Over the years, the religious right has continued to integrate religious beliefs and civil liberties to justify their cause. Religious right is a term used to describe a general coalition of organized conservative political activist groups that use religious (usually Christian) premises and rhetoric. This coalition’s political power increased substantially during the Reagan presidency and it remains a significant force in US politics today. How they rationalize the use of their constant rhetoric is both amusing and astonishing.
What insecure older evangelicals can’t seem to deal with are their own real questions: for instance, who really believes that gay men and women chose that “lifestyle” rather than being born that way? How can anyone honestly look at the religious right and really think any of the leaders of this highly-profitable and exclusive club would be recognized by Jesus as on the path of the simple way, taking up a cross or following Him as he reached out and touched the untouchables like the poor, sick and weak?
Use of common enemy rhetoric to rally support for their cause is common among groups in the religious right, where the common enemies in question include liberals, and gay a lesbian Americans. For example, in New Mexico, a photographer declined to take pictures of a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. In Washington State, a florist would not provide flowers for a same sex wedding. And in Colorado, a baker refused to make a cake for a party celebrating the wedding of two men. The business owners cited religious beliefs in declining to provide services celebrating same-sex relationships. And in each case, these businesses were sued.
Now, as states around the nation weigh how to balance the rights of same-sex couples with those of conservative religious business owners, Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona must decide whether to sign legislation that would allow business owners to cite religious beliefs as a legal justification for denying service to same-sex couples. If this law is passed, this could mean that fire fighters or paramedics can refused to respond to any call from a gay or lesbian American citing “religious beliefs!”
This legislation, approved by religious right lawmakers on February 20, 2014, immediately attracted national attention, with conservative religious groups welcoming it as a necessary form of protection for objectors to same-sex marriage, and gay rights and other groups denouncing it as a license for discrimination. The measure comes at a time when the courts are grappling with how to define the religious rights of private businesses. The Supreme Court is to hear two cases next month in which businesses are seeking exemptions from providing insurance coverage for contraception to their employees, citing the religious rights of the companies’ owners.
“In America, people should be free to live and work according to their faith, and the government shouldn’t be able to tell us we can’t do that,” said Joseph E. La Rue, the legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization based in Scottsdale, Arizona, that advocates religious liberty and supports the measure passed by the State Legislature. “Faith shouldn’t be something we have to leave inside our house.” But civil libertarians and gay rights advocates say there is a difference between protections for clergy and houses of worship that do not want to participate in same-sex marriage and the obligations of business owners that serve the general public.
“Religious freedom is a fundamental right, but it’s not a blank check to harm others or impose our faith on our neighbors,” said Daniel Mach, who directs a program on freedom of religion and belief for the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes the Arizona legislation. “Over the years, we as a nation have rejected efforts to invoke religion to justify discrimination in the marketplace, and there’s no reason to turn back the clock now.”
Frank Schaeffer, New York Times bestselling author, recently wrote: “There is an army of evangelical leaders and followers that in their deepest inner selves know they have more or less wasted their lives while selling the Americanized “GOD” and “JESUS” as virtually trademarked products. They are about as open to questioning the basic facts of their pitch as the cigarette companies were to admitting that smoking is addictive. When they’re assailed by their inevitable doubts they ignore them and plow on because they cannot face losing face, friends, family and above all — for the legion of “professional Christians” — the money.”
Schaeffer went on to write, “The movers and shakers in the evangelical world know they’re living in and perpetrating a fantasy land. They know and act upon the inner conviction that Jesus isn’t coming back anytime, buy and sell, invest, plan retirements, protect their turf like everyone else… and yet, cash in on whatever the latest nonsensical folly they need to sell – again – to the faithful is, as they keep their supporters, or subscribers, or donors on the hook with more magical promises bolstered only by circular “the Bible says” arguments in an absolutely closed system. They are as leery of real debate as any Red Guard leader would have been waving the Little Red Book in the Cultural Revolution. The book (red or black with gold edges) “says!” And that’s it, that’s all they have.”
Governor Jan Brewer, who has taken no public position on the legislation that has reached her desk, is a Republican whose tenure has been punctuated by controversy and political discord over a tough measure on illegal immigration, which was denounced from the left, and a Medicaid expansion, which was criticized by the right. Last year Governor Brewer vetoed a similar religious freedom bill, arguing that it was a distraction from priorities lawmakers had yet to address including the state budget.
Arizona has had a difficult time in the pass with what many viewed as discriminatory practices. When most every state embraced laws to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday, it would be two years after memorial planning began before an Arizona governor would declare a state holiday for King. That sparked another six years of fights – in the State Capitol and at the ballot box – before the state would adopt a King holiday. Only New Hampshire took longer to do so. In the interim, Arizona lost a Super Bowl in 1993 because of this failure, and the state was boycotted and blasted nationally for its refusal to adopt this holiday. The state was painted as “the new Mississippi or new Alabama,” a shock to those Arizonans who were fighting for the holiday.
Arizona is scheduled to host the 2016 Olympics but could very well loose that opportunity if Governor Brewer signs this discriminatory legislation. It is also interesting to note that some of the same law makers who passed the bill have sent Governor Brewer a letter asking that she veto it. Simply astonishing! How can a group of people who claim to be Christians make such “radical” decisions designed to discriminate against others? Sometimes we need to be reminded that not all religious people have a relationship with Christ; they are just religious (whatever that means). How can we forget that it was the Pharisees and Sadducees (the religious right) who crucified Jesus Christ.
With the mounting pressure including requests by the state’s two Senators, Governor Brewer has only one reasonable option and that is to veto the bill, but that’s just my take.