You know how rightwingers like to talk about how everything they do is because of freedom? Freedom from corporate regulations that protect air, water and consumers, freedom from unions and those pesky rights that unions protect, freedom from Obamacare and the healthcare it provides for millions; the list of what these freedom fighters struggle against is almost endless and covers most of the things that guarantee a happy, healthy and prosperous middle class in America.
The most recent freedom drumbeating seems to involve the freedom of certain brands of religious folks to discriminate against those who offend them. In the wake of LGBT successes in obtaining marriage rights via state legislatures and in the courts, rightwingers have fought back with bills that would enable businesses to refuse service to folks whose “lifestyles” upset their fundamentalist Christian sensibilities (I add the word “fudamentalist” to make it clear that not all Christians are bigots). If, like me, you’re of a certain age, it makes you think of the bad old days when good, white Christian businessmen refused to serve African-Americans because Jesus wanted the inferior races kept in their place.
And the similarity to old-time racial discrimination hasn’t gone unnoticed by those responding to a bill introduced in the Missouri legislature by state Senator Wayne Wallingford (R-27), SB 916:
Mike Masterson, chairman of the Cape Girardeau County Democratic Central Committee, said the attack on freedom of religion is somewhat a recreation of Jim Crow laws. Stating his opinion as an individual and not for the local Democrats, he wrote in an email to the Southeast Missourian that “There is no war on religion as is being asserted by Mr. Wallingford. To me, this type of proposed legislation is camouflaging bigotry behind the shield of religion.”
Wallingford, disingenuously, claims that the bill does not seek to target the LGBT community and is not meant to defend violators of existing civil rights laws. However, he seems somewhat unclear on the concept, or, as the SouthEast Missourian suggests, he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth:
On Wednesday, Wallingford posted on his Facebook page that his bill “is simply a measure to improve the Religious Freedom Registration Act by allowing individuals to have access to RFRA protections in private lawsuits, rather than having to sue the state for relief after their rights have been violated. This bill is meant to ensure that the government is not able to force individuals to violate their religious beliefs, and will provide protections to all. This is not a bill about discrimination. Indeed, it specifically says that the law shall not be construed to provide a defense in discrimination cases.”
In a story published on the Kansas City Star’s website Tuesday, Wallingford was quoted as saying his bill “is trying to provide a defense in those types of instances.” The newspaper reported that Wallingford pointed to examples such as a case publicized in Washington state, where a florist would not provide flowers for a same-sex wedding and where a baker in Colorado refused to make a cake for a party celebrating the wedding of two men
The bill does indeed specify that it cannot be used to defend against infractions of current civil rights laws. But, while Missouri has enacted employment non-discrimination laws that recognize sexual orientation and hate-crime laws that protect transgender individuals as well, that’s the extent of explicit LGBT protections. It’s hard not to conclude that LGBT individuals in Missouri are absolutely vulnerable to this law – along, potentially, with other unprotected classes of individuals who might cause the sensitive moral antennae of some religious folks to quiver. Given the delicate sensibilities of some conservative Christians, it could get to be quite a free-for-all.
The irony is that this bill, which Wallingford admits is modeled on the outrageous freedom to discriminate bill passed by the Arizona legislature, has been taken up here in Missouri just a few days before Governor Jan Brewer saw fit to veto the Arizona bill. As TPM’s Josh Mashall notes, the most recent response to these blatant attempts to institutionalize discrimination has been “an almost comical run for the exits by various supporters and quasi-supporters trying to get out from under legislation that a growing body of people saw as silly, mean-spirited, economically damaging and completely needless.” But not Missouri, no sir, we work hard to earn our backwardness label.
Quotes added in 2nd paragraph. Fourth paragraph edited slightly for clarity.