Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is deciding whether to sign or veto a bill passed in the name of religious freedom. In order to protect religious freedom, Brewer should veto Senate Bill 1062.
While passing the bill in the guise of protecting religious freedom, Republicans noted several examples across the nation of businesses that were sanctioned for not catering to gay weddings. However, the consequence of the law if signed by Brewer will be much greater discrimination based upon religious affiliation.
Under the new law any act of discrimination that is based upon a sincere religious belief may be legal. Imagine a taxi driver refusing to drive a fare to a mosque because the driver has a sincere religious objection to Islam. Maybe the local Muslim community can start their own fleet of taxi’s to call upon, but those drivers certainly would not want to take Jewish passengers to a synagogue, lest the drivers religious sensibilities be offended.
If a fundamentalist Protestants turns away a (“false cult“) Catholic is that really an expression of religious freedom, or of discrimination that should not be allowed in a nation that purports to honor everyone’s belief. The right to discriminate based upon a sincerely held religious belief is the right for those who hold different beliefs than your own to discriminate against you.
Modern day right wing proponents of “religious freedom” are fond of referencing a so called “war on religion“, in which the evil secularist humanists insist upon harming the rights of religious folk to express their belief by discriminating against those they do not agree with, such as the LGBT community. Thus, according to certain Catholic Bishops, since Obamacare mandates that contraception should be covered by medical insurance and the Catholic church officially condemns the use of contraception, Obamacare is a manifestation of the so called war on religion.
The problem with that outlook is that most of society does not hold the same belief that is forwarded by the Catholic hierarchy. In fact most Catholics do not adhere to that doctrine by a wide margin. Religious tolerance should mean the ability of individuals to not be compelled to live by dogma which they do not believe in. Obamacare does not mandate that employees should take contraception. Only that they be able to in the event that they wish to. Catholic employers are not being forced to take contraception. They are only being required to give the same basic level of medical care that everyone else is being required to provide.
Imagine a Catholic employer mandating that their employees sign an oath that none of their earned wages will be spent on birth control. That, in effect, is the position they are taking in regards to the benefits earned by their employees.
If a faith healer started a business, using the precedent set by the Catholic Bishops, they may complain at having to provide any level of medical insurance to their employees. But that does not mean they are being discriminated against for being required to live up to the same obligations as every other employer.
Conservatives claiming a war on religion because they cannot discriminate against those who do not hold their belief are not proponents of religious freedom. They would usher in an age of dogmatic division, akin to a type of religious segregation.
Taken to the extreme, which I am convinced is precisely where the most fundamentalist would be more than happy to go, imagine Northern Ireland. Communities of Catholics divided from communities of Protestants, with the occasional riot brought on by the triumphal parading of one group through the territory of the other to celebrate some date of import to one of the sides. Jews would conduct their affairs away from Muslims in order that one group not offend the religious sensibilities of the other. Catholic areas festooned with posters of the Pope would do their best to ignore the nearby, and comparatively tiny, neighborhood of Athiests and their fish with legs Darwin bumper stickered cars.
Is that “religious freedom”? Is the call of a tolerant society to respect the belief of all truly a “war on religion”? I think not. Rather freedom of religion must needs be the freedom of all to believe or to not believe as they choose, without fear of retribution from those they do not agree with. In fact the war on religion would more accurately describe those who think they should rightfully be able to force their dogma on their neighbor from my point of view.
Unfortunately for Arizona, the voters have seen fit to elect representatives who have time and again proven willing and able to trod upon the rights of the state citizenry. The slippery slope started with the papers please law. I am reminded of the famous poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller, even if the circumstance that led him to create his poem was far worse than the situation in Arizona today. To paraphrase Niemoller: First they came for the immigrants and I did not speak out because I was not an immigrant.
Now, they have come for the Gays.