Erica Flores Dunahoo and Stanley Hoskins have complained that the owner of a recreational vehicle park near Tupelo, Mississsippi. refused to rent a space to them earlier this year because of the colors of their skin. They say that Gene Baker accepted a $275 rent check, gave Erica a hug and invited her to church. The next day he called her and said, not quite as friendly, “Hey, you didn’t tell me you was married to no black man!”
Is that a problem, she queried? “Oh, it’s a big problem with the members of my church, my community and my mother-in-law. They don’t allow that black and white shacking.”
Ah. So you are a moron, then, am I correct, sir? Yet why would Baker not believe this is completely fair and reasonable, since the current culture of his state, recently defined by the freshly signed Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, is that religion allows citizens to behave like bigoted, meddling jackasses as a matter of conscience?
The new law, one of a flurry of such foolish, divisive and destructive measures popping up in states determined to embarrass Republicans and Protestants while causing Founding Fathers to do backflips in their graves, allows those who object to same-sex marriages or an individual claiming to be a gender other than what was “objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at birth” to use “conscience” as justification refuse to provide services.
I call these “right to be an asshole” laws. They are of dubious constitutionality, but their ethical status isn’t dubious at all. They assert the right to interfere with the autonomy, lives and free choices of other law abiding citizens, denigrating, inconveniencing, stigmatizing and marginalizing them in the process, because they believe religion justifies their doing so.
Mississippi’s Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican (of course), said the law protects an individual’s rights to act in a manner consistent with his or her “deeply held religious beliefs.” When a religion’s deeply held beliefs divides societies and harms people who are harming nobody at all but simply trying to live, such a religious belief argues for a severe curtailment of society’s deference to religion. If your religion will not allow those with different beliefs live in harmony and equality with the rest of society, your religion deserves neither deference nor respect. See, for example, whatever yahoo religion Mr. Baker belongs to. You say that there is an ethical difference between using religionas an excuse to refuse to rent a space to a multi-racial couple and refusing to rend a space to a same-sex couple? Right. Ask Mr. Baker if he can articulate it. Better yet, ask Phil Bryant.
Under the law, an individual could legally refuse to rent a space for a same-sex wedding, refuse medical services, refuse to sell a ring or rent a tux for a same-sex wedding, or like Kim Davis, refuse to do her official duty for a same-sex couple because others—you know, non-drooling bigots—will provide them. “It specifically says that is a case where a person has a religious conviction, they can decline, but they must provide somebody in their office to provide that service,” state Rep. Andy Gipson, a Republican (naturally) explained. If Andy had taken a junior college ethics course, he would know that this violates Kantian Ethics 101: it isn’t ethical to engage in conduct that would be disastrous if everybody did it. And in a state where churches are telling their congregations that you better not be married to no black man, how sure is it that everybody won’t eventually be blocking services to gays, transgendered, and same sex couples?
Bryant said in a statement that he signed House Bill 1523 because he wanted to protect “sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government or its political subdivisions.” This is either toxic stupidity or an outright lie. The bill is designed to sanctify discriminatory conduct and the mistreatment of law-abiding individuals based on the sole fact that someone is offended by the fact of their existence. In substantive terms, what positive is accomplished by refusing to sell a ring to a same sex couple, or refusing to bake them a cake? Absolutely nothing. Merchants sell with impunity and disinterest to fools, criminals, wife-beaters, rapists, child molesters and New York Yankee fans, and sleep like babies at night, yet we are supposed to believe that their religion should allow them to take special measures to inconvenience and humiliate LGBT individuals? Nonsense. Tell us another. Make this one more plausible, though, so you don’t insult my intelligence again.
I am not so worried about the victims of this epically stupid and cruel legislation. Oh, knocking it down and burying it will waste time and money, and society will be further divided by hate and ignorance, and excessive zeal on both sides will harm the innocent as it always does, but in the end, these stubborn cultural Neanderthals in Mississippi, North Carolina and elsewhere will lose, their laws declared unconstitutional and their states further stereotyped and ridiculed. Nothing could be more certain.
No, I worry about the permanent damage, as if any more can be borne, that is being done to the prestige and reputation of religion and the philosophy of conservatism. This warped and irresponsible application of both for no higher purpose than to avoid the accumulated cultural wisdom regarding right and wrong will—will—poison these concepts in the minds of rising generations, and render them spoiled and useless to society. That will be terrible for everyone, for religious institutions and conservative principles have been and should be vibrant forces for good in society. If they are most prominently abused to further bigotry and injustice, however, bigotry and injustice alone will soon be what they represent.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.