Everyone’s familiar with the old adage, “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.”
Which is why the Evangelical leaders who held a press conference on Parliament Hill calling for greater religious freedom laws and schmoozing with Conservative politicians last month might do well to remember Indiana.
“Unfortunately, Christians in this country find themselves under attack. This is a violation, and we are calling on the Canadian government to stop this type of violation across this country…” — Charles McVety
Because almost to the day that the collection of Canadian religious leaders held a press conference at Parliament Hill, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a piece of legislation that was exactly the kind of thing they meant. And it went over like plutonium-based paint.
For anyone who missed the ruckus it caused, the State of Indiana proposed a “religious freedom” law that was very similar to those existing in other U.S. states and federally — except that by the omission of a small phrase, it essentially made it illegal for any government body to intervene in cases of discrimination, provided said discrimination was motivated by a person’s religious freedom of conscience. Put simply, it would legally sanction religiously-motivated discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* (LGBT) people (and for that matter, just about anyone else), while making it illegal for any government body to intervene. And the State of Indiana did so because of an outcry from religious groups struggling against marriage equality (with no shortage of drama) claiming that legally protecting LGBT people from discrimination is tyranny:
“This is tyranny, and it has not come to the United States from an invading nation with tanks and rockets. It has come wrapped in a hijacked-rainbow flag, under the banner of “diversity” and “nondiscrimination.” At this point, only the most uninformed and deceived among us cannot see that the radical homosexual movement—a movement based purely on lies and sin—has at its heart the wicked goal of tyranny over Christian freedom, expression and conscience. Don’t doubt it. While this particular case does not necessarily involve a Christian employer, ultimately Christians and Christianity are the true targets of this hell-born movement. But, these activists will gladly target anyone who resists their dark agenda, as this company, Tower Loan, is sadly discovering.
“The culture in our nation today is steeped in immorality and moral relativism to the point that far too many people have no perception of the grotesque reality of homosexual behavior and how the activists and their supporters in this sexual anarchy movement are using sodomy and “transgenderism” as a foundation to create new “rights” for those who engage in these base behaviors. These new “civil rights” for sodomites are for the purpose of destroying the rights of the majority of the American people…”
The State of Arizona had attempted a similar thing last year, until people started realizing that it might allow medical professionals who were Jehovah’s Witnesses to deny patients blood transfusions, and other unpredictable consequences. Moreover, the clear intention had been to disenfranchise and target a specific group of people, which proved not a very popular idea with the commercial sector. Boycotts were threatened and travel to the state was likely to become embargoed in places, while the law’s proponents demonstrated just how aggressively they intended to use the law (while still denying that it constituted a form of special rights). Arizona backed off, and the Governor refused to sign the bill.
In Indiana, though, Governor Pence did so happily, with a smile, a flourish, and a special fringe group photo-op.
The backlash was instantaneous. Several states and local governments banned the use of taxpayer money to fund city employees’ travel to the State. Celebrities canceled shows and declared a boycott. NASCAR, the NFL and other sporting figures put pressure on the State. The Gap, Twitter, Apple, Angie’s List and several other companies spoke out with condemnation. Ten religious groups decried the law, including the Disciples of Christ, which threatened to move its annual convention. The Indianapolis Star published a front page with the top half black, and bearing the words, “Fix This Now.” And the Indiana-based NCAA made it known that they were questioning whether to hold the long-awaited Final Four tournament in Indianapolis, if not make greater changes in the future. Eventually, the State amended the law to remove the freedom to discriminate portion (although notably, Indiana still does not actually have state-wide LGBT human rights protections, so the issue is actually not over, even if the state government wants to sweep it under the rug). Other states have had mixed reactions to the spectacle, however, and groups and individuals have taken a certain amount of inspiration from Indiana’s trial run:
“In an interview with WOOD-TV, Dieseltec owner Brian Klawiter said he is a Christian and that he doesn’t ask his customers if they are gay, but “If you want to come in here with your boyfriend and you want to openly display that, that’s just not going to be tolerated here. We don’t believe that here.”
“In the rant, posted on Tuesday, Klawiter lamented the discrimination white heterosexual Christians face everyday in the U.S. and said he is no longer going to take it…”
To be fair, the March 25th delegation of Evangelicals didn’t call upon Prime Minister Stephen Harper for an Indiana-style “religious freedom” law per-se. By the time they got to the Hill, in fact, they’d figured out that all of their complaints were in jurisdictions outside federal control. So they asked for a statement.
And they didn’t get it. Instead, they came away with a lone MP who left the Conservative caucus and used the opportunity to give a weird rant in Parliament about scientists being “gagged over a false construct related to the theory of evolution.” Not the wisest way to politically self-immolate, I suppose.
“There’s a whole generation of kids being taught that what they’re taught in Sunday School or in church is garbage, it’s wrong, it’s false, and it’s simply a form of bullying that’s no longer acceptable. It’s not scientifically tenable, it’s a disservice to science… it’s not freedom of religion if your views are put down by your peers.” — MP James Lunney
But it’s not the first time that ideological groups have called for religious-based special rights, and it’s certainly not going to be the last. If anything, the effort seems poised to grow. In the U.S., some states are pressing forward with new bills of the sort, while more than one Republican Presidential contender has vowed to make it a priority. The view from the American side of the border, at least, is that LGBT acceptance and Christianity are simply incompatible:
“When two diametrically opposed and incompatible value systems (namely Christianity and hedonistic humanism) come together in the same place, there can be no peaceful coexistence. One will necessarily dominate, while the other is necessarily subjugated. We saw that quickly happen in Indiana last week.” — BarbWire commentator Bob Ellis
(It’s worth adding a reminder that I personally try not to use “Christian” to describe these folks, despite their rallying behind the term, because I consider it questionable whether they actually are… at least when it comes to “loving one another” by trying to disenfranchise, invalidate, and occasionally even still criminalize people whose existence they deny or object to… not to mention doing things like conflating entire groups with sexual predators as a political tactic.)
In Canada, Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are tiptoeing around Indiana while strategizing further… and recognizing that their fight is a little harder in a nation that has already had marriage equality for several years and somehow managed to cope.
“… The most significant part of the HMP [“Homosexual Ministry of Propaganda”] victory is that the word “Equality”, a word twisted by the HMP to squash dissent, has once more been reinforced in the minds of the public to mean that a male + male or a female + female = marriage…” — Peter Baklinski at the Canadian website, LifeSiteNews.
The old “special rights” argument, now with actual special rights added.
The “religious freedom” tactic isn’t really all that new: only the phrasing used to convey it. For many years, religious groups complained that extending human rights protections to LGBT people would confer “special rights” upon them. Lest readers doubt that there was some deliberate co-ordination to all of this, Media Matters provides an in-depth look:
“Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal organization that works with 2,400 allied attorneys nationally on a $39 million (as of 2013) annual budget. ADF was founded in 1994 by several of the country’s largest national evangelical Christian ministries to “press the case for religious liberty issues in the nation’s courts” and “fend-off growing efforts by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which seek to immobilize Christians.” Today, it has become the country’s best-funded and most powerful right-wing Christian group working against what the organization calls the “myth of the so-called ‘separation of church and state.'”
“… While the group prefers to talk about its “religious liberty” work when in the media spotlight, ADF also actively works internationally to promote and defend laws that criminalize gay sex. ADF’s formal support for anti-sodomy legislation dates to at least 2003, before the Supreme Court made its landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas. ADF, which was at the time still known as the Alliance Defense Fund, filed an amicus brief in the case, defending state laws criminalizing gay sex. In its brief, ADF spent nearly 30 pages arguing that gay sex is unhealthy, harmful, and a public health risk…”
Of course, it then became awkward trying to explain the dangers that could ensue if the “special right” to be equal might trump the then- perfectly ordinary everyday right to deny someone employment, housing, medical care, enfranchisement, and/or goods and services. Embarassed, anti-LGBT leaders began looking for new phrasing and the lowest-hanging fruit to justify their claims. The shift to a “religious persecution” -based tactic started with adoption agencies that were “forced to close” because they refused to assist would-be parents in gay or lesbian relationships. Except that they weren’t really forced to shut down:
“Catholic Charities in Illinois has served for more than 40 years as a major link in the state’s social service network for poor and neglected children. But now most of the Catholic Charities affiliates in Illinois are closing down rather than comply with a new requirement that says they can no longer receive state money if they turn away same-sex couples as potential foster care and adoptive parents…
That’s when the attention turned to wedding cakes and photographers. To at least some of the public, it seems relatively trivial and nit-picky that LGBT people are expecting to be able to enjoy the same access to those services as anyone else. Never mind that the same logic and law used to deny a wedding cake might also be used to deny housing, education, health care, security, or any other service where religious freedom of conscience might cause someone to take issue.
Canada illustrates this a bit more visibly, with religious conservatives fighting a conscience policy for medical professionals which would allow them to decline non-emergency as long as they still provide a referral to someone who will provide accurate information. Shoulda’ went for the cakes. Just saying.
I’ll admit that there’s a civil libertarian in me who wonders why someone would take it upon themselves to fret about anti-LGBT cake vendors, or even go looking for them for the sake of stirring up a controversy. I just don’t see the point of wanting to give homophobes and transphobes a bunch of money. But I get it: full enfranchisement hasn’t happened until a person can go about their business without having to worry about being blindsided by idiots trying to exclude them, just because of who they are. And that’s why the trivial stuff matters.
But in the end, while the dust settles on Indiana’s religious freedom bill fiasco, and Canadian ideologues try to raise the issue to a national level, it’s important to look at the fallout. Because as much as religious fundamentalists might try to pretend that they’re only interested in protecting their own freedoms and not harming others, the meltdowns that have occurred in the wake of the Indiana bill’s demise paint a different picture:
“It wasn’t broken and the alleged “fix” that the Indiana legislature, at your request, has proposed to the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), will destroy the law beyond all recognition. In fact, it will turn it into the “RFDA” – the “Religious Freedom Destruction Act.” No bill at all would have been better than this anti-Christian, sexual anarchist disaster.
“What was intended as a shield to every American’s First Amendment-guaranteed religious liberty, as proposed, will now become a sword used to destroy it. What was designed to defend people of faith against being discriminated against and bullied will, instead, codify anti-religious discrimination and bullying into law. It will unconstitutionally force people of faith, under penalty of law, to affirmatively violate their sincerely held religious conscience. It has been turned into a weapon that compels people of faith to disobey God or face government sanction.” — Matt Barber
Because the intent was clearly to discriminate. And sometimes when anti-LGBT leaders think that only the faithful are listening, they’ll even candidly say so:
“Starting in the 1990s, the homosexual movement worked tirelessly, spending enormous funds, to get state and local governments to amend their anti-discrimination laws covering public accommodations, employment, housing, public education, etc., to include “sexual orientation.” In recent years there’s been a push to include “gender identity” (cross-dressing, transgenderism, transsexuality) also.
“There’s a big strategic reason for that. As Dr. Scott Lively has pointed out for years, these updated laws are the starting point for the whole, brutal legal jihad against Christians and others holding traditional values. Every outrage we’re now seeing — including the LGBT activism in the schools, targeting of businesses, men using women’s restrooms, sado-masochist/”swinger” conventions in hotels, etc. — emanates from these laws.
“But pro-family people have only recently started to wake up on this. They instinctively realize that citizens should be able to discriminate and refuse to promote or celebrate perversion and “gay” marriage. But these anti-discrimination laws now make it a crime to do so…”
The fight for special rights to discriminate will continue — it’ll just change along the way. It will persist because the will to discriminate persists:
“What should Christians and other believers do in the face of this heightening repression? They must go on the offensive—charitably but vigorously—and fight the battle on several levels… The lame discrimination complaints by homosexualist organizations against believers in human rights commissions and the pressuring of corporations to dump executives and employees who dissent at all from the homosexualist agenda should should be met consistently with lawsuits for abuse of process and defamation. That would put financial pressure on the well-heeled homosexualist organizations…” — Crisis Magazine & LifeSiteNews commentary.
So the strategizing continues. In one American twist, anti-discrimination intervention is being said to be a violation of the separation of church and state. In another, an organization that considers boycotts and letter-writing campaigns organized by LGBT groups to be “economic terrorism” is exercising its own boycotts and letter-writing campaigns against alleged “anti-Christian discrimination” — discrimination which apparently includes producing a TV show about the life of Dan Savage. The hypocrisy is rampant, with the same groups that complain of being silenced having no qualms about censoring LGBT speakers or hounding them to leave their jobs with non-profit organizations. In a moment of coinciding interest opportunism, American lobbyists and legislators are even hoping that religious freedom bills can be combined with the ruling in Hobby Lobby to grant companies the same sort of special rights:
“Georgia State Senator McKoon hopes that, if his bill passes next year, courts will find it covers companies as well as flesh-and-blood human beings, even if it doesn’t say so explicitly in the text. “I believe,” he says, “that the bill would be read as the federal bill was interpreted by the Hobby Lobby decision…”
It’s not going to drop off the Canadian radar anytime soon either, because the Supreme Court of Canada just ruled that reciting a denominational prayer at town council meetings infringes on the freedom of conscience and religion. The state, it determined, should neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, nor impose one on others. Which, when viewed through the far-right lens means that the rival religion of secularism / atheism is persecuting Christians:
“In a sense, by prohibiting respectful, non-proselytizing, non-coercive prayer, the court is showing a clear preference to non-religious believers over religious believers, and gives an untenable status to secularism and atheism, which are themselves beliefs. So there is no balance and no reconciliation among various beliefs in this ruling but shows a preference for one belief – secularism – over all other beliefs,” Elia told LifeSiteNews.
“This is not an example of a true, authentic and robust pluralism,” Elia stressed. “In true pluralism, religious believers and non-believers can share the public square, but this decision means the public square can no longer be shared…” — LifeSiteNews.
So it becomes worth scrutinizing the recent events the Canadian delegation to Parliament pointed to as examples of attacks on religious freedoms in Canada:
- The decisions of a number of provincial bar associations not to accredit any potential law school graduate of Trinity Western University;
- The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s Professional Obligations and Human Rights policy, which ensures access to medical care for people seeking abortions, contraception or other accepted legal medical procedures; and
- A recent Statement of Support for Diversity and Inclusion signed by 72 major companies across Canada.
Because when we do so, we see that:
- The decision not to accredit Trinity Western University law school graduates was made because of TWU’s ban on sexual behaviour outside heterosexual marriage, which amounts to a creative way to shut out LGBT people;
- The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s policy in fact allows medical professionals to opt out of procedures and services that violate their religious beliefs, but they must still provide a referral to someone who will give accurate information about treatment or procedure options (which gets portrayed in far right media as forcing doctors to perform abortions); and
- Seriously, this is a statement that says “We value the range of perspectives, ideas and experiences that diversity provides, whether grounded in gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, cultural background, religion or age,” and says that the signatory businesses will “encourage greater diversity and inclusion.”
Underneath it all, the special right being sought is the right to create deliberate barriers for people whose sexuality they object to. Even diversity policies are considered offensive:
“Gwen Landolt, a lawyer and national vice-president of Real Women of Canada, called BMO’s policy the “height of discrimination and intolerance.”
“Their position is shocking and appalling. They have applied political correctness to the absolute borderline of insanity,” she told LifeSiteNews…”
But don’t expect an equanimous approach to how “religious freedom” is interpreted. At best, it is a selective thing:
Lunney’s defence of religious freedom does not extend to supporting the right of Muslim women to wear the niqab when being sworn in as citizens, however.
After initially avoiding the question, he eventually confirmed that he shares the views of his former party and the prime minister that those seeking to become Canadian citizens should show their faces.
“I’m not going to get tangled up in that argument,” he said.
In the end, of course, the “religious freedom” battle cry may end up amounting to nothing in the warmer social climate of Canada. Hopefully, the general public will see it for what it is, without the benefit of a Mike Pence -like Premier to push the issue.
“Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says the opening prayer at the province’s legislature will remain despite a recent Supreme Court ruling…”
But then again, who knows?