Wyrd Words: 3 “Religious Freedom” Laws That Are Literally The EXACT OPPOSITE of Religious Freedom

Greetings, and welcome back to Wyrd Words. Keeping the Thor in Thursdays, every other week here on Agora!

We’ll be taking a brief break from our recent series to address some current events. The United States has seen a recent rash of “Religious Freedom” bills, with the most noteworthy one being the recent (SB 1062) out of Arizona. As a long time native of the state, I can assure you that there’s plenty to love about living down here in the backyard barbeque of the world. That being said, it’s a well-known fact that when Arizona gets national attention, it NEVER seems to be a good thing…

Thus, in defense of my home state, I have set out on a mission to prove that it’s not just THIS state that’s doing some truly ridiculous things. Indeed, legislators all over the country have been up to some fairly embarrassing shenanigans.

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#3 – Arizona’s SB 1062

So let’s start at the top. What is this entire kerfuffle about, anyway?

In a nut shell, SB 1062 “would have allowed businesses that asserted their religious beliefs the right to deny service to gay and lesbian customers. (CNN)

Never mind that this was ALREADY ALLOWED by Arizona’s Public Accommodation laws. So basically the Arizona’s Senate Republicans drafted up a bill that caused a whole mess of issues, to make sure that people were allowed to do something that they had always (unfortunately) been allowed to do in the first place.

Here’s where things get even dumber. Nobody wanted to admit that it was an anti-gay bill (even though it’s FABULOUSLY obvious that’s exactly what it was), so they left the wording purposefully vague, allowing business owners to turn away ANYBODY if they had religious objections to serving them.

What we were left with was this:

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That’s right, the bill meant to strengthen “Religious Freedom” actually allowed for blatant religious discrimination without the possibility of restitution. It also didn’t take long for most of the population to figure out how this could be abused…

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#2 -Michigan’s Senate Bill 137

This one’s a bit older, but don’t let its age fool you! It’s definitely still a contender in this race for “most counterproductive legislation ever.” After a huge surge in public awareness campaigns about schoolyard bullying, the Michigan legislature decided to write a bi-partisan anti-bullying bill called “Matt’s Safe School Law” (after Matt Epling). Sounds great, right? What could go wrong?

This [bill] does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil’s parent or guardian.

The Senate Republicans decided that the law needed a special exemption if the bullying was religiously motivated, thus nominating this bill for first ever “Legislative Darwin Award.” Let’s see exactly what that looks like:

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Yup, you guessed it. AZ-SB 1062 was not the first time that a bill created to protect religious freedom accomplished THE EXACT OPPOSITE. The wording on this bill was so vague that it actually made bullying easier. If you’re like me, and you spent most of your junior high school years dodging fights and studying the inside of your locker, I’m sure you can understand why this might be a suboptimal solution…

#1 Louisiana’s “Act 2” voucher program.

About a year ago, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) pushed a school voucher program through the legislature. Said law would have reallocated money from each student’s per-pupil funds to cover the cost of private or parochial school tuition, thus allowing explicitly religious schools to receive federal funding. Now there are a whole slew of reasons why that’s a TERRIBLE idea, but let’s focus on what happened next.

The bill was made into law, and a large number of private institutions signed up for vouchers. Institutions like:

Evangel Christian Academy (80 vouchers)

Eternity Christian Academy of Westlake (135 vouchers)

Old Bethel Christian Academy in Caldwell Parish (59 vouchers)

Etc.

Etc.

Etc.

Islamic School of Greater New Orleans (38 vouchers)

(Click here for the numbers)

You read that right!

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(Click the picture to read about the school.)

 

Just as the bill was being voted on by the house, ONE Islamic school signed up for the program. I don’t even need to make a comic for this one, BECAUSE REALITY DID IT FOR ME.

As soon as Valerie Hodges (R), the bill’s primary proponent, discovered that an Islamic school could apply for the program, she immediately withdrew her support, saying:

I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools. I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school. We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”

State Rep. Valerie Hodges (R)

Tell Republicans they can force citizens to fund Christianity, and they’ll be all for it. But tell them that the citizens would be paying for other religions too, and their reaction will be second only unto Luke Skywalker discovering that Vader is his father.

 

So where does it keep going wrong?

Political conservatives have re-branded the phrase “Religious Liberty.” The words no longer imply religious freedom, equality, and tolerance. They have been redefined to imply “Christian Liberty,” which excludes all other religious communities from its benefits. It’s become a banner for conservative politicians to wave, rather than a cause for people to fight for. Until that changes, I fully expect these kinds of  Bootless-Bumble-Bills to keep cropping up.


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About Alyxander Folmer

Alyxander Folmer is a student of Anthropology at ASU, focused on analyzing and building religious communities. He is a devoted Heathen, and married to a Rabbi in training. Interest in Pagan interfaith relations lead him to join the committee for the formation of the Pagan Chapter at the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, where he hopes to utilize his training in community building and cultural exchange. The majority of his work can be located at http://www.heathenhof.com/

  • http://endlesserring.wordpress.com/ Treeshrew

    I do enjoy watching these sorts of ‘religious freedom’ bills implode on themselves when people finally realise that there are other religions than Christianity out there. What I find amazing is how elected officials can get away with such blatant discrimination, but then I’m in the UK so it’s a very different culture. We have religious nuts in politics but they tend to get laughed at for it.

    • Alyxander M Folmer

      Welcome to America! Where the nut-jobs get put on congressional SCIENCE committees… *facepalm*

      • http://endlesserring.wordpress.com/ Treeshrew

        Well, we do have a health minister who believes in homeopathy and an environment minister who has expressed climate change ‘doubts’, so we have our own brand of nutters, it just tends not to be the religious kind who get in.

  • Bianca Bradley

    As someone who has seen the Louisiana schools in action, I say, the school vouchers were a good thing.(Private religious schools, even in special education, far surpass the public schools). The private citizens didn’t have a problem with the voucher program either, and frankly rather like Jindal.

    I haven’t had a chance to look at the wording for the Arizona bill, nor the KS bill that was let go, after they realized it wouldn’t be a good idea. However, I did read another take on the subject that left me wondering. http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/02/25/yes-of-course-a-business-owner-should-have-the-right-to-refuse-service-to-gay-people/

    I believe he made a follow up blog to that here:

    http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/02/26/problem-solved-let-private-businesses-refuse-service-to-anyone-anytime-for-any-reason/

    I believe he makes some really good points, that we should consider. I’m hesitant to decry the bills, if they address the issues that Matt Walsh brought up.

    • Alyxander M Folmer

      -(Private religious schools, even in special education, far surpass the public schools)-

      I wouldn’t be so sure of that. The Eternity Christian Academy of Westlake teaches that the Loch Nes Monster disproves evolution…

      These are not the kind of institutions that our tax dollars should be funding.

      Also, the fact that they flipped their position the moment they realized that OTHER religions matter too, is strong evidence that this was NOT a fair and balanced law. This was a way to legally fund Christianity, and the courts of Louisiana ruled that it was unconstitutional.

      • Bianca Bradley

        Fair and balanced in what way? This voucher would have opened up private schools to the low income working parents, parents who have special education needs, and would have given choices.

        The law simply could have been changed to religious schools that meet the accreditation criteria. Private schools also have to go through accreditation requirements.

        I lived in Bossier city. One of the things I learned, was if I could get my autistic son in one particular private Christian (or it may have been Catholic) to do it, lot less headache and a much better environment. If I could have afforded Catholic school for all my kids, I would do it in a heartbeat. The vouchers would have opened that up and given choices, to parents. Having experienced Louisiana schools, that would not have been a bad thing.

  • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

    Thanks for parsing this all out! And there’s the extra element of racism which affected a lot of the push for vouchers in the south. And that racism extends heavily to our treatment Islam in America,which is also prevalent in the UK and Europe. But in Europe it’s couched in “Liberal” language, while here it’s “Conservative.” Either way, it’s disgusting.

    • Alyxander M Folmer

      I couldn’t agree more!

  • Jake Adams

    I’m personally against using public funding to support private schools. I’d rather that Money was put into the school system to try to make them better instruction wise.

    The fact that priority, in many schools, is placed on sports so that fine arts and even basic curriculum are pushed to the back of the money line is a sad thing.

    Also businesses are allowed to deny business to people for no reason, it is when you specify a reason (i.e. you’re Black, Jewish, Gay etc.) that it becomes an actionable thing, unless said reason is legal (i.e. you got caught stealing from said place).

    It makes me sad that the people we elect to office tend to be less enlightened, in some cases, than the people that elected them when it comes to the realm of equal rights, school funding, or even basic cooperation.

  • TrippedB

    The first two were really upsetting but the last one really did it for me. If they’re going to put government funding to any private schools; it should all be equal amounts, to every private school of any religious belief. It’s so upsetting to see she actually had to gall to say respond to that. I’m just glad to see some of there seething plans backfire. Also I believe that every person running for government office should take an American History Test! If they pass congratulations! If you fail too bad.

    • Alyxander M Folmer

      I think it’s a terrible idea to give Government funding to religious institutions, as it corrupts BOTH.The government gives implicit backing to religious causes, and the religious schools have to deal with government oversight. That’s just a BAD IDEA all around.

    • yewtree

      Haha yes, the religion of the Founding Fathers was mostly Deism in the from of either Freemasonry or Unitarianism.

  • xJane

    I find it distressing that these “religious liberty” bills get supported until it is realized the religion in question does not have to be Christian. Then, suddenly, they’re discriminatory and a bad idea. Hardcore Christians really need to replace “Satanists” for every instance of religion in bills they pass before they vote for them.

    Also good reading, Get Your Fake Conscience Objections Off My Lawn.

    • Alyxander M Folmer

      “A pharmacist demanding the right to keep their job even if they refuse
      to dispense legal medication is like a Marine demanding to keep their
      job even if they refuse to follow lawful orders. That’s not “conscience
      protection,” that’s a handout to someone who wants to be paid not to
      work.”

      BEST QUOTE EVER

  • An Elder Apprentice

    I believe one needs to consider these ‘religious freedom’ bills in the context of the two cases currently before the US Supreme Court, Sebelius vs Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialists vs Sebelius. Both of these cases propose similar legal theories to the proposed state laws. An adverse decision on either case would be catastrophic to true religious freedom in America. It is probably no accident that at least 9 state laws like SB1062 have been introduced recently while the court is considering these two cases, as decisions in favor of Hobby Lobby or Conestoga would both set precident that would allow such state laws to pass constitutional muster and would also help set a political climate of acceptance for such views of ‘religious liberty’.

    The state bills and the development of the corresponding legal theory is probably coordinated by assorted right wing think tanks, legal interest groups such as the Federalist Society and political operatives.
    I can only hope that the fierceness of rejection throughout the country of SB1062 may have delivered a message to one or more conservative justices that finding for Hobby Lobby or Conestoga would be politically unacceptable even to many conservatives and thus this particular assault will be parried.

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