UPDATE: Pence is giving a press conference this morning in which he re-asserts that the Indiana RFRA is just like the federal RFRA and the RFRAs passed in 30 other states. He is lying (or is stupid). It is similar, but has important differences. He’s playing the victim, claiming (repeatedly) that he and Indiana are being “smeared”. Still, he’s calling on the Indiana General Assembly to “fix” the bill. Bit of a mixed message. It also bears repeating — Indiana Assembly Democrats offered an amendment to #RFRA saying it couldn’t be used to discriminate. GOP legislators voted that down.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has been all over the media for the past few days, pretending the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” has nothing to do with discriminating against LGBT people, and yesterday he announced that he’d push for a “clarification” of the bill, to show that it doesn’t do that thing everybody knows it does.
Pence has a problem, though; the anti-gay activists who helped ram this bill through the Indiana legislature are opposed to any such clarification, because of course they are.
Micah Clark of the American Family Association’s Indiana chapter, who stood right behind Pence, along with several other Religious Right leaders, when he signed the bill into law and has quite a record of anti-gay activism, said today that he opposes any such clarification.
He told AFA President Tim Wildmon today that conservatives should call Pence and other state officials and demand that they oppose any effort to clarify that the law does not legalize discrimination: “That could totally destroy this bill.” (In Georgia, supporters of a similar bill also opposed a push to ensure that the legislation will not permit discrimination in business.)
Wildmon agreed, adding that the Indiana law is necessary to protect anti-gay business owners from “persecution.” The law’s critics, Wildmon claimed, are waging “spiritual warfare” against state officials.
Here’s a photo originally posted proudly by Micah Clark, showing Clark and several other anti-gay activists standing with Pence when he signed the RFRA, with annotations added by GLAAD to make it very clear that Pence is simply lying about its intent.
Let’s get real. The real motive behind much of the “religious liberty” crusade is this: an effort to depict religious conservatives as an embattled but righteous remnant engulfed in a self-destructing society, and wishing only to be left alone to their own beliefs and customs. But the definition of “left alone” inevitably involves friction with social norms, which politicians promoting this meme wish to exacerbate, not mitigate. And so the alleged “shield” of religious liberty protections becomes a “sword” for eroding civil liberties for others. It is impossible, ultimately, to ignore the precedent set in the fight for civil rights for African-Americans, where opponents also retreated to a position of “simply” demanding the right for private parties to live their lives and conduct their businesses according to “custom.” Here’s how People for the American Way recently put it:
Fifty years ago, Americans decided that a private business owner who serves the public can be required to abide by laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Since then, many states and municipalities have added prohibitions on discrimination based on other characteristics like disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It is those laws that some religious conservatives are objecting to, arguing that they should be free to refuse to provide services to same-sex couples even when states have decided as a matter of public policy to ban anti-gay discrimination.
Many religious conservatives object to the civil rights model for looking at this issue on grounds that sexual orientation is a matter of “choice,” not nature, a position that fewer and fewer people accept the more they get to know LGBT folk. But at bottom, their scriptural objections to homosexuality are no stronger than the scriptural objections to racial integration cited so often in defense of Jim Crow. And like them, the current efforts to identify Christianity with homophobia will look ludicrous and shameful in a generation or less. So when we are told these poor innocent conservative religious folk “just” want their consciences respected, and that means a zone of sanctioned discrimination must be created for them, the proper answer isn’t to dismiss religious liberty as a legitimate concern, but instead to ask: does your liberty really require a right to discriminate, and to disobey laws others must obey? It’s the self-definition of the right to discriminate that’s so dangerous here, and so tempting to bigots.