cake the consumer is not asking for an endorsement of their lifestyle. They're asking for a cake. It is interesting to note that Mr Levant chose the word "protect," further suggesting that providing a service to an LGBT person's wedding constitutes a hardship for the faithful. 

US Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) who, along with Sen. Ted Kennedy, introduced the federal RFRA when he was a congressman in 1993, explains the distinction between the two bills on his Facebook page (emphasis mine):
In the uproar over the recently passed Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), defenders of the bill like Indiana Gov. Pence are trying to hide behind the argument that the law "simply mirrors" the federal RFRA Sen. Ted Kennedy wrote and I introduced as a Congressman in 1993. That may be true only if you're using a Funhouse mirror. In reality, it is completely false, and a disingenuous argument to boot; they should cease and desist immediately comparing the federal RFRA of 1993 to their present, misguided law.There are two simple reasons the comparison does not hold water. 
First, the federal RFRA was written narrowly to protect individuals’ religious freedom from government interference unless the government or state had a compelling interest. If ever there was a compelling state interest, it is to prevent discrimination. The federal law was not contemplated to, has never been, and could never be used to justify discrimination against gays and lesbians, in the name of religious freedom or anything else. 
Second, the federal RFRA was written to protect individuals’ interests from government interference, but the Indiana RFRA protects private companies and corporations. When a person or company enters the marketplace, they are doing so voluntarily, and the federal RFRA was never intended to apply to them as it would to private individuals. 
Then Ezra goes off on Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, who came out last year as gay. Mr Cook is also a Christian. He has threatened to boycott events in Indiana if the bill is signed into law. The Rebel Commander points out the hypocrisy of Tim Cook threatening Indiana when he does business in Iran and Saudi Arabia, which have appalling human rights records with respect to LGBT issues. 

Levant's right -- it is hypocritical. But Tim Cook has not been appointed saviour and spokesperson of the LGBT communities. Going after Indiana is the easy thing for Mr Cook to do. It's an example of the portmanteau pink-washing, when corporations or governments make relatively easy, safe overtures to the human rights of LGBT people.

The Christian-baker-v-gay-wedding-cake discussion actually comes from similar legislation in Arizona, which Governor Jan Brewer ultimately vetoedAccording to Kellie Fiedorek, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which helped write the legislation,"This bill (protects) basic freedoms that belong to everyone," she said, explaining that it would protect a gay photographer's decision not to work for Westboro Baptist Church, or Muslims who don't want to sell "pork sandwiches on a Saturday." ADF, which helped write the bill, is on the SPLC's radar, as an anti-gay organization.
At a press conference, Indiana state officials conceded the statute, as written, could permit businesses to actively discriminate against LGBT Indianans, including posting signs:
Americans, businesses and cities condemned Indiana’s RFRA ever since Governor Mike Pence signed it in to law.  Pence tried to claim his critics didn’t understand the law, but that blew up in his face when, during a press conference, the House Speaker and the Senate Pro Tem admitted that No Gay signs would be allowed in Indiana.

Enter Memories Pizza. Crystal O'Connor, who co-owns the pizzeria in Walkerton, Indiana, with her father Kevin, gave an interview prior to the passage of SB-101. She indicated in the interview that she wouldn't cater a same-sex wedding on religious grounds, but said later she had no problem serving gays in her restaurant. Her father Kevin went on to explain that he chose to be straight and homosexuals chose to be gay, and he shouldn't be "hit over the head with it." Viewers began to wonder if the O'Connors had taken some hits to the head.

Sadly, however, there was an ugly backlash to the O'Connors' comments, including death threats and cyber attacks, compelling them to shutter their store for awhile. Then came the string of right-wing pundits claiming the LGBT community needed to own up and apologize for the witless cowards who harassed the business owners. The harassment of these people is unacceptable, to be sure. It is not, however, a function of being gay or straight, Christian or atheist. 

It is a function largely of being ignorant and hateful, abetted by the anonymity of the Internet. People of faith do not have to apologize for the Westboro Baptist Church. Muslims don't have to apologize for the acts of ISIS. Catholics do not need to apologize for the person who firebombs an abortion clinic. Decent people don't have to atone for cowards who emerge from the shadows to harm others, because we are just as offended by the cowardly acts.

This second video of Crystal O'Connor is worth viewing, if only to see how visibly shaken she was by recent events. As silly and offensive as I find her views, she is also victim of horrible ignorance and cruelty. A crowd funding campaign for her and her father got quite a bit of support and then was capped at $840,000 when it was discovered to have been orchestrated by the The Blaze.

Media Matter provides a good breakdown of the problems in covering this story. The IndyStar also compares and contrasts SB-101 with its federal namesake.

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