Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Arizona's Individual Religious Conscience Bill

Wonk Alert. What's happening in Arizona is intriguing. Is it a first beachhead assault or is it a quick death for a new idea called the right of Individual Religious Conscience? IRC says every American has a constitutional right to reject some laws, if that rejection has a ’serious religious basis’. For example, if you don’t like gays, you may discriminate in housing, employment or public accommodation IF you are discriminating out of your 'serious religious beliefs' as opposed to discriminating from a position of sheer ugly hatred. 
In the 2013 Utah legislative session, after many long months of negotiations, Brandie Balkin from Equality Utah and I were offered a statewide non-discrimination deal, if we would include a section with a IRC. We told them NO DEAL. Not even close. Frankly, every serious discussion on non-discrimination since then has demanded the inclusion of a IRC. We refuse to sell out the people of Utah and accept non-discrimination with a IRC. That rejection, I think, saved Utah from being made a laughing stock—as Arizona is now. 
I call IRC the Bubba clause. IRC protects Bubba. If Bubba has a serious problem with gays, Bubba need not follow the law (if there is a non-discrimination or public accommodation law) if that law offends Bubba’s serious religious beliefs. Now, imagine where that would lead. Bubba wants to discriminate—Bubba goes to court. Somehow, the jury needs to get into Bubba’s head and determine if Bubba is a run-of-the-mill bigot (illegal) or if his bigotry is his ’serious’ religious view (legal). I must admit that the deposition would be interesting as lawyers get into Bubba’s head about what's serious in his religious views and what's not.
IRC’s include first responders. In the ER, with a police officer or as the fire-person arrives, if they have a serious religious problems with LGBT people, they have the individual right to decline service. Such rejection, of course, guaranteed by the constitution.
It interesting that some Christian groups are adamant to make sure that they are able to maintain a right to discriminate. Is that, really, what Jesus would do? Would Jesus fight so hard for the right to discriminate? Who knows.
As the rational justifications for non-equality diminish in the public’s mind, the opposition is reaching for new ideas to justify bigotry. So now, IRC. Shinny and new. Probably focus-group tested. A new line of legalistic-sounding, high-principled sounding, constitutional-sounding justification-a last ditch effort to justify discrimination. 
Thank goodness that it was the Arizona legislature who bit and who passed this ridiculousness. Not Utah! Bravo!
PS. Need a bit of feedback. Please. I am not sure anyone ever gets this low on a facebook post. Too long? If you did, just comment YEA...OR BULL
--James Dabakis, 2/23/2014

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