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/


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