The First Amendment of the United States Constitution specifies in relevant part that government shall make no laws prohibiting free exercise of religion or abridging freedom of speech. Thus, there is absolutely no doubt that in this country people are guaranteed the right to be a bigot.
But being constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty and freedom of speech is not good enough for some bigots. First of all they know they’re bigots but don’t like to be labeled bigots. That makes them feel uncomfortable. They want the law to facilitate their bigotry. That makes them feel better about themselves. Secondly, they believe that religious liberty and freedom of speech and association gives them the right to deny other people’s rights. They want their beliefs codified in the law.
I’ve enjoyed watching the bigots in Indiana and Arkansas this week dancing around trying to avoid controversy over the passage of so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.” They want us to think that religious freedom is imperiled in America and needs to be restored as if the First Amendment doesn’t already guarantee to them that very freedom. They want us to think that these Acts have everything to do with religious freedom and nothing to do with giving them the right to deny other people’s rights.
But if it’s not all about giving bigots a license to deny other people’s rights, then there would be no good reason at all for these laws. After all, they already have religious liberty and freedom of speech so these laws don’t restore anything to them that they don’t already enjoy right now. That’s why they have to do this ridiculous dance.
The folks who are doing this dance believe they’ve found a way to circumvent the civil rights and ant-discrimination laws in America. More specifically, they want to continue enjoying their right to run businesses which are open to the public, i.e. public accommodations, while at the same time retaining legal loopholes that allow them to discriminate against certain segments of the public on the grounds that doing business with them offends their religious sensibilities.
In short, these bigots what laws which allow them to discriminate against homosexuals – to deny them their civil rights -- on religious grounds. But at the same time they unanimously insist that the laws have nothing to do with discrimination, only religious freedom.
You see, some religious bigots believe that civil rights and public accommodations laws somehow infringe upon their religious liberty. Some of my good libertarian friends who I’m sure aren’t bigots believe that such laws violate the First Amendment right of free association; that they in effect make slaves out of business owners. I disagree.
Doing business with the public is not a religious activity. Doing business with the public is not exercising religion. One does not associate with another or with another’s philosophy or lifestyle merely by exchanging a service for value. Baking a cake, arranging flowers, or taking photographs, for example are not religious or activities by which one associates with others. Thus, civil rights and public accommodations laws do not violate the First Amendment.
So there are simply no good reasons, no necessity for religious bigots in Indiana and Arkansas to pass these so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. They’re unnecessary; redundant; shameful and disingenuous. Most Americans aren’t buying it.
The comedy of them trying to justify it with reasonable people is like watching the dancing bigots.