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Charlie Vignola: The right to discriminate

Posted: February 25, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 25, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Leave it to the Republicans to try to legalize discrimination against a minority.

In Arizona last Thursday, the Republican-controlled state Legislature passed a controversial bill known as SB 1062, entitled the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

In short, the bill would allow Arizona businesses and individuals to refuse service to gays and others if they felt that providing service would violate their religious beliefs.

What prompted the conservative Arizona Legislature to move on this issue at this particular time? It might have something to do with the speed at which same-sex marriage is gaining acceptance and winning legal challenges all around the country.

With the clock ticking until marriage equality is officially the law of the land, conservatives are determined to find some way to cling to their outdated prejudice against homosexuals and make sure they can’t be sued for it.

Their clever new gambit to justify this age-old bigotry is to cloak their discrimination under the guise of exercising their “religious liberty,” a dubious tactic that’s being floated in a number of conservative states.

You see, in the minds of Republicans, it’s actually the religious right that’s facing discrimination in modern America, not gays.

Asking conservatives to treat same-sex couples like anyone else is an affront to their delicate religious values, so legal steps must be taken to protect their God-given right to persecute homosexuals.

Consider, for a moment, the convoluted logic of the right wing: not allowing religious conservatives to publicly discriminate against homosexuals is itself a form of discrimination.

In other words, if the left were truly as tolerant as they claim to be, then they would be tolerant of conservatives’ intolerance. Got that?

What’s really being debated here is whether religious belief should trump Constitutional law. Should your personal faith entitle you to violate other people’s right to equal protection?

This was the conflict that defined the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s. Should a businessman who runs a diner in the deep South be able to refuse service to African-Americans? After all, it’s his business: doesn’t he have the right to deny service to anyone?

That question was decisively answered over 50 years ago: the answer is no. You cannot discriminate against people based on race, color, religion or sexual preference.

But now those on the right wants to re-litigate this settled issue, and they believe that religion should supersede sexual preference.

I suppose the question to ask is, why should religion magically grant you some special privilege to discriminate against anyone? What gives religion that power? After all, religion is optional, but the law is mandatory. Just because you have religious beliefs, does that mean you should be able to arbitrarily pick and choose what laws you decide to follow?

The funny thing is that so far we have yet to hear any organized religion insist that their members should have the legal right to refuse service to gays. This ugly idea isn’t coming from legitimate religious figures, but from politicians playing to the worst instincts of their far right base.

Another concern with this ploy is that “religious liberty” could henceforth be invoked as an excuse to justify ignoring any law you didn’t like.

Suppose I start a religion tomorrow – there’s certainly nothing stopping me, and as L. Ron Hubbard proved, religions don’t have to be thousands of years old to be taken seriously.

And suppose my new faith believed that cocaine was an important part of our sacred religious rituals. Does that mean I should suddenly get a free pass to snort coke to my heart’s content, simply because I claim that my faith endorses it?

The truth is that America’s “bible” is the Constitution. The Founding Fathers had every opportunity to intertwine religion more fundamentally into the fabric of the Constitution — and you know what? They didn’t do it.

They knew from leaving England, which had a state religion, that America shouldn’t make the same mistake, so they took steps to ensure that there was a separation of church and state.

Here’s the thing: the idea of using religion as a license to engage in discrimination, claiming that God is the reason you’re entitled to treat certain people as second-class citizens, is exactly what gives religion a bad name — and why young people are rejecting it in droves.

Last July, the beloved Pope Francis talked to some reporters about his position on homosexuals and said, “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?”

It’s interesting to note that while the Pope accepts gays and believes the best about what’s in their hearts, religious conservatives in America insist they know better how God wants homosexuals to be treated: held in disdain, ostracized, humiliated and socially marginalized.

Even if Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signs this execrable new bill into law, it’ll never withstand the inevitable legal challenges.

Hiding behind religion to justify bigotry is a cynical, cowardly act, and like all the laws banning same-sex marriage, is ultimately doomed to failure.

Charlie Vignola is a former college Republican turned liberal Democrat. He lives in Fair Oaks Ranch, works in the motion picture industry and loves his wife and kids.



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