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KENNEDY: Playing ‘Who’s the Bigot?’

July 25, 2015

Sheila Suess KennedyThe Indianapolis Star reports that, in the wake of Angie’s List’s emphatic and public opposition to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Indiana Family Association has placed the company on its map of “anti-religious bigots.”

Randy Sharp, AFA’s director of special projects, said the group considers all opposition to RFRA to be bigotry.

“Every person in America deserves the right to express their faith at work, at home or at play,” he said. “RFRA protected the Christian baker whose religious views would not allow them to bake a cake for a gay wedding. It would prevent the Christian printer from having to print a T-shirt for a gay pride parade in violation of their religion.”

This is precisely the argument made by opponents of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, who claimed that their religious beliefs required separation of the races, and that those beliefs should trump the rights of black citizens who wanted to shop in their stores or eat in their restaurants.

Given all of the overheated rhetoric around this issue, you might think that measures like RFRA are needed to protect a monolithic and undifferentiated Christianity from a vast secular army bent on its destruction. Mike Huckabee has warned that the “criminalization of Christianity” is imminent; Sean Hannity recently proclaimed that the “three most persecuted groups in America today are Christians, the wealthy, and white males.”

I don’t know what planet Huckabee and Hannity live on, and there is no point in debating people who’ve clearly been drinking the Kool-Aid. But as a non-Christian, I do want to stick up for the numerous thoughtful and actually “Christian” Christians who are getting a bad name from the culture warriors who claim to speak for them.

I know a lot of Christians who read their Bibles for clues on how to be better, kinder people, rather than for evidence of their moral superiority and their right to tell everyone else how to live.

In fact, the only “embattled” Christians I’m aware of are the theocrats who find it intolerable to live under a system that accords heretics and nonbelievers an equal place at the civic table.

The truly ironic statement in the Star’s article, however, was this:

“Why engage in a social issue that can do damage to your company?” Sharp said. “The best thing he could have done was keep his mouth shut and run his business.”

File under do as I say, not as I do.

Let’s say I own a bakery, and Mrs. Unpleasant asks me to bake a cake. Do I say, “Listen, you shrew, I don’t cater to impossible biddies, go somewhere else”? Of course not—at least not if I have any brain cells. Instead, I say, “I’d love to, but I am so backed up with orders, I can’t squeeze this in.”

So, this time it’s Adam and Steve, and they want a wedding cake. Wouldn’t I use the same sort of excuse? Who is compelling bakers to declaim, “Oh no, my Lord has commanded that I not participate in your sinful nuptials!”

Apparently, what these “godly” folks really want isn’t just the right to refrain from participating; they want the right to scorn and humiliate any hapless LGBT folks unwary enough to patronize their establishments.

They don’t just want the right to “opt out” of baking that cake; they want to be able to advertise their superior “godliness” without worrying about some silly legal commitment to equality or civility.•

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Kennedy is a professor of law and public policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. She blogs regularly at www.sheilakennedy.net. She can be reached at skennedy@ibj.com. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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