Relgious Freedom Laws: Who Needs ‘Em?

Dear Mom, 

Not feeling 100% qualified—nor 100% unbiased—to comment on the need for religious freedom laws, I turned to my good friend and colleague David for his perspective. 

“Are religious freedom laws necessary?” I asked.

His response: “No. We already have them.  We don’t need more. They’re just a cover for discrimination.”

I feel like David is a better gauge on this issue because he’s a pretty religious guy.  He attends church regularly, and is very involved in his church community.  David’s straight, and white, and a lifelong Christian, and I’ll freely admit that when he first started teaching at Newport I made all sorts of assumptions about his beliefs around LGBT issues. 

Turns out, my assumptions couldn’t have been farther from the truth.  

As we got to know one another and work together, it became pretty clear that David is about as far left politically as one can get.  He’s also been a huge advocate for LGBT students, and his convictions and moral determination to make our district curriculum more inclusive and representative of all populations—regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation—has been inspirational. 

This from a guy who was brought up in the conservative double-whammy religious traditions of Independent Baptist and Pentecostal fundamentalism.  

According to David, who credits finding (I’m going to quote here) “a real faith” beyond the religious traditions he grew up in with saving his life, the religious freedom laws are nothing but “a pathetic fig leaf attempting to cover the larger desire to create Christian law and theocracy” in America.  People of faith, he says, have a guarantee of plenty of rights under current law. After all, the practice of religion receives federal protection. Christians of course are welcome to their beliefs as long as they realize that once they interact in the public space, their desire to refrain from committing an immoral action by, say, providing floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding doesn’t mean they are entitled to protection.  

Which brings us back to David’s original point, which is that supporters of these religious freedom laws are just looking for an excuse to discriminate.  Feeling threatened by the shifting sands of a political climate that is, to paraphrase MLK, bending toward justice, those who want to deny rights to LGBT individuals are hiding under the cloak of what they obviously feel is the last possible justification  for their hatred. 

As many others have pointed out, this is not new.  Religion has been used to justify slavery, enshrine Jim Crow laws, and keep women from voting. The plethora of current laws are disturbing, I agree.  But it’s an old tune that’s sounding more and more tired, and will ultimately wear itself out.  Of that, I am convinced.  

However, Signorile’s point about the battle not being over is well worth heeding.  The bakeries who don’t want to provide cakes for same-sex couples and florists who don’t want to do flowers for same-sex weddings are one thing. I was talking to Mark about this a couple of weeks before this issue blew up in the media, and he said he just couldn’t believe that there were that many businesses out there who wanted to turn away the business.  Well, it seems that there are, or at least that politicians believe there are.

More to Signorile’s point, the bigger concern is to get federal employment non-discrimination laws passed, have sexual orientation added as a federally protected class of individuals and overturn state laws baring same-sex couples and LGBT individuals from adopting.  Once these are in place, as many religious freedom laws can pass in state capitals as are necessary to pander to the needs of paranoid bigoted legislators and their like-mined constituents.  

It seems clear to me that the likes of Governors Pence and Hutchinson are clearly in the losing camp, along with their historical forbearers George Wallace, Anita Bryant, and even Karl Rove.  The swift backlash agains the laws in Indiana and Arkansas was notable not for the usual suspects like HRC, Signorile, and Cher (thanks for your tweets!). But when the NCAA, Walmart, and a slew of other Fortune 500 companies start lining up against you, the writing does seem to be on the wall.

Love, Christopher