bureaucracybusters

THE POLITICS OF DISCRIMINATION

In Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 3, 2015 at 12:05 am

Christmas was fast approaching in 2014.  So Republicans in the Michgan House of Representatives decided to honor the spirit of “peace on earth, good will toward men” in their own special way.

They passed a bill legalizing religious discrimination.

“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act” passed on partisan lines–59 Republicans to 50 Democrats–on December 4, 2014.

It next goes to the Senate, and, if passed there, to Republican Governor Rick Snyder. It isn’t known if he would sign it.

The bill would allow anyone to refuse service to anyone under the claim that their “religious beliefs” had been affronted.

And the State government would be legally prevented from intervening if a person claimed that his/her “deeply-held religious beliefs” was the reason for acting–or not acting–in a certain way.

Thus:

  • An emergency room doctor could refuse service to a gay or lesbian needing medical care.
  • A pharmacist could refuse to fill a doctor’s prescription for birth control, or HIV medication.
  • A DMV clerk could refuse to give a driver’s license to someone who’s divorced.
  • A school teacher could refuse to mentor the children of a same-sex couple.
  • An employer could deny equal pay to women.

The bill seems modeled on a proposed law that the Republican House and Senate in Arizona sent to Governor Jan Brewer in 2014.

Under threat of a nationwide boycott of Arizona if the bill became law, Brewer vetoed it.

Supporters of the bill claim they aren’t seeking a license to discriminate, only to live by the tenets of their religious beliefs withouot government interference.

But opponents see it differently.  Among these is Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan.

“The idea that we need to ‘restore’ religious freedom–rights that are already enshrined in the U.S. Constitution–is a farce created by conservative lawmakers for the sole purpose of appeasing their far-right donors and the religious-right.

“This extreme bill attempts to solve a problem that does not exist, promotes discrimination and does nothing to make Michigan a better place to live,” Scott said in a statement.

This is certainly not the first time Right-wing zealots have sought to enshrine religious discrimination in law.

On September 15, 1935, the Nazis–who had taken power in Germany in 1933–introduced a series of anti-Semetic laws at their annual Nuremberg rally.

Adolf Hitler addressing a Nuremberg Rally of the Nazi Party

Under the Nuremberg laws:

  • Marriages between Jews and German citizens were forbidden.
  • Extramarital relations between Jews and German citizens were forbidden.
  • Jews were forbidden to employ female German citizens under the age of 45 as domestic workers.
  • Jews were banned from employment as attorneys, doctors or journalists.
  • Jews were forbidden to use state hospitals.
  • Jews could not be educated by the state past the age of 14.
  • Jews were forbidden to enter public libraries, parks and beaches.
  • The names of Jewish soldiers were to be expunged from war memorials.

With anti-Semitism now codified in German law, the foundations for the coming Holocaust were firmly laid. The “Religious Freedom Act” introduced in 2014 to Arizona would have:

  • Expanded the state’s definition of the exercise of religion to include both the practice and observance of religion.
  • Allowed someone to assert a legal claim of free exercise of religion regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceedings.
  • Expanded those protected under the state’s free-exercise-of-religion law to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution or other business organization.”
  • Allowed any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination.
  • Allowed the business or person to seek an injunction once they show their actions are based on a sincere religious belief and the claim places a burden on the exercise of religion.

Advocates often cited the case of a New Mexico wedding photographer who was sued after refusing to take photos of a same-sex couople’s commitment ceremony due to the photographer’s religious beliefs.

“We are trying to protect people’s religious liberties,” said Representative Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park.

“We don’t want the government coming in and forcing someone to act against their religious sacred faith beliefs or having to sell out if you are a small-business owner.”

Arizona Representative Steve Montenegro

Republicans have introduced similar “right-to-discriminate” legislation in other states as well:

  • In Kansas, lawmakers voted to exempt individuals from providing any service that was “contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
  • That bill passed the state’s House chamber on February 11, 2014, triggering national backlash.  It stalled in the Senate didn’t advance beyond that body.
  • In January, 2014, South Dakota Republicans introduced a bill to allow businesses refuse to serve same-sex couples on the grounds that “businesses are private and that their views on sexual orientation are protected to the same extent as the views of private citizens.”
  • The bill–which was killed in February, 2014–would have made it illegal for a gay person to file a lawsuit charging discrimination.

Ironically, many Right-wingers who support the right of Christians to discriminate fear that they will become victims of religious persecution if Islamic Sharia law comes to the United States.

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