Monday, March 30, 2015

Forgive them, for they know not what they do in Indiana

The hubris about a "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" in Indiana swamps my Facebook timeline every so often. Post after post lobbed criticism at the governor and the lawmakers of that state in general, and rightly so. The overt point of the law is to allow businesses to justify refusal of service to anyone based upon a religious objection. The covert reason for the law is to support the idea that Christian business owners can discriminate against anyone considered to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transexual, aka, LGBT minorities for reasons based on religious belief.

The response to the law has been resounding. The most interesting response came from the CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff. Benioff has warned Indiana about the proposed law before it was passed and signed by governor Mike Pence. Benioff says that the new law goes against Salesforce' philosophy and that his company will stop or postpone all further travel plans for Indiana in protest of the law.

Governor Pence has pleaded with the press that all the law is designed to do is support the purported right of business owners to deny service to people based on religious objections. What he didn't say is that the primary religious objection supported by the law is the objection Christians may have to provide service to the LGBT community.

The waves of protests include numerous companies and groups that have called for boycotts of Indiana. Some streets were filled with protesters concerned that they too, will be denied service by righteous Christians asserting their good book in defense of their right to discriminate.

So I did some research to see if Jesus, the man of the hour, has ever been seen discriminating against anyone in the LGBT minority. The www.wouldjsesusdiscriminate.org website came to the top of the list on the first page of my search. They offer numerous Bible citations to show that Jesus did not discriminate against anyone for any reason. It seems that as far as Jesus was concerned, everyone needed help when he was alive.

This desire to express religious freedom through commercial activity seems pretty much at odds with a couple of of other principals of retail business. First and foremost, the customer is always right. If you piss off your customers, you're going to have trouble making rent. Second, I've seen signs in many restaurants indicating that they have the right to deny service for any reason at any time. True enough, there is nothing to stop any business from offering service. But that sign is usually for trouble-makers, not for emergency cases of skin color, non-conforming religion, gender or sexual orientation.

There is also little to stop the LGBT community (and everyone else) from forming a consumers union to consolidate their purchasing power and use it to undermine the law through boycotts and protests. Considering that most people have little to zero influence on national public policy, it is likely that same trend is reflected at the state level. Protests and boycotts are probably the only means we have left to reverse a statehouse gone wild, and they are a perfectly reasonable free market response to bad players in the market.

The Indiana legislature seems to have forgotten one important history lesson before passing that Religious Freedom Law. Remember those segregation and discrimination laws of the deep South before the Civil Rights Act? They were based on religious conviction. The Ku Klux Klan was an ardent promoter of discrimination and religious freedom, too. But they were a little different. They met at night, in secret, wore costumes designed to terrorize their victims and they backed up those costumes with violence, anonymously. Is that what you're trying to distance yourself from, Mr. Pence?

Yeah, you can have your religious freedom if you want it, but you must accept that liberty with the responsibility that comes with it. That responsibility is to respect the religious beliefs of others. Even if they have no religious beliefs. Freedom from religion is just as important as freedom of religion. Just ask any Christian living in Iran.
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