Even many believers have their doubts about heaven, hell, and the jealous tribal deities that provide pretexts for so much human cruelty.
As Satan says in Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” The hell we make for ourselves and one another is exemplified by those who use their faith to justify anti-gay discrimination. Which brings us to the latest gay-related Supreme Court ruling, issued June 4.
James Esseks of ACLU offers a good summary: “In the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled for a bakery that had refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. It did so on grounds that are specific to this particular case and will have little to no applicability to future cases. The opinion is full of reaffirmations of our country’s longstanding rule that states can bar businesses that are open to the public from turning customers away because of who they are.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his opinion for the majority, writes that “any decision in favor of the baker would have to be sufficiently constrained, lest all purveyors of goods and services who object to gay marriages for moral and religious reasons in effect be allowed to put up signs saying ‘no goods or services will be sold if they will be used for gay marriages,’ something that would impose a serious stigma on gay persons.”
One Colorado civil rights commissioner is quoted saying, “[W]e can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.”
This perfectly accurate statement has been characterized as an attack on religion. But decrying those who dress up their homophobia and transphobia in religious garb is no more an attack on faith itself than objecting to racist police methods constitutes a generalized attack on policing. LGBT people ourselves embrace a diversity of beliefs. Calling out faith-based discrimination does not turn the discriminators into victims.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writes in dissent, “I see no reason why the comments of one or two Commissioners should be taken to overcome Phillips’ refusal to sell a wedding cake to Craig and Mullins. The proceedings involved several layers of independent decisionmaking, of which the Commission was but one.” Ginsburg notes, “Phillips declined to make a cake he found offensive where the offensiveness of the product was determined solely by the identity of the customer requesting it.”
I have defended the free speech rights of my religious foes, from marriage equality opponents advertising on Metrobuses to the homophobic owner of the Museum of the Bible to a Chick-fil-A outlet in the District. Equal rights are not only for those who agree with us. But for a business open to the public to deny service on religious grounds breaks the social contract whereby members of a diverse society put up with one another for the common good.
Imposing one group’s faith dictates in the public square is a threat to social cohesion. One-way respect is not respect at all but subjugation.
Masterpiece Cakeshop yielded fast fruit. The Arizona Court of Appeals on June 7 cited it in upholding a Phoenix ordinance barring anti-LGBT discrimination. Meanwhile, Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented baker Jack Phillips, wants to broaden it to bar the denial of government contracts to religious organizations that discriminate against gay couples in adoption services.
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” proclaim the ruling pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Under America’s aspiring autocrat, an anti-gay baker’s free speech is championed, while NFL players protesting police brutality are denounced as unAmerican. Those who consider Trump’s posturing patriotic are putting the symbols of our freedoms before the freedoms themselves. In religious terms, that is idolatry.
The Trump regime may ultimately represent the last gasp of white Christian hetero male supremacy. But while it so furiously thrashes, and as the president quietly, steadily packs the federal courts, our struggle continues.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2018 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.