Let’s Stop and Take a Breath: American Divisiveness

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No Service to AZ LegislatorsAmerican divisiveness is a special breed of cat. American-style democracy is an anomaly in the world and so is the American way of trying to bridge divisions to balance the needs of the many and the few.

Sometimes this is a knee-jerk, willful, or greatly misguided bunk — as in former House Speaker Tom DeLay’s contention that, “We stopped realizing that God created this nation, that he wrote the Constitution, that it’s based on biblical principles.” Sometimes it is a matter of forcing opinions on your opposition — like Richard Dawkins’ claim that, “What a child should never be taught is that you are a Catholic or Muslim child, therefore that is what you believe. That’s child abuse.”

If It Weren’t for Humans There Would Be No Trouble at All

This parochialism ignores two facets of human nature — that people disagree and that with some common sense people can usually work out acceptable compromises. LGBT rights are a perfect example.

Even though some laws have allowed discrimination in several ways for years, AZ recently passed a bill that expands it by allowing anyone with a religious objection to refuse service to anyone who is the target of that objection. That is a very broad, subjective definition that no one can enforce practically. For example, could Muslims refuse service to men without beards and women without head coverings? Can a business owner be compelled to sell something to a person with whom they disagree? Could a Christian refuse to sell to a Jew?

Many fundamentalist Christians rightfully claim they feel this violates their right to practice their religion and is not discriminatory at all. Anti-discrimination forces claim, again rightfully, that the Constitution guarantees equal rights for all and the courts have generally struck down most forms of discrimination except in very limited ways.

Clearly, we’ve reached an impasse even if most people do see it as discrimination. Despite that several other states have tried or will soon try similar bills, even though AZ legislators are now questioning the wisdom of their own law and all similar laws haven’t survived court challenges.

From the conservative side, let’s look at it this way. Christians have the right to their beliefs. There is nothing to compel them to like those with whom the disagree. There is nothing to prevent them from speaking out against those people.

They are correct that they have the right to practice their religion and I would, and have, helped them fight for those rights even though I not only find them distasteful but sometimes bigoted (despite an overwhelming belief among believers that they aren’t).

While the fundamentalist say they are being deprived of rights by not being able to discriminate, that isn’t exactly true. Fundamentalists keep the right to hold any opinion of gay people, even a bigoted one, if they want. They can still worship and pray any place in the country (yes, you can legally pray in school provided it isn’t lead by a school official or teacher). I would even argue they could discriminate provided they discriminated equally. If you don’t want to bake cakes for gay weddings, then don’t bake cakes for any weddings. The religious are still free to practice their religions and not discriminating has no practical impact on their daily lives.

There are valid arguments on the anti-discrimination side too. Tom DeLay notwithstanding, the Constitution was not written by God and the equality provisions built in don’t just apply to the practice of religion, but also to the ability of ever citizen to be treated like every other citizen. The ability to practice religion does not trump freedom from discrimination, it co-exists with it equally under the Constitution. This is a position consistently upheld by a long line of legal decisions.

Anti-discrimination supporters argue that many forms of previously allowed discrimination have been struck down: separate education, equal housing, even things as simple as riding in the bus seat of your choice. Some bigoted troglodytes would claim this was a step backward. The majority of people would say it has been a good thing.

Then there are the practical matters. How does a customer know when they can’t buy certain items or from whom? How do you tell if someone belongs to the class of people you don’t want to sell to? How does anyone know whether the religious practice trigger is really religiously based, made up, or simply so outrageous as to be a joke.

God Shall Smite the Heathen Cake Topper

I’d argue that if God is going to smite you because you put to brides on the top of a cake you might want to consider a new religion and/or God. But there are more important conditions that not only go to public health needs, but to the hypocritical nature of the discrimination.

If you work at Walgreens and refuse to dispense birth control pills yourself, but step aside and let others do it, why do you still work at a pharmacy that sells them? Are you not still implicitly supporting their sales? It also calls into question your qualifications for the job. In practicing that discrimination you stop being a pharmacist who dispenses legal medicines on a scientific, healthcare basis and become a pill counter who selectively counts which pills a buyer can have.

Finally, a drug store or hospital is not a church. It is a place where people go to get treatment, not just the treatment you think is OK, or in the case of the AZ law, whether you will even get through the door. You can keep as many people out of your church as you want, although I’d argue that is pretty counter-productive and goes against any teaching of Christ I’ve ever been taught.

Because these rights are at loggerheads, there is no way to resolve the issue without someone giving something up to keep something they have or should get. The breaking point is where that compromise is. A compromise, by definition does not give everyone everything they want. They are not one size fits all things and without compromise you have a useless piece of paper instead of a vibrant, useful Constitution.

Lets work out this problem and stop creating more places for division. The reason nothing seems to work anymore is because we spend all of our time arguing and little of our time doing. Most of us consider every facet of our beliefs as sacrosanct without considering the harm it may do others. The truth is that every action has a negative and a positive side and we all need to learn that.

Let’s stop and take a breath.


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