The Indiana RFRA, Discrimination, and You! — April 22, 2015

The Indiana RFRA, Discrimination, and You!

This is the start of my tirade on the shitstorm that has ensued after the whole Indiana RFRA fiasco.  This is my train of thought and is a bit rambling and rant-y at times, but I felt that all of it was important in some capacity.  To anyone who may read this, I am outlining my views and attempting to comment intelligently on the issues that arise from the matter at hand.  If you wish to discuss anything, you may comment and we will debate in an intelligent manner.

Disclaimer:  I speak very cynically about certain religious groups in this post.  I do not intend to disparage anyone for their faith, but I’m merely observing what I’ve seen in the fallout of this ordeal.  I try to emphasize that certain (insert group here) do things and I recognize that even though you may fit into this group, you may not prescribe to such beliefs.  If you do prescribe to such beliefs, remember that I am merely observing and commenting on my responses.

Warning: This post uses strong language… who cares…

RFRA Background

For anyone who may not know, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was originally signed into law by Bill Clinton in whatever year (I don’t care enough to look it up right now) and was meant to protect people in religious minorities that may experience oppression as a result of being a minority (hint: it’s not Christians). But this isn’t a tirade about Christians or Christianity or anything like that.  Christians can be oppressed for being Christians because oppression doesn’t matter if you’re in the minority or not.  The problem is that Christians in America, as a group on the whole, aren’t oppressed. It’s exactly the opposite.

What many people fail to realize is how privileged Christians are in this country. When was the last time a Christian was beaten to death by a group of Muslims in this country? Probably doesn’t happen very often, but I can absolutely guarantee that the amount of hate crimes that occur against Muslims as a result of “religious motivation” is significantly higher. I’ll digress for some stats on hate crimes (source):  ~66% of victims are Jewish, I’ll give roughly 9% to Christians to cover the more obscure faiths that may not fall into Catholic/Protestant, and 12.1% to Muslims.  Now, 3% difference isn’t a lot but that’s not an indication of how dangerous it is to be Jewish or a Muslim in this country.  There’s about 2.5 million Muslims in the US and around 5-6 million Jews (google it). The site also lists that the number of religiously influenced hate crimes from 1995-2012 is ~24,000 which comes out to about 1300 per year.  This, all together, yields hate crimes per capita as:

  • ((1300*0.66)/5.5m ppl) * 100,000 = 15.6 per 100,000 (per year) for Jews
  • ((1300*0.121)/2.5m ppl) * 100,000 = 6.29 per 100,000 (per year) for Muslims
  • ((1300*0.09)/230m ppl) * 100,000 = 0.051 per 100,000 (per year) for roughly all believers of vaguely Christian faiths

This highlights the imbalance between social acceptance of Christians versus other faiths. As a Muslim, you are almost 130 times more likely to be a victim of a hate crime.  Jewish? over 300 times more likely!

This isn’t to say that I am implying that these Christians are attempting to carry out “God’s work” (or that even all these hate crimes were committed by Christians) because I don’t believe that good Christians condone this kind of activity. But the fact that this takes place so much in the US is both appalling and outlines the clear privileged that Christians have in this country. On a more mundane level, and why this bill was introduced in the first place is that it can be hard for a predominantly Christian society to be sensitive to those of an Islamic background – or Jewish, or Hindi or any other religious minorities. The bill was created in recognition of those flaws. It was not an inherently bad thing, and in fact was intended to do good.

The Differences in Indiana’s RFRA

So why is Indiana’s RFRA special? Why is it bad? And why now? Many other states have signed the RFRA into law (Court decided that it had to be ratified by the states and that the federal government couldn’t impose it as a federal law). Hell, even Illinois, my home state, has signed it into law. Obama was happy to do so while he was there (fact checks ew, I think this is right but I’m too lazy to look up a source…). We now see that Indiana has stirred up such a shitstorm, with massive political backlash, and of course bigoted people coming out of the woodwork. Basically, the language in Indiana’s RFRA explicitly stated that a person had protection from having their ability to practice religion burdened by the government and can bring the RFRA up as defense in any court cases, “regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceedings.”(sauce)  This is the important distinction between the federal RFRA (and any other RFRA in effect across the country) and the Indiana RFRA. Why does this matter? It matters because many individuals interpret that as ability to refuse a service due to conflicting religious morals/ideals/etc. and use the RFRA as legal justification (Seuss).  Another key distinction, and I quote directly from the bill a person qualifies as

(1) An individual
(2) An organization, religious society, a church, a body of communicants, or a group organized and operated
primarily for religious purposes.
(3) A partnership, a limited liability company (LLC), a joint-stock company, an unincorporated association,
or another entity that:

  • (A) may sue and be sued; and
  • (B) exercise practices that are compelled or limited by a system of religious belief held by:
    • (i) an individual; or
    • (ii) the individuals who have … ownership of the entity regardless of whether the entity is…
      for profit or nonprofit purposes.


Wow, well this begs the question of what religious beliefs a joint-stock company can hold. I understand that companies are made up of people and these people have religious beliefs. I do not argue that or that person’s right to religious beliefs.

What he does argue

What I do argue is the notion that a public service that is specifically a for profit company can associate itself with a religion and use religious morals as a justification for discrimination. Enter the scenario in which someone creates a religion that specifically hates blacks or Hispanics (or any racial minority for that matter). Then under this bill, a for profit company that, oh, lets say that it is a local bank and no other banks exist in the area, could refuse (or at least has some kind of legal grounds for refusal) to provide its services to any racial minorities, which effectively denies them any reasonable option for that service flat out.

Now this is an extreme scenario but its instructive as to why an arbitrary religious moral is a bad thing to bring into the company. I DO support a company’s ability to deny service but not when the grounds are discrimination. I support a company’s right to enforce its non-religious morals and if someone is being directly disruptive/detrimental to your business, you have the right to deny them service. But a public service (as any business is) and ESPECIALLY a for profit company I do not believe can or should hold religious morals.

Counter to Common Counter-arguments

Now begins the part in which I tackle the ridiculous counter-arguments.  The biggest one that I’ve seen is:

(1) Well you wouldn’t expect a Muslim butcher to provide you with pork would you??? – Every dumbshit ever

Response:  I’m not a fan of name-calling in an argument, but this one is the dumbest argument that one could possibly muster up.  It’s grasping at straws, it’s not even trying.  It’s an attempt at displaying understanding where none exists in order to garner respect to validate one’s opinions. To answer your question, no I wouldn’t and let me tell you why this is a preposterous and unrelated scenario that you’ve concocted to try to marginalize your discrimination. First of all, in Muslim law, Halal is any object/action that is permissible to engage in. Pork is considered haram (forbidden) to Muslims so no, my dearest dumbshit, I would not expect a Muslim butcher or any Muslim business owner to provide me with pork if I so demand. If you possessed any capability for higher thought you’d realize how silly of a comparison this is. Or perhaps you had not put in the higher thought necessary to debunk this argument, in which case I advise you to do so in the future before choosing to regurgitate it and making yourself look like a fool.

Now, the reason that this scenario is ridiculous and unrelated is because the Muslim is not denying you ANYTHING. This business owner has chosen to observe his/her religious beliefs when starting the company.  The entire business model is built upon serving food that observes Halal (forgive me if I use this poorly in speech, I’m just a feeble-minded Midwestern boy who knows little of such things) and so when you request pork at said business, they deny you nothing. It’s like going to a bank and ordering a McDouble, they’re just gonna tell you to fuck off no matter how much you like McDoubles. They are refusing to provide a service that they choose to not provide to ANYONE. This is the key distinguishing factor here.

The problem with refusing to cater a homosexual marriage is that you are refusing to provide a service you would NORMALLY provide on the grounds of an arbitrary religious moral. And I say arbitrary because it part of a subset of any belief that exists for solely(or I guess primarily) religious reasons (which I will touch on more when I wrap this up). This is what I have the biggest problem with. People use religion as a shield to hide their bigotry. I don’t say that you have to agree or condone in any way, although I reserve the right to think of you as narrow-minded for doing so. What I do say is that as a public service, your business has to provide that service to anyone in a non-discriminatory manner. You may still refuse to serve those who are directly disruptive to your business, but your business cannot refuse a service simply based on religious viewpoints. I do not believe a public service should be able to hold religious views. Especially a large company where your religious views may be in direct conflict with many of your employees.

(2) Some Christian faiths consider condoning a sin to be a sin itself (Transference of sin or something
like that, I am unfamiliar with the jargon). – Some Good Little Christian Child

Response: This one won’t be as long-winded because I feel like this one is a bit silly but not nearly the same level of stupid. Its rooted in the Christian belief (at least in some faiths) that in order to have sinned, allowing the sin of another is a sin as well.  More specifically, imagine the scenario in which Bob and Jeff are out cruising the streets and stop at a gas station. Jeff gets out and says to Bob, “Hey, I don’t have any money, but I’m gonna steal a Snickers, do you want one?” Now I’m pretty sure that stealing is a sin, last time I checked. If Bob’s response was “Sure bro, hook me up!” then Bob did not directly participate, but he condoned the action and by the transitive property of sinning (woo math reference), has sinned himself. This is another problem that some people have with providing a service for a homosexual wedding.

My response is simply that you don’t have to condone it! Just don’t be a shitty person! As crass as it is, if someone ordered a cake that said “Mark likes butt sex, for real yo”, I do not believe that you making the cake (as is your duty as a non-discriminatory for profit company) means that you condone the activity. Simple as that. For those of you who don’t agree, my response is that doesn’t God knows the intentions of the heart?  If he truly has a problem with homosexuality, then I think he’s able to see through your physical actions that (oh right) you’re required to do in a non-discriminatory fashion as a public servant (see a theme?).  Providing a service doesn’t mean you condone an action, it means that you’re doing your job.

(3) I think that all businesses should be allowed as to discriminate in every capacity and that public morality and capitalism will determine who stays in business. – Libertarians

Response: Ok, so this probably isn’t just Libertarians and I’m just poking a little bit of fun here.  But this one is going to be a doozy.  My problem with this idea is many-fold. Many people believe that if a business were allowed to discriminate, they would be forced to close due to the power of freedom of choice. Oh boy, where do I start…

Lets begin with blind faith in capitalism. Because capitalism is the best right!? Because fuck yeah, ‘Merica! (Cannon-fire, flag background, bald eagle screech, etc.) Ugh, why? Capitalism does work, in the same sense that your toothbrush works as a toilet bowl brush. It works, yeah, but it’s not really ideal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a socialist and I love my country, but I do think that worship of capitalism is going to get our society nowhere. It is a single solution. Capitalism and socialism are two of any number of possible economic systems that we haven’t devised yet. Capitalism brought us the work hard -> succeed and be happy mentality and is the basis for the “American Dream”. One problem though – that is an idealized system and the American Dream is dead. I’m purely being realistic, but the days of “work hard and you’ll make it” don’t exist any more”. People don’t get jobs by asking any more, and the market is over-saturated with overqualified individuals who happen to all be magically under-qualified for the jobs that they want because “5 years of experience” is plastered over every single job application ever.

That was a bit of a side rant, but coming back to the blind faith part, we must realize that we do not live in an ideal capitalist world. Just like soviet Russia didn’t live in an ideal socialist world.  Our system is better than that but I think its preposterous to assume that our system could stamp out all discriminating businesses. Freedom of choice is what is lauded by the people who think so, but what happens when you don’t have choice? You get Comcast! Yaaaaaay Comcast! No, fuck Comcast, they are literally the worst company on the face of the planet maybe next to cigarette companies (see that one John Oliver episode). But for as many people as they piss off year after year, they continue to get larger, how does that fit into your ideal of capitalism? It doesn’t, they’ve managed to defeat capitalism. They are so widespread and have so little competition, they have nothing to lose by providing the worst service they can muster up. What if Comcast stopped serving racial minorities. Or what if they stopped serving homosexuals?  Guess what!? It doesn’t matter if you prescribe to this belief. Or better yet, what if a regional power provider refused to service them? The internet and electricity are utilities (yay net neutrality! Fuck you Comcast, let us have this one at least) and as such, someone shouldn’t be forced to go without it, presuming they can pay for it (even this is questionable in some instances because of basic human-fucking-decency, but that’s another different rant). My point is, in some instances you don’t have a  choice because there are no options, or both options are equally bad. Small businesses aren’t immune to this effect either. Sometimes a small business fills a key role in a rural area that isn’t teeming with similar businesses. So, it would seem that again, residents don’t actually have freedom of choice and targets of discrimination can end up getting the short end of the stick.

Lastly, I believe that this viewpoint over-estimates the self-imposed moral obligations of your average person. I believe that I am a high functioning individual that makes my choices based off of not just what is good for me, but what is good for many. I also like to think that most of the people who I associate with are of equal mind. But I would be kidding myself if I believed that even the majority of individuals on this planet have the (i) moral standards, (ii) lack of apathy, (iii) lack of social stigma regarding underprivileged groups. All three of these things are required by the majority of customers to put a business under for exhibiting amoral behavior (as defined by social consensus). And sometimes, you could have all of these things, but maybe it just doesn’t make sense financially to use the alternative.  After all, you have to take care of yourself first right? (I’m not being sarcastic with this comment either, even though it reads like it.)  Hardship is a huge driving force, and when it comes down to it, you have to take care of your own.  This may not allow you to live up to the moral standards that you wish to.

And lets not forget that hatred breeds hatred. If we let these things come back into our society or exist in our society without repercussions, I would expect to see a resurgence in hatred and discrimination in our day-to-day lives, not just in businesses. Hatred is like a disease, it spreads and infects everything around it. Only by devising the proper social constructs can we ensure that we can move past such times in human history.

Wrapping Up

So this has been so much more than I intended to write about this, but I think that it was all stuff that I needed to say. Basically, I think that the whole idea of a RFRA allowing the refusal of service based solely off of religious beliefs is ridiculous. It follows the universal rule of “don’t be shitty”. You’re not gonna go to hell for knowingly baking a cake for a homosexual because you don’t have to condone it.  I think you should, but this isn’t about what I think about homosexuality, it’s what I think about how everyone should treat it. And Christianity is not something that needs protecting in this country. The reason why we take it out of schools is because we separate church and state as we always have (or should have). The reason we craft neutral terms is because we want to be a great inclusive country.  The puritanical viewpoints that this country was founded on and that we so desperately cling to have been shown by the rest of the world to be restraining in terms of progress. No one is oppressing your right to religious freedom, just removing the privilege you get by being associated with a particular one.  Do what you do in good will and no one reasonable will detest you for your religious views.

Discrimination in any capacity is bad. As a society, we shouldn’t continue to make the same mistakes, but we seemingly do. All of this screams of the racial discrimination of the past, just re-branded for sexual orientation. They were born this way, I was born my way. Just because they’re different from me doesn’t make them inferior in any way. And because I am a part of a majority doesn’t mean I am superior.

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