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Intolerance marks arguments against religious freedom

The confusion and arrogance expressed in state Rep. Walt Leger’s recent opinion piece in the New Orleans Times-Picayune against HB 707, which would prohibit state government coercion against service deliverers who make decisions to engage in commerce on the basis of their views about marriage, illustrate the bill’s necessity.

His error begins at the most fundamental level by conjuring an equivalency between protections granted in the U.S. Constitution based upon a person’s immutable characteristics, such as race and sex, and a person’s behavior, such as expressions of homosexuality that would include the notion that a marriage between people of the same sex is blessed by God. The Constitution protects people for what they are, not how they choose to behave, with the two exceptions of behavior extending from political belief and religious belief – the latter exactly the point of the bill.

Confusion reigns elsewhere in Leger’s screed. He claims that existing law would provide adequate protection against discrimination against religious belief, but does not seem to understand that the government actions the bill seeks to enjoin as a result of exercise of religion concern matters of state government regulation not otherwise addressed. He also inaccurately distorts the permitted invocation of conscience as a cause for concern far beyond its extremely narrow zone of views on marriage.

Most tellingly, Leger cannot tell the difference between people and ideas. If a baker refuses to confect a cake celebrating a same sex union, it’s not discriminating against people who behave homosexually, it’s discriminating against the idea that one should have to join in celebrating a same sex union. Would Leger force a baker to supply a cake for a party in honor of a rookie hit man who just completed his first job successfully if that idea offended the baker on religious grounds? People are not cakes; is it discrimination against someone on the basis of some imagined right of sexual expression to turn down a request for a celebratory same-sex union cake by a person who acts heterosexually that wishes to give it in honor of nuptials of a couple who acts homosexually?

If Leger needs to draw some kind of accurate comparison in terms of alleged discrimination, he should look to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. There, the federal government could not force provision of a service, if a less restrictive way existed, by a private, closely-held employer to its employees when this conflicted with the religious beliefs of its owners. HB 707 logically extends this protection to views about marriage to such entities against state government in relation to services rendered to the public. To argue that a less restrictive way does not exist when such deferring service providers would be few while the remainder constituting the vast majority would be eager to snap up the business is beyond silliness.

Yet most disturbing about Leger’s view is the intolerance it promotes that he claims to deplore. That orthodoxy must be imposed that assigns such extreme importance to behavioral choices that these trump well-founded matters of religious conscience should worry anybody who cherishes liberty. While he evinces worry about signs going up saying “Heterosexuals only,” the attitude conveyed in the explanation of his opposition draws a much stronger parallel to those placards ordered upon Jewish merchants, which advertised their Jewishness, in Germany in the 1930s, signals to the polity that it was acceptable to consider the idea of a Jew as reprehensible and to be avoided. That’s an ugly future to imagine, completely contrary to American political culture, and surely Leger does not understand that his argumentation to reject the bill plants a foot firmly down this path.

Similar mistaken rhetoric has emanated from other sources, including a couple representatives of large corporations who do not seem to understand what the bill is about and an intemperate, loudmouthed local legislator in Baton Rouge who has a habit of labelling as "bigotry" any viewpoint that disagrees with his own. It is shameful that they express something so out of touch with Louisiana values and with simple human decency.

Perhaps Leger and those so angrily against the bill should reflect upon the wisdom of Pastor Martin Niemoller, who wrote succinctly and elegantly about the danger of letting governments decide when belief innocuously applied to the larger world became in its eyes so deviant that it had to move beyond mere suppression of it. Would their messianic zeal to deny protection to a minority against their presumed moral righteousness and indignation lead in the future to someone having to admit, “First they came for the believers in traditional marriage only, and I did not speak out because I was not one of them ….”


Julius Leber said...

Its a very old tactic of conservatism - to play victim, as if white Christians have carried the weight of servitude and stigma all these years. What these foolish bills, and the hysterical responses to any criticism, such as that in Mr Sadow's overwrought effort, illustrate is the complete failure of one more of conservatisms historical (hysterical?) front lines.
Conservatism is forever in retreat by design, for it is backward looking by nature. Broadly speaking, progressivism is interested in expanding the future, in opening up humanity and culture, in adding ingredients, in elevating that which is different. In optimism. Progress. Conservatism, conversely, is all about the past, in returning to a bygone era (that actually never was), in nostalgia, in stopping progress, turning back clocks, and restoring that which has already gone. Conserving. The clues are in the words used! Why look back? Because, for some groups, power lies in the past - authority over those that have come since, be they black, brown, Chinese, Slavs, Jews, uppity women, and now gays. All have at some point threatened the status quo, and all have won, which is fitting, as the US is historically a very liberal place, made up of conservative people. Inconsistent, I know. Its a country, and people, constantly struggling with its worst instincts (xenophobia, small-minded parochialism, overt racism, and so on - the stuff of the modern Religious Right) and constantly losing. r winning, if you prefer. For Mr Sadow, the losses mount up. For the rest of us, those not fixated with determining our own identity by establishing an antagonist (which modern conservatism requires, as a means of indicating what is now - 'bad', and comparing it against what was then - 'good'), then things keep on getting rosier…

Anonymous said...

A patently offensive and delusional argument put forth by Mr. Sadow, who bases his entire argument on the misguided belief that homosexuality is a choice. You can't tell me that an LSU-S professor who never hesitates to tell anyone they're either "illogical" or an "idiot" actually believes every human being is born heterosexual and that any homosexual behavior is a deliberate choice made against their guaranteed given nature. Then comes more of the standard conservative response to this issue, which is to shift blame and play the victim; as others have said here, Sadow is essentially hanging the bigot placard on people who have pointed out his bigotry (as well as his petty morals and false piety). Even worse, he then makes a reductio ad Hitlerum argument, as if liberals are making some sort of requirement of "branding" of religious people to set them aside for ill-treatment.
Sadow's dogged insistence that Christians are suffering some kind of oppression in the form of liberalism is possibly his most idiotic position ever, even for a person dumb enough or evil enough to insist that trickle-down economics actually works. Christians are not being rounded up and being harassed; churches are not being shut down via excessive regulation, in the manner of Bobby Jindal shutting down women's health care clinics; Christian businesses are not being boycotted en masse; rocks are not being thrown through windows. Yet Mr. Sadow, ever in favor of "less government" when it comes to care of the poor and helpless, believes the government needs to step in and guarantee the rights of pompous Christian celibates such as himself.

Julius Leber said...

And therein lies the obscenity. Comparisons to Nazis are the first resort of rank laziness, something we can all agree on. But if the comparison is made, then clarification should be offered. Sadow knows, as do I, that conservatism (like any ism) has an ugly extreme. History offers only a few examples of such ideological extremes manifest on a national scale. Germany in the 1930s is one. That regime took conservatism pitiless absolute, resulting in a brutal enforcement of the things Sadow and modern religious conservatives cherish: conformism, idolization of strong authoritary, xenophobia, racial enmity, militarism, cultural purity, and so on. Of course, Sadow is no Nazi. Few are these days. But those characteristics occupy the modern strain of conservative DNA as they did then. The religious right targets the same hapless groups, albeit in a more benign manner. Did Nazis check any of the boxes of sin that the modern right wing loves to use to defame liberalism? Where they multicultural? No. Did they support homosexual suffrage? No. Did they value dissent? No. Did they defend racial minorities or mixing of races as a human right? No. Where they 'soft on crime'? Obviously not. Where they soft on national defense? No. In short, they were about as non-progressive, or non-liberal as it is possible to be. And yet, Sadow cynically, and cruelly, misuses Neimoller to cover the tracks of his political lineage (a learned choice, it should be noted, not something he was born to). Modern conservatism cannot embrace its past, because much of it is ugly. That isn't to tar all modern right-wing allegiants with that brush. But should they choose to deliberately deny that heritage, and apply it to its antithesis (try finding GOP Jews, gays, gypsies, intellectuals, or liberals these days) then they should be shamed. A strong philosophy can embrace even that which it would prefer to forget. A weak one obfuscates. Sadow knows better, but cannot face it.