Indiana's Religious Freedom law has triggered a spirited debate throughout the nation and may be the next right wing attack on civil rights. Here's my Chicago Defender Column on the controversy.
What’s bad for the gays will be bad for the Blacks
If you haven’t been paying attention to the firestorm over Indiana’s “freedom of religion” law, it’s time that you do. Our neighboring state’s new legislation reflects Black America’s past and could easily come to mirror our future.
The bill is rightly being described as a license to discriminate. It allows anyone with a business to not do business with anyone they choose by claiming they believe it violates their religious values.
We’ve seen this play before.
God and religion have been used as the guiding principle in overt discrimination against Blacks throughout virtually all of our nation’s history. The KKK burned crosses before lynching Black men. Bigoted Christians cited the curse of Ham, the father of Canaan in Genesis, to justify slavery. “Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.”
Ham is believed to have been a Black man.
Unequal public schools for Blacks were the will of the Almighty opined Georgia Gov. Allen Candler in 1901, “God made them negroes and we cannot by education make them white folks.”
Nor did God cotton to miscegenation. Richard Loving, a white man, was sentenced to one year in prison for marrying Mildred Jeter, a Black woman. The couple had broken Virginia's law, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, by going to Washington, D.C. to get married then naively returning to home.
Apparently the Lovings had broken the Holy Father’s law as well. “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents,” wrote Judge Leon M. Bazile in his 1959 ruling. “The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not mention same-sex mixing but it’s arguably aimed at those with a certain sexual orientation. Last year, the same-sex marriage ban was overturned by a federal court. Some pouting proponents, who wanted the ban to stand, headed straight for the governor and the Indiana General Assembly to make sure there would be a freedom of religion law on guard to protect bigotry, as they knew it.
The state’s RFRA is yet another Republican head-fake where conservatives pretend that they’re not doing anything wrong while they’re definitely doing something wrong. Just like the GOP’s scheme to suppress Black participation at the ballot box through voter I.D. laws, the religious freedom law would allow business owners the right to use their faith as an excuse not to serve lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals, aka LGBTs--or hire or rent to them.
Black Americans know all too well how that game is played and if the new rules remain legalized then it won’t be long before it’s played on us. Again.
The legislation Gov. Pence signed last week prohibits state laws that “substantially burden” a religious institution, businesses and associations from following religious beliefs. The new law in effect serves as a legal shield for people, associations and businesses big and small from being sued for discrimination if they claim their religion made them do it.
The uproar that followed caught Indiana’s governor off guard. He reflectively characterized it as a battle between religious freedom and gay rights, assuming he knew who’d win that fight.
Gov. Pence, and his overly weighted Republican General Assembly, quickly discovered that they were wrong. Besides the sign-carrying LGBT protesters, Indiana’s state lawmakers heard disapproval from other states, businesses, sports organizations, future conventioneers and social media.
The CEOs from Eli Lilly and Co., Anthem and Indiana University Health were among nine of Indiana’s largest employers pointing out that discriminatory legislation was bad for business. Seattle’s mayor and Connecticut’s governor banned their employees from traveling to Indiana to do business. Indianapolis-based Angie’s List CEO announced that his company was going to halt plans for a $40 million expansion in the state’s capital. The president of NCAA, whose Final Four competition takes place in Indianapolis this weekend, said yesterday that Indiana's new "religious freedom" law goes against what higher education and America is all about. And there is, of course, a social media response: On Twitter the hashtag is #boycottindiana.
All that outrage has focused Gov. Pence’s mind like a hanging. He was claiming that Indiana’s RFRA law was no different from the one in Illinois and the other 18 states that passed one. Pence left out the part about those other states having a separate law that specifically protected LGBTs from discrimination, while his state does not. You can be fired in Indiana for being gay.
Over the weekend, he was asserting that the law wouldn’t be changed. Yesterday he held a press conference to announce that maybe it would. He’s having his legislature revamp the onerous law.
“Clearly. Clearly, there’s been misunderstanding and confusion and mischaracterization of this law,” Gov. Pence said. “I abhor discrimination.”
Right. Don’t stop paying attention yet. Arkansas passed its own religious freedom law yesterday.