Sanctioned Discrimination or Religious Freedom?

Governor Jan Brewer vetoed Arizona's "religious liberty" bill last evening, putting the brakes on what could have been one of the most discriminatory laws in the country had she given it her approval. Her veto statement, which read much like a statement in favor of the bill until the very end, expressed her worry about what this legislation would do to business without speaking one word of the possible impact it could have on countless every day citizens. Instead of standing up to the state legislature and shaming them for such a blatantly bigoted law, she took the easy way out by blaming the Obama Administration and liberal judges for their "encroachment upon our religious freedoms."

This now defunct bill is just one of many religious liberty bills popping up around the country that aim to protect individuals from being sued if they don't want to provide services to anyone whose life choices they tend to disagree with. Idaho, Ohio, Oklahoma, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Tennessee are also considering some type of sanctioned discrimination bills and others are certain to follow.

The proponents of these bills insist that all they want to do is prevent individuals and organizations from facing repercussions if they refuse to bake a gay couple a cake or take pictures at their gay wedding, but gloss over the fact that gay couples can't get married in any of the states this legislation is being proposed in. The proponents also seem to not have taken into account that the wording of these bills make it legal for anyone to refuse any service for any religious reason. In theory, a paramedic could refuse service to a gay person that just had a heart attack. A banker could refuse a loan to a single mother because the bible says that is an abomination. A person of the Muslim faith could refuse service to a Jew in their restaurant. And countless other scenarios can play out because of someone's deeply held religious belief tells them that it is wrong.

I can't help but notice with a tremendous sense of irony that we have seen this same exact religious liberty argument before. The parallels between the current debate raging in state capitals and the sanctioned racism that our nation used to perpetuate are very hard to ignore. Southern states fought tooth and nail against the civil rights movement and used the Holy Bible as justification for their hatred. Governors, United States Senators, Congressmen, and countless state officials perpetuated the argument that religious liberty was under assault by the liberals who wanted to integrate blacks and whites. These individuals claimed they were just following their deeply held religious beliefs and that the Federal Government was violating their First Amendment rights.

Many on the right in this country scoff at this comparison, but I truly question how they do not see how similar these two issues actually are. I'm often reminded of the famous quote "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" when I'm discussing this issue with someone who is for these discriminatory laws. We as Americans like to gloss over our history of discrimination, but that is not healthy. We need to understand and learn from our checkered past instead of continuously repeating it.
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