While conservatives scramble to quell the furor caused by the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by the Indiana State Legislature, describing it all as a big misunderstanding, I would suggest that whatever the law’s “real” intent, it is largely irrelevant now. The legislation has become a cultural gestalt, something different from and something more than itself which betrays the absurd intrusion of religion in the quasi-democratic values and priorities that drag on American society today.
Serious people can debate the “real” intent of the law. Go at it. What matters now are the lines drawn on either of what people think the law means. At the heart of the disagreement is a flawed notion of who — and quite literally what — has rights and how they should be exercised and protected. On one side of this disagreement, religion has merely become an abused prop for weak arguments.
For example, a friend posted on Facebook her support for Apple CEO Tim Cook, a gay man, who wrote an opinion critical of the Indiana legislation. Comments to her post were hostile, not only attacking Tim Cook and his position, but my friend as well.
Most of these posts I would not share, but part of one serves my purpose here. It is the following:
“Equality doesn’t mean people need to sin for homosexuals. If businesses morally believe that homosexuality is wrong they shouldn’t be made to partake. That isn’t freedom.”
There is a lot of moral judgement — and prejudice — in this genuinely misinformed comment. In particular I am puzzled by the idea that “if businesses morally believe that homosexuality is wrong they shouldn’t be made to partake.” How, exactly, does a business believe anything?
Now I presume our critic really means a business owner shouldn’t need to “partake” and “sin” because doing so “isn’t freedom.” (That raises questions, too, ones that are not entirely irrelevant. What does this person think a business owner might be coerced to do that would be a sin?)
In the real world, businesses are tools. They are a means of organizing an endeavor and an enterprise. To say that a business “believes” anything is nothing different than saying a hammer believes X or Y. It is absurd.
And a business owner is someone who owns a tool. A business owner should not be allowed to use that tool to attack or oppose the rights of another person anymore than he should be allowed to use a hammer to do so. It is that simple.
For pragmatic reasons Indiana likely will change it is poorly conceived “freedom act”, but that doesn’t change the underlying issues. Increasingly, making claims for religious freedom has replaced both thoughtfulness and tolerance in our society. You might think religion would inspire just the opposite, but too often it doesn’t. And maybe that’s the case because all of this isn’t about religion in the first place. Not really.