"Religious Freedom" Bills Get Rightbloggers Dreaming of a Discrimination-Friendly America
There's nothing rightbloggers love better than playing the victim, and few things they hate more than civil rights legislation and homosexuals. So last month you might say they hit the trifecta.
When a few businesses complained that gays were forcing them to take wedding pictures and bake wedding cakes, several state legislatures considered laws that would bolster the right of God-fearing folks to refuse service to anyone their religion demanded, hint hint.
Rightbloggers cheered this opportunity to protect helpless hets like themselves from the homos who demand, contrary to the Founders' intent, to be treated like everyone else. And in the process they revived an argument most of you probably haven't seen since the early 1960s: The one about how having to serve a [fill in the blank] violates their civil rights.
The laws proposed in Kansas, Arizona, Tennessee, Idaho and elsewhere generally would strengthen state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) to further protect businesses that refused service to gay-marrying customers on religious grounds.
If you wonder why it should be okay to toss gay-marrying customers but not black ones, it's because the latter have Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects customers of public accommodations (like bakeries and flower shops) from discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, or national origin. Title II does not protect on the grounds of gayness, however, a loophole which these bills exploited.
Rightbloggers loved this loophole, and some of them hoped to widen it to include other people.
In the current controversy, rightbloggers separated roughly into two camps: Those who sought to convince readers that just because they wanted businesses to be able to turn gays away didn't mean they were against anti-discrimination laws, at least in the abstract; and those who forthrightly said hell yes, I'm against anti-discrimination laws.
On the what-discrimination tip, rightbloggers who aren't normally impressed by letters from experts were very impressed indeed by a letter from a "bipartisan group of  law professors" who supported the Arizona bill, which Governor Jan Brewer would eventually veto, on the grounds that it had been "misrepresented" as anti-gay.
"SB1062 does not say that businesses can discriminate for religious reasons," read the letter in part. "It says that business people can assert a claim or defense under RFRA, in any kind of case (discrimination cases are not even mentioned, although they would be included), that they have the burden of proving a substantial burden on a sincere religious practice, that the government or the person suing them has the burden of proof on compelling government interest, and that the state courts in Arizona make the final decision." And then they can discriminate for religious reasons -- or sooner, if the person they threw out of their store doesn't have the time or resources to sue.
Some of the brethren tried to bat away objections to the new laws by explaining, hey gays, you already have zero protection, get over it -- because the RFRAs already let people discriminate against you; we're just making it official.
"Despite hysterical claims that SB 1062 would have 'legalized discrimination in Arizona," sniffed Brandon McGinley at The Federalist, "you may be surprised to learn that sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes in Arizona. Which is to say, except in Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Tucson, which include those traits in local ordinances, it's already legal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in Arizona [emphasis McGinley's]." Hurray!
Gays aren't feeling the force of that law already "because Arizona isn't full of hordes of cackling Christians plotting an LGBT apartheid state," asserted McGinley proudly. Which presumably is why Arizona needed a new law: to make such a thing easier to accomplish.
Alas for McGinley, Brewer vetoed the law, over which he was very sore, as was Fox News' Todd Starnes, who tweeted that Brewer was making "Christians in her state second class citizens" -- the gays presumably being first class citizens, to whom the Christians would now have to pay the jizya, if you know what we mean.
In fact, as the state bills failed to get traction, rightboggers got less instructional and more grumpy, which makes sense -- here they'd been defending freedom from homosexuals, and suddenly even Republicans and chambers of commerce were turning against them.
"Freedom of conscience is squashed under the jackboot of liberals, all in the Orwellian name of 'equality and fairness,'" snarled Tammy Bruce, a self-identified "gay conservative woman." "...Horribly, the gay civil rights movement has morphed into a Gay Gestapo." She must be fun at parties.
As you might imagine, religious rightbloggers, who are perhaps more likely than most to imagine themselves telling a gay couple to get out of their store, were most outraged of all when the Arizona bill fell.
Terry Mattingly of Get Religion explained that liberals were The Real Bigots™ because they wouldn't stand up for Christians' right to say we don't serve your kind here. "Now we hear from some of media's biggest elites," quavered Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist, "that transcendent freedoms are to be obliterated in favor of individual liberties, and that opposition to this notion is the real enemy." Also, she said, the press "loathes and works actively to suppress" religious liberty, though it is the basis of their own liberty, for some perverse reason probably diabolical in origin. The proof: They constantly refer to the Arizona bill as "anti-gay." Like they had anything to do with it!
Some looked on the bright side, i.e. on their own martyrdom. "As my side is destined to lose here," raved Some Guy at RedState, "I feel it's a good idea to leave this as a marker so that the other side understands why their grandchildren, insofar as they have them, will be an oppressed underclass in the Republic of Texas under my incredibly numerous descendants. I would like to explain why it's so important for Christians to be able to refuse to do work to advance gay 'marriage' and everything that goes with it." And if he catches one of his Quiverfull watching Glee, out into the gay storm he goes!
No discussion of gay rights is complete without the contributions of Rod Dreher of The American Conservative. Reflecting on some nut's concept of "the 'deep state' -- the Washington-Wall-Street-Silicon-Valley Establishment," Dreher said, "I would love to see a study comparing the press coverage from 9/11 leading up to the Iraq War with press coverage of the gay marriage issue from about 2006 till today... I'm not suggesting a conspiracy here, not at all. I'm only thinking back to how it seemed so obvious to me in 2002 that we should go to war with Iraq, so perfectly clear that the only people who opposed it were fools or villains. The same consensus has emerged around same-sex marriage." And since the American People were deep-state-hypnotized about Iraq, it stands to reason that the American people have been deep-state-hypnotized about gay marriage. Dreher does not address the deep state's role in the popularity of Zumba, dogespeak, or Greek yogurt.
But later, in a post called "How The Media Set The Gay Rights Narrative," Dreher gave an example of this Deep State consensus-manufacture: A 2,000-word newspaper story about gay couples in Minnesota, of which only 300 words were "dedicated to exploring the lives and opinions of SSM opponents in Minnesota." Also, did you notice small Randy Quaid's part was in Brokeback Mountain?
Elsewhere, Dreher compared Brewer's veto in Arizona with the ending of Chinatown and groused that Brewer had been influenced by business interests in her decision (duh), that "the corporate class is no friend of traditional religion," and "American business leaders are a far greater threat to Christian morality than all the faculties of all the universities in the country." Finally, Dreher quoted Karl Marx ("the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production...") and added, "one need not agree with all of this, or with the conclusions its infamous author drew from this analysis, to credit the accuracy of his insight." Thank Christ for Jesus, leftists, as He is probably all that is preventing Dreher for embarrassing your team instead.
Some rightbloggers liked these arguments so much they used them against the protections currently afforded to black customers. You expect this sort of thing, of course, from someone like Pat Buchanan, who said, "suppose we repealed the civil rights laws and fired all the bureaucrats enforcing these laws. Does anyone think hotels, motels and restaurants across Dixie, from D.C. to Texas, would stop serving black customers?" Well, he has the right to hope. But other conservatives less strongly identified with the Lost Cause took a similar tack, for freedom.
At The Daily Caller, David Benkof, a sort-of-ex-gay, started with traditional defenses: For example, the new laws "do not authorize religious people to refuse service to individual gays and lesbians," he wrote, "...they simply safeguard people from having to pretend they support gay marriage when they don't." In the likely case this didn't convince, Benkof gave an example: "If a Christian rock band reluctantly agrees to a same-sex wedding gig out of fear of legal retribution, and the brides make a set list including 'Same Love,' 'Born This Way,' 'Glad to Be Gay,' and 'Let Them Love,' what should the musicians do? If they refuse, they might be sued or face fines. But if they agree, they'd be forced to use their vocal talents to advocate ideas they don't share. It's a Hobson's choice that seems un-American." Because what could be more un-American than a wedding band letting the client dictate their choice of material?
While he was on the subject, Benkof shared with us that he didn't go for this public-accommodation crap either. "While it would be abhorrent for a baker to refuse to use a wedding cake topper with a white bride and a black groom," said Benkof, "it shouldn't be a legal requirement to do so. Permitting lots of bad things is a price we pay for living in a free country." And by "we" he means "you people."
At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson argued that anti-gay discrimination, while possibly "painful, even humiliating," is nonetheless not slavery so why you crying? Also, he asked, how'd you like it if you were black and they made your serve Klansmen?
Thus warmed up, Williamson addressed Title II's "public accommodation" concept, which he claimed "has been so inflated that as a practical matter no private sphere exists outside the home when the question of discrimination arises." He did not tell where, specifically, civil rights protections had gone a bridge too far, but he did say "that situation does not inculcate mutual toleration and respect, but the opposite" -- that is, insistence on one's rights makes some people mad, so why bother?
Also, while it was "almost certainly was the case that federal action was required" back in the 1960s to fight discrimination, Williamson said, all we need now is the Invisible Hand, for "it is much more likely in 2014 that a business exhibiting authentic malice toward homosexuals would be crushed under the socio-economic realities of the current climate." And if folks aren't as enlightened out your way, well, there's always emigration.
(Not that Williamson is completely out of sympathy with civil rights activists; recently he compared a group of Americans to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and "those Americans who knowingly and with intention aforethought violated Jim Crow law." Those Americans were gun law resisters.)
"I trust markets and people over government to regulate bigotry and 'bigotry,'" wrote David Harsanyi at The Federalist. "The problem is that secular liberals aren't content with coexistence." "If you believe markets work, if you believe people work, then you should have faith that legitimate bigotry will be punished by the marketplace," said his colleague Ben Domenech.
"Arizona Should Protect Freedom of Association for All," headlined Deroy Murdock at National Review. "Many businesses have signs in their windows that read, 'We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.' If those private signs are on private property, they deserve respect and deference." And, Jonah Goldberg tells us, Murdock's black and gay. Talk about taking one for the team!
The furor has somewhat died down for the moment as rightbloggers pretend to be interested in the Ukraine, but anyone who caught their act has a pretty good idea how they feel about anti-discrimination laws. In some jurisdictions this will probably excite the base, but you have to wonder how it plays outside those bright-red precincts. It seems to us that now would be a good time to reach out to voters besides the ones they can count on year after year. Could it really be that they're not interested? Or have they given up?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.