|ICYMI, here's my latest piece, "Indiana Burning" running on RADIX NEWS. The liberal firestorm over Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act tells us that it's time to think more critically about the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Candid American
by Daniel Oliver
April 11, 2015
Liberal fire and brimstone rained down on Indiana after the legislature passed its new Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Riding a wave that has grown, since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, into a force against any right to be selective (always derogatorily described as “discriminating”), progressive liberals now seek to eliminate the basic right of Americans to choose to deal, or not deal, with homosexuals.
Indiana has just become the twentieth state to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the purpose of which is to allow individuals not to enter into commercial transactions of a sort that would substantially burden their ability to exercise their religion. (The U.S. has a law similar to Indiana’s, which was signed by President Clinton in 1993, having been passed unanimously in the House, and in the Senate by a vote of 97 to 3.)
In effect, Indiana’s law contemplates that a bakery could choose not to bake a cake for a homosexual couple, so long as the proprietor had a religious reason not to. The impetus behind this is clear: The Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery in Oregon was fined $150,000 by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (and has since gone out of business) for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. The absurdity of the decision is plain — unless you are a crazed progressive liberal. The next time such a scenario arises, perhaps the bakery should simply comply with the request, but, par erreur, forget to put the sugar in. We all make mistakes; in which case, as they ask in law school, What crime, if any?
Shortly after the Indiana bill was enacted, Governor Mike Pence was asked repeatedly if the law would allow people to discriminate on the basis of gender “preference” (as in “God chose maleness for me but, hey, I prefer femaleness, or perhaps, you know, something else, and what does God know anyway?”). Pence refused each time to answer the question on the reporter’s terms, each time saying the bill was designed to protect the religious freedom of individuals in Indiana: “This bill is not about discrimination.”
Maybe. But the real question is, why shouldn’t people be allowed to discriminate on the basis of what is known as sexual orientation? In a country where the right to associate is guaranteed, and the right not to associate is protected, why should people be required to associate with people they don’t want to associate with?
The answer is: They shouldn’t be (unless their refusal puts someone in danger of bodily harm — they run the only inn for fifty miles and a tornado is coming).
But the concept of being free to choose with whom to deal was, understandably, drowned out during the tumultuous debate over the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The injustices meted out to blacks for two centuries militated against reasoned analysis of the rights and freedom of anyone except, and now perhaps including, blacks — causing William F. Buckley Jr. in 1961 to hope that “when the Negroes have finally realized their long dream of attaining to the status of the white man, the white man will still be free … .” But however free the white man may be today, he is not free enough to refuse to bake a wedding cake for homosexuals.
Promoting “civil rights” for blacks has now become an industry, a huckster’s dream. Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and … and … I digress — to report that I couldn’t think of the name of Obama’s black rabble-rousing friend who was involved in the Tawana Brawley scandal, has a few tax problems, and has visited the White House 72 known times in the last six years. So I entered into the Google search box: “black reverend tax cheat friend of Obama’s.” In 0.79 seconds Google found “about 7,560,000 results” and reminded me of the name of Barack Obama’s best friend, Al Sharpton.
But equal rights for blacks has expanded into equal rights for homosexuals, a cause trumpeted by The New York Times and other liberal organs. (You can hardly blame them for wanting to deflect attention from their other, often absurd, and always failed, public-policy prescriptions.)
What is remarkable, and hugely disappointing, is that there are apparently no blacks sufficiently prominent to object effectively to the hijacking of the noble civil-rights crusade in order to pander to homosexuals — who, after all, constitute only 2 percent of the population.
The “religious freedom” test of the various Religious Freedom Restoration Acts is insufficient to protect all people who choose not to associate with homosexuals, though it may serve as a beginning. How religious do you have to be to invoke it? Do you have to be a Roman Catholic? Do you have to be a good Roman Catholic? Who decides? Can you be a Protestant and invoke the exemption? What if you’re really protestant — the transcendentalist Walden Pond kind? What if you’re a Scientologist? (Or are only movie stars Scientologists?) What about — minor change of subject — discriminating against women who’ve had an abortion, of whom there are millions?
Suppose you just have a cultural aversion to homosexuals, homosexuality, and abortion? Where did that aversion come from — except from the culture that is Western Civilization, which itself, of course, is a product of Christianity? Does osmotic absorption of Western values qualify you for the religious-freedom exemption?
Aren’t these precisely the sort of questions we do not want courts deciding?
The problem with the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts is that they focus on only the religious reasons for exercising freedom of choice (i.e., for discriminating). That permits the argument for freedom to be characterized as an effort of the crazy Republican religious right, thereby demeaning and marginalizing it. We should instead use Indiana’s burning to light the way to a far wider freedom of choice, for all Americans.
Daniel Oliver is a Chairman of the Board of Education and Research Institute and Senior Director of White House Writers Group in Washington, DC. In addition to serving as Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Ronald Reagan, he was Executive Editor and subsequently Chairman of the Board of National Review.