Midland Daily News, May 10, 2015
Twenty-one states have passed a state version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. After the law was passed in Indiana and Arkansas, there was an immediate firestorm of protest by business leaders and others.
In response to that backlash, Tim Wildmon, President of the American Family Association, said, “Every American, regardless of political or religious views, should be free to live and work according to their conscience without fear of punishment and backlash from the government. Regardless of what advocates of homosexual behavior say, our government was formed to be freedom’s greatest protector, not its greatest threat.” *
I agree with the first part of that statement in part but let’s take a quick look at history of our country. We have advanced freedom for many people over the two plus centuries of our existence by ending slavery, granting voting rights to women, ending blatant discrimination against people of color, and ended the ban against interracial marriages, to name a few. But in every single case the religious argument was used to prevent the freedom from happening.
Micah Clark, executive director of the AFA of Indiana explained that conservatives should oppose any effort to clarify that the law does not legalize discrimination. “That could totally destroy this bill.” **
These two statements make clear that the intent of the law is to discriminate against gays even though the proponents couch it in religious freedom language.
Let’s be clear that the religious freedom the proponents are speaking of is that of Christians, not Muslims, Hindus, Unitarians, Buddhists, and Jews. Unfortunately, the bishops of my Catholic Church support this law and the discrimination it allows. Fortunately, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said he will veto the bill if the legislature passes it.
The origin of this law can be found among Christians, so I invite you to take a look at how Jesus treated people. Jesus entered into a conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well. This was a violation of Jewish law on two counts. Jesus, a male Jew, was not supposed to be alone with a woman. Secondly, Jews were to have nothing to do with the despised Samaritans. Yet Jesus spoke freely to this woman. (John 4:1ff)
Jesus healed the Gerasene Demoniac (Luke 8:26), a Canaanite woman’s daughter (Mt 15:22 and Mark 7:26), ten lepers (Luke 17:13-15) and he even touched a leper (Mt 8:3). These acts are all remarkable because he didn’t ask first if they were Jews nor did he shun the lepers who were supposed to live apart from the community.
The most telling healing relevant to the topic at hand can be found in Luke 7:1-10 and Mt 8:6-8. Both passages are about the healing of a Roman centurion’s servant. This in itself is remarkable because the Romans were the despised occupiers.
The Greek word for servant in Luke is doulos and in Matthew pais. This servant was not just an ordinary household or farm worker, he was precious to the centurion. That description is omitted in the New American Bible and is translated in the New International Version as "whom his master valued highly”, and in the Revised standard version as “who was dear to him”. The implication is compelling. The word pais in Matthew is even more telling as pais means “boy”, not servant nor son. Both suggest a love relationship existed. Despite these reasons to avoid the centurion, Jesus healed the boy.
Jesus did not discriminate against serving people because they were different or did not meet his religion’s standards. We Christians would do well to go back to the model of Jesus for our daily living.
Let’s look at the implications of this legal discrimination based on religious freedom. What is to prevent a business owner from denying service or products to people of a different color or religion or race? There is much animosity towards immigrants, especially those from the south and those from the Middle East. How big of a step would it be for business owners to refuse service to those people under their religion-based conscience?
This law is a distortion of freedom and the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment. It allows people to discriminate in the name of religion. That is unacceptable. Freedom is for all people, including those who look or believe differently than you or I.