Did you hear about the good Christian man who lost his faith? He was a respected and active member of his church community for decades. Then one day, a gay couple walked into his restaurant. He served them coffee. And just like that, in a flash, his faith abandoned him. His soul was extricated. In an instant, he had become a morose, atheist heathen. He got a nice big A tattooed on his left buttock. He started sacrificing goats to honor the memory of Christopher Hitchens. He even started writing snarky diatribes on Facebook.
Oh, you haven’t heard? That’s because it never happened. But legislators in Kansas seem to fear that accommodating same-sex couples will compromise Christian faith. On Wednesday, Feb. 12, the Kansas House of Representatives approved House Bill 2453 by a 72-49 vote. If enacted, it would protect individuals and businesses from being sued for refusing to provide goods, services and accommodation to same-sex couples on the basis of “sincere religious belief.” Employees of the state would be included. When I read this, I had to check my calendar to make sure it was not 1895 (I guess it would be pretty neat to see the Chicago World’s Fair). The implications of the bill are frighteningly Jim Crow-esque. Rep. Charles Macheers (R), the legislator who introduced the bill, expressed the “reasoning” behind it nicely. “Discrimination is horrible. It’s hurtful…. It has no place in civilized society, and that’s precisely why we’re moving this bill. There have been times throughout history where people have been persecuted for their religious beliefs because they were unpopular. This bill provides a shield of protection for that.”
This shameful episode is not the only time I have heard such hypocritical nonsense. The idea that Christians are an endangered minority warranting special protection seems to be a common idea among certain confused members of the religious right. The reasoning is as follows: “I can’t impose my ideology on society, or spread hate speech with immunity; therefore, religious persecution.” In reaction to this illusory encroachment on religious freedom, legislators push for reforms that assert their personal ideology in order to preserve it from “attack.” In the minds of people like Macheers, being forced to treat same-sex couples equally is a form of persecution. The irony is lethal.
I observed this same rhetoric being used in reaction to the Phil Robertson embarrassment. In the aftermath, the religious right issued a rallying cry to protect his right to believe in the Bible. I will admit that Robertson seems like a pretty harmless and decent person, and the public scrutiny he received may have been a little disproportionate, but in no way were his rights infringed upon. I can’t fathom how people are able to misunderstand the First Amendment. Robertson was suspended by his employers because they found his comments to be rude and offensive. The government did not prosecute him. He was not censored. Obama did not drag him into the Ministry of Truth for brainwashing. The public scrutiny that Robertson suffered was the result of his own decision to express his bigoted opinions to the public. It would seem that what the religious right demanded in this instance was not protection of liberties, but immunity from reproof.
And now we have a fresh example of Christians demanding special treatment under the law. Kansas House Bill 2453 aims to establish a Kansas where discrimination in almost every sphere of life is practiced openly in the name of religious freedom. It flies in the face of decency, equal rights and the law. The First Amendment, the 14th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Golden Rule. Remember? The Sermon on the Mount?
I cannot offer a quick and dirty solution to this problem; if it were easy, we would not still have issues like this in the 21st century. But education is crucial. Could it be that, due to the recent enthusiasm for science in secondary education, we have neglected the importance of civics? It seems that many people do not understand how the Constitution works at all. But I doubt that is the whole picture—whether something is constitutional or not does not seem to matter to people who are bent on institutionalizing a personal ideology.
Thankfully, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle (R) has expressed her party’s disapproval of the bill and has reported that it will likely not make it through her chamber. Regardless, the fact that the bill even made it through the House of Representatives is an embarrassment to the state of Kansas. If they want to accomplish time travel, they should invest funding in laboratories instead.
There is a—to use a euphemism—vocal minority of Christian conservatives who will simply not accept the separation of church and state. To them I say: the right to practice your faith is not going anywhere. The Founding Fathers made sure of that when they drew up the Constitution. Have you seen any Bible burnings? I sure have not. Relax! Stop playing semantic games with the First Amendment. Stop imposing oppression in the name of liberty. It is hypocritical and wrong. You can practice your faith while also showing respect and common decency for other human beings.