In 1754, the colonial legislature in Georgia passed a statute titled “An act to draw a line between the good people of this state and the enemies thereof.” The text of that act has been lost for many years and all we have left is the title.
So for more than 260 years the people of Georgia have been quarreling over the question of who are the good people and who are the enemies. Where should the line be drawn? Or should it be? Sadly, the same argument has spread across the land today. And the division on an answer continues to expand.
Many state legislative bodies have decided on their answers. At last count there were more than 100 bills in at least 22 states that deal with who should use public restrooms, on same-sex marriage, denial of services to LGBT people, voting rights, and what are called pastor protection and religious freedom laws.
There seems to be a trend in that portfolio of bills as to who those legislators believe are the good people and who are the enemies.
In the past year restrictive voting legislation has been introduced in more than 40 states and many bills have passed. The most prevalent one centers on the need to have a photo ID to vote. We have to counter fraud, the proponents claim, even though there has been little or no evidence that there is much fraud, if any.
A few states have pending bills that will allow state adoption agencies to refuse services to same-sex couples based on religious beliefs, without questioning what is best for the children involved.
And there are others: Bills to require public universities to provide funds to student groups, even if those groups discriminate against LGBT people on religious beliefs; allowing health professionals to do the same thing; and a bill that would forbid local governments from passing any nondiscrimination protections that are broader than any at the state level.
Where and when will it end? As President Lyndon Johnson once said, “Until we overcome unequal history, we cannot overcome unequal opportunity.”
At least the governor of today’s Georgia, Nathan Deal, knew where the line existed when he vetoed an alleged “religious liberty act” that would have blatantly discriminated against the LGBT community. Don’t question why he did it, just applaud that he did it.
Facing pressure from the business community, then-Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a 2014 bill that would have allowed businesses to use religious beliefs to deny services to LGBT customers.
Even the arch-conservative Indiana Gov. Mike Pence flinched after being smacked around in the media. He signed an amended version of a similar anti-LGBT bill that was only slightly less noxious than the original.
How long will we continue acting like kids in a schoolyard shouting that my bigot bills are bigger and better than your bigot bills, a somewhat PG version of the anatomical exchange that we heard between Donald Trump and Marco Rubio earlier this year?
Forgive my naiveté, but I believe that the lost line between the good people and the enemies can be drawn in a somewhat permanent position.
The good people are the healers and the helpers, those who give of themselves to give to others, who fight against indifference and institutional racism and sexism, and all of the “isms” that clot the nation’s bloodstream.
The good people are those who acknowledge that some progress has been made but are deeply dissatisfied by what remains to be done.
The good people are those who recognize that millions of men and women have not been allowed full membership in our society because of the color of their skin, or their sexuality, or their gender, or, as we are experiencing more and more, their different religious beliefs.
The enemies are the takers, those who grasp for power solely for the exercise of power or for selfish reasons. The enemies are those who are not willing to seek out common interests and engage in common efforts to achieve common goals, those whose shouts of resistance and exclusion drown out the cries for acceptance and inclusion.
Does anybody have a Magic Marker?
Gregory Favre is the former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and retired vice president of news for the McClatchy Co. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.