Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Donít allow religion to be used as a bludgeon

    Fifty years ago, the U.S. Congress passed, and President Lyndon Johnson signed, legislation outlawing discrimination against African Americans.
    Progressives hoped that the 1964 Civil Rights Act would end racial discrimination. As time went on, many of us foolishly assumed it would end discrimination in general. The world has not turned out as many of us would have hoped.
    Last week, the Arizona Legislature sent a bill to the governor that would allow business owners to deny service to gay and lesbian customers as long as they claim this discrimination is based on their religious beliefs. Further, the bill as written would allow discrimination against anyone if a business owner sincerely claims it is backed by religious belief.
    The Arizona Legislature should have considered the implications of the bill, but it didn’t. It ignored the long and ugly history of persecution of and pogroms against Jews that led inexorably to the deadly policies of Germany’s Third Reich. It apparently forgot that Mormons were driven out of their land and had their homes confiscated because their religious beliefs were in conflict with the religious beliefs of the majority of Americans in the 19th century.
    It failed to consider other, less obvious, consequences of this kind of state legislation. Did the Legislature, for example, consider whether a Muslim driving instructor could follow his religious restrictions in refusing to teach a teenage girl to drive? Should a butcher at Walmart be allowed to refuse to sell pork chops to customers because he or she keeps Jewish or Muslim dietary laws?
    Gays and lesbians were the target of those members of the Legislature who believe their religious beliefs trump U.S. Constitutional mandates against discrimination in application of the law.
    The Greater Phoenix Economic Council sent a letter to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer urging her to veto Senate Bill 1062 because the “legislation will likely have profound, negative effects on our business community for years to come.” While we agree with the council about probable business losses, far more is at stake here than money.
    Arizona has started down a path that ignores the wisdom of those who passed the Bill of Rights and established the very soul of our republic. It would allow the erection of a wall between those who believe their religious faith is their own and those who would use faith to bludgeon others into conformity to their beliefs.
    The latter was wrong when the Founding Fathers created the First Amendment, and it is wrong now.

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