Indiana: Jim Crowing Religious Freedom?

Indiana: the place where some Christians denounce gayness, all in the name of Jesus, a guy who hung out with twelve dudes all the time.

Indiana: the place where some Christians denounce gayness, all in the name of Jesus, a guy who hung out with twelve dudes all of the time.

What in tarnation is happening to America? It seems like everywhere you look, the gays are taking over, demanding to be treated like human beings instead of being the go-to pariahs for self-righteous, sin-selective, persecution-complex-racked, judgmental neo-Pharisees. The nerve. Take Indiana, for example, where Republican Governor Mike Pence’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a form of legislative red meat for holier-than-thou moral crusaders passed with the express intention to not discriminate against the LGBT community — hasn’t gone over as smoothly as the Governor expected.

Immediately after Pence signed the act in a closed-door private photo session with a bunch of pious pipers whose moral convictions were such that they weren’t publicly named (because nothing shady has ever involved clergy behind closed doors), the Indianapolis Star made a front-page call for the bill’s repeal. Moreover, critics as diverse as the NCAA and Walmart criticized the bill. When you’ve managed to earn the ire of two of the most corrupt organizations in America, you know you’ve done something wrong. In an effort to assuage critics that the Religious Freedom Bill wasn’t intended to allow Indiana businesses to discriminate against gay people, Pence approved a “fix” to the bill to protect Indiana’s LGBT community.

But this fix didn’t stop the ongoing skirmishes in America’s never-ending culture war. For example, when a Hoosier Christian pizza shop called Memories Pizza vowed to resist the rainbow tide by refusing to make gay pizzas, some idiots threatened them on the internet (because that’s how we resolve things now), and owners Crystal O’Conner and her father Kevin closed the shop. But all is well, because thanks to a guy on Glenn Beck’s Blaze network who set up a GoFundMe campaign, the pizza shop raised nearly a million bucks. In a similar but reversed kerfuffle, the owners of Cut the Cake bakery in Longwood, Florida refused a nutty ex-pastor’s demand that they make an anti-gay wedding cake. As a result, they also received threats (because that’s how we resolve things now). Cut the Cake’s troubles inspired their own GoFundMe campaign, which has raised a little over $13,000 (in contrast to Memories Pizza’s near-million), proving that hatin’ on the gays is still a more bankable stance.

And by the way, I’m sure that Indiana’s Christian business folk are also going out of their way to refuse services to other sinners, such as divorced people, fornicators, gluttons, shellfish lovers, the covetous, and others frowned upon by God. I’m sure they’re doing this. Am I right? Anyone? Bueller!

Indiana Governor Mike Pence signs the Religious Freedom Restoriation Act as a bunch of folks who are literally holier-than-thou look on.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence signs the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a bunch of folks who are literally holier-than-thou look on.

Leave it to Americans to debate basic issues of human rights through the vehicle of baked goods, but behind all of this craziness lies the very significant issue of who gets to define equality in public settings and who gets to label other Americans as second-class citizens. This struggle isn’t new; in fact, others, such as Apple CEO Tim Cook, have already compared the Indiana Religious Freedom law to Jim Crow laws of the past. This is a bold, and partially off base, comparison. Jim Crow constituted a series of racially based discriminatory laws that dominated the southern U.S. from the late-nineteenth century until roughly the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s. These laws relegated blacks to second-class citizenship via the dubious notion of “separate but equal.” Aside from disenfranchising black voters through poll taxes, literacy tests, and other shady schemes, Jim Crow laws segregated southern society according to race by mandating “whites only” and “negro” or “colored only” facilities.

After Tim Cook’s comments, a predictable host of conservative bobble-heads called foul, pointing out that Indiana’s law in no way equates to state-mandated racial segregation. National Review scribbler Rich Lowry, for example, mocked the idea that Indiana businesses are “anxiously awaiting for the opportunity to discriminate on avowed religious grounds” the first gay person they see. Moreover, Lowry’s colleague Jonah Goldberg similarly pushed back against Jim Crow comparisons and wondered, “why a gay couple would want a photographer who is morally opposed to their wedding to snap pictures of it.” The latter is a fair enough point, but it also misses the point. Lowry, Goldberg, and other critics are overlooking the bigger issue at hand with regards to “Religious Freedom” and homosexuality in Indiana. Yes, the state’s law is not the same as Jim Crow in a legal sense, but it does operate under the same spirit as Jim Crow laws by granting legitimacy to those who would invoke dubious celestial authority to publicly brand other Americans as second-class citizens.

Indeed, segregationists of the past often cited the will of God and the right to maintain their religious freedom by discriminating against allegedly “inferior” blacks. Consider the arch-segregationist and long-time U.S. senator from Mississippi, Theodore G. Bilbo. This guy was so unabashedly racist that he made the Ku Klux Klan look like a multicultural Boy Scout troop. In 1946, Bilbo published a book called Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, in which he presented a collection of comically deranged and historically illiterate defences of racial segregation.

For Bilbo, it wasn’t enough that blacks had certain rights granted to them. “They want all racial barriers abolished throughout the nation,” he wrote, and this meant the right to associate freely with whites and to receive services at white-owned businesses — in other words, blacks wanted full equality. Bilbo scoffed at black religious leaders who invoked Christianity to justify racial equality. “Anyone who would today interpret God’s Divine word and His teachings in such a manner as to destroy the blood of the race which created this Nation is a traitor to his religion, to his country, and to his race,” Bilbo wrote. In other words, he warned that racial equality threatened the Christian morals on which the U.S. was founded, and that equality-obsessed agitators were trying to destroy America. Sound familiar, Indiana?

An serious aversion to full equality once meant that certain people had to use certain facilities, because freedom.

A serious aversion to full equality once meant that certain people had to use certain facilities, because freedom.

Like Bilbo, other infamous American segregationists used Christianity to defend “Separate but Equal.” George Wallace — the Alabama Governor who ran as a Third Party presidential candidate in 1968 under an explicitly segregationist platform — invoked God in his notorious “Segregation Now, Segregation Forever” speech. Wallace railed against “psuedo-liberal spokesmen” who “play at being God” by demanding government-mandated integration. He claimed that liberals ignored “the spiritual responsibility of preserving freedom” in America. “Our founding fathers recognized those…spiritual responsibilities,” Wallace stated, “but the strong, simple faith and sane reasoning of our founding fathers has long since been forgotten” by “the so-called ‘progressives'” who failed to see how the Constitution and the Ten Commandments were nearly one-in-the-same. In other words, Wallace warned that elitist, Big Government liberals eschewed America’s allegedly Christian foundations in order to enforce mandated equality. Sound familiar, Indiana?

Bilbo and Wallace are merely two famous examples drawn from a much larger motley crew of Bible-thumping segregationists who fought a long battle to preserve Jim Crow laws and beat back attempts to expand equal rights to minority populations. Thus, while laws like Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act aren’t the same as Jim Crow laws, they are nonetheless Jim Crow’s spiritual heirs. Proponents of such laws make no attempt to hide their animosity towards full equality for LGBT Americans, and they know damn well that “Religious Freedom” laws are intended to stem the tide of full equality.

Claiming the right to bake “straights only” wedding cakes may seem trivial to those who tout “traditional values,” but those people are treading the same legal ground that once mandated things like “colored only” drinking fountains. After all, drinking fountains are no big deal, right? Why don’t those uppity negroes just go to a separate fountain and be happy with the bone that white Americans have tossed to them? And why don’t those sin-sprouting queer-o-sexuals just go to a separate baker, and be happy with the bone that “traditional” Americans have tossed to them? The issue here isn’t cakes or fountains, it’s whether or not one group of Americans have the right to make their fellow citizens feel “less than” at the most fundamental level. The state of Indiana ought to know better, and so should the rest of America.


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