There has been no dearth of news stories, reports, and commentary over the past few months on the epidemic of racists, whether in law enforcement or the general population, either inflicting or attempting to inflict, punishment on African Americans for being African Americans. As noted here on Tuesday, “there are certain groups who are adamant that as superior human beings they have authority to mete out punishment for violations of their beliefs that are usually borne of religion.”
Despite protections in the U.S. Constitution and federal and state laws, the past six years have seen an increase in religious fundamentalists claim they have theocratic authority to punish women, gays, and any American unwilling to comply with their theocratic edicts. It is apparent that Americans have no more constitutional protections from religious tyranny than unarmed African Americans have from racist cops shooting them with impunity. It is astonishing, but the extremist Christian fundamentalists are basing their punitive power on the religious freedom guarantee in the First Amendment; with Supreme Court approval.
Before becoming one the Supreme Court’s Papal-5 imposing the Vatican’s edicts in the Humanae Vitae on America’s women, Justice Antonin Scalia firmly believed the Constitution’s Framers did not define “religious freedom” as the right to violate state or federal laws. In fact, in writing for the majority in Employment Division v. Smith, Scalia said that the First Amendment freedom of religion does not allow individuals to break the law: he said, “We have never held that an individual’s beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the state is free to regulate.” He said it would be “courting anarchy” to create exceptions every time a religious group claims that a law infringes on its religious freedom.
Around the nation over the past few years, Republicans have not “courted anarchy” in creating religious exceptions to established constitutional laws, they attempted to impose evangelical tyranny under the guise of “religious freedom.” There has been so much attention on trigger-happy cops exercising their racist freedom to shoot and kill unarmed African Americans recently that pundits overlooked biblical Republicans exercising religious freedom to impose theocracy on Michigan residents.
The latest religious tyranny is Michigan House Bill 5958, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that legalizes a Christian extremist’s religious freedom to discriminate, among other atrocities in an alleged civilized society. But even that description understates the abomination about to be forced on Michigan residents as a prelude to the theocracy about to be unleashed on America. The law makes it legal to refuse service, deny employment, housing, and violate other citizens’ rights, any rights, if a theocrat claims it violates their religious freedom and objects on religious grounds. The bill’s proponents cried foul and claimed H.B. 5958 is not a “license to discriminate,” but a Democratic representative proved it is that and much more.
The Democratic representative, Jeff Irwin, was concerned the RFRA was more than protecting religious freedom so he introduced an amendment to the legislation that explicitly stated that RFRA would not permit evangelical actions such as putting up a sign that says, “No Christians will be served.” Obviously, a bill that was not a license to discriminate would not necessitate such an amendment, and to prove the religious Republicans were lying, the amendment was rejected out-of-hand by the majority Republicans who would not countenance language that explicitly forbid discrimination masked as “religious freedom.”
However, as atrocious as legalized discrimination may appear, and it is an abomination, it is the legislation’s other uses that should terrify Michigan residents. For example, as the ultimate “conscience clause,” an extremist Christian in the healthcare industry can put a stop to medical care if they claim their objection is founded on religious beliefs. Under the legislation, a healthcare provider would be obliged to send a patient away. It is bad enough that religious pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions if they “think” a person is gay, a woman is a single mother, or the patient is the “wrong religion,” but that is just the beginning. A first responder, whether law enforcement, fire protection, or ambulance personnel can use “religious objections” to refuse to provide service to a person or group they feel violates their religion’s tenets.
Americans just cannot accept that their freedoms, all of their freedoms, are under siege by a small majority of religious extremists. It is important for all Americans to comprehend that in Iraq and Syria, brutal Islamic extremists in ISIS are a small majority and yet they are wreaking death and destruction on the region. The extremists in the Christian Right, as author Chris Hedges explains and the fundamentalists admit, adhere to an ideology that calls for the “eradication of social ‘deviants’ including gay men and lesbians, Muslims, liberals, feminists, intellectuals, left-wing activists, undocumented workers, poor African-Americans and those dismissed as ‘nominal Christians’—meaning Christians who do not embrace this peculiar interpretation of the Bible—will also be ruthlessly repressed and quickly eradicated. That also includes ‘deviant’ government (secular), ‘deviant’ media, ‘deviant’ schools, and ‘deviant’ churches that will be crushed. In their place “all institutions will propagate ‘Christian and ‘family values, and all education (indoctrination) will be handed over to the church.
None of those prospects are imaginary, or overstated by any means, and any American that believes that because they claim Christianity as their faith, or live under a founding document that protects them from religious tyranny are safe, they are deluded. Americans likely believed the days when white law enforcement officers could murder African Americans with impunity were over; recent events prove that is not the case. Americans also likely believed that their Constitution protected them from religious imposition, or guaranteed their equality under the law; that is also no longer the case after the Supreme Court deconstructed and demolished the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses in the First Amendment.
The Michigan RFRA is a product of a lazy apathetic population that just cannot comprehend that elections have consequences. Subsequently, now that the religious right controls both houses of Congress, there is nothing except President Obama to stop them from passing personhood laws the House has passed every year since 2011. Senate Republicans introduced the same “life begins at intercourse” legislation as well, but they were thwarted because they did not have the majority; that ends next month. The recent midterms put more right-wing religious extremists in the House and Senate than the 2010 elections, and now that they are in power, the Michigan RFRA will look tame compared to what men like Ted Cruz have planned for the people who will wish that a “license to discriminate” was their only worry.