Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Arizona bill permitting business operators to refuse service to LGBT community requires veto from Governor

The law, passed by the Arizona state legislature, now sitting on the desk of the Governor of that state for signature, would permit business operators to refuse to serve customers from the LGBT community on religious ground. Arguing that their religious beliefs prevent them from serving customers in their business, the  bill pits the religious/faith community squarely up in opposition to the civil rights community and its supporters.
Proponents of the law tell Tom Ashbrook's On Point at NPR that the law speaks to the demand for respect from the conservative community after initiatives that saw gays approved for membership in the Boy Scouts movement, and in the American military, not to mention the growing support for gay marriages across the United States. Currently, a case before the US courts sees a gay couple suing a photographer whom they had asked to photograph their wedding, only to have the "business" request refused, because the photographer did not agree with gay marriage, and refused to provide the requested service.
Of course, the civil libertarians are all over this proposed bill coming from the Arizona legislature. Both Arizona Senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, have both urged the governor to veto the legislation, fearing the impact on both the people and the state itself from full implementation. Some members of the Arizona legislature who initially supported the measure, have withdrawn their support, seeing the error of their ways, and arguing that the bill was hastily drafted and needs more careful scrutiny. The Governor herself has dubbed the bill, "controversial"....and pledged to hear both sides prior to making a final decision.
(Just yesterday the President of Uganda signed a piece of legislation from the legislature in that country making engaging in homosexual acts a criminal offense, subject, eventually to life imprisonment, if caught a second time. Today, tabloids in that country have printed the names of known homosexuals in their publication, for the whole country to read.)
As one caller to the On Point radio program earlier today put it in her rhetorical question: "Are yellow stars next?" (She reminded the listeners and the host and guests that it was the Nazis under Hitler who required Jews to paint yellow stars on their foreheads, as a sign of their religion, their ethnicity and their required complicity with the Third Reich. "How are they going to identify members of the LGBT community, in order to enforce this bill if and when it is signed into law?" came the second question from the same listener.
The list of groups of people who have been ostracized in various forms, manners and methods contains blacks, women, and now, in some jurisdictions, the gay community, whose support has been growing, yet apparently not on an even and equal basis in all US jurisdictions. The U.S. president has vowed to examine and consider the implications of the Ugandan law on US relations with that country.
At its root, this bill is fostered, nurtured, encouraged and advocated for by the religious right. It is their claim to their righteous defence of the Christian faith, and it has implications for both the churches and for the jurisdictions that move in this direction. (And several other states are also considering similar legislation, in their push-back against what they see as a wave of immorality that is sweeping across the United States.) Churches that support this legislation, (and there are clearly many Christian pastors who reject the bill!) will undoubtedly attract people of a similar mind-set, who see refuge from religious leaders in their pure protection of their faith. Other churches that denounce the bill will experience an appreciation and a respect from the LGBT community, and from those who support the separation of business and religion.
As one civil rights lawyer put it, my right to religious freedom extends as far as your nose, and no further. And if I bake and sell cakes, by selling that cake to a specific purchaser, I relinquish any control or endorsement of what activity surrounds the eating of that cake, (for example, at a gay wedding celebration!)
We strongly support all those who oppose this legislation; we endorse the call from both Senators McCain and Flake to the Governor to veto the bill; we also encourage all civil liberties groups to strongly fund-raise and present both public and legal opposition to this law and all other imitators of this law, in order to forestall any tide that will inevitably result in the targeting of the LGBT community, in the same week that Jason Collins signs his first NBA contract with the Brooklyn Nets and announces that he will wear number 98, in honour of Matthew Shepherd, a gay young man then a student at the University of Wyoming,, who was brutally attacked and left to die on a Wyoming farm fence late one night in 1998. Most considered the murder based on the hatred of gays, while more recent research points to drugs at the centre of the death.
If one has to chose between what is commonly referred to as religious freedom, in order to practice one's faith, and the freedom "from" religion that would prevent the imposition of one's religion on another, then, for us, it is a no-brainer...we opt for the latter, the freedom "from" religion, as a sine qua non for the preservation of a civil society, that includes the liberty to believe whatever one wishes.

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