So maybe experience is not all it’s cracked up to be.
I mean, if experience were really the teacher the axiom claims, the state of Florida would not be threatening to lumber down the same thorny path from which Indiana and Arkansas so recently retreated in humiliation. Both those states, you will recall, attempted to impose so-called “religious freedom” laws earlier this year that would have allowed businesses to refuse services to gay men and lesbians.
These attempts to dust off Jim Crow were beaten back when businesses condemned the laws and conventions started looking for new places to convene. But apparently, Florida was not paying attention. Or at least, state Rep. Julio Gonzalez wasn’t.
Last week, Gonzalez filed a so-called religious freedom protection bill that would allow any health care provider to refuse services, except in emergency cases, to any person who violated the provider’s moral or religious conscience. The bill doesn’t mention sexual orientation, but is clearly aimed at gay people. On the other hand, given how broadly one may define moral or religious conscience, it would also include women seeking contraception.
And there’s more. The bill empowers adoption agencies to refuse to place children in homes contrary to the agency’s religious convictions. Again, given how broadly that term may be defined, that could include the home of two lesbians, but it might also include a Muslim home, an atheist home or even a home whose definition of Christianity does not jibe with the agency’s. Finally, the bill also allows individuals and small companies to refuse service on the same grounds.
“This is not about discriminating,” Gonzalez told the Herald-Tribune newspaper in Sarasota. But it is about exactly that.
Given what happened in Arkansas and Indiana and that Florida is a tourist-dependent state, it is hard to imagine this bill ever becoming law. But its very existence suggests the lengths to which the forces of recalcitrance and resistance are willing to go to carve out some kind of official exemption for their bigotry.
They always define that exemption as an article of faith, as if ostracism were some core tenet of the gospel of Christ. But it isn’t. Indeed, Jesus was famously inclusive, openly consorting with prostitutes, paralytics, lepers, tax collectors, women and other second-class citizens of the 1st century.
Moreover, it is telling how narrowly some of us define that which offends religious conscience. Consider: We live in a country that throws away 70 billion pounds of food a year, while 14 percent of us don’t know where our next meal is coming from. The Washington Post recently reported that toddlers with guns kill or injure themselves or others roughly once a week on average. Yet if things like that trouble anyone’s religious sensibilities, their cries have yet to reach my ears.
But let someone order a cake with two men on top and suddenly the moral klaxons are blaring.
You know what affronts my moral conscience? This habit of using God as a cudgel against his most vulnerable people. You have to wonder how many of those who could use the solace faith brings have instead been driven away from faith, made irredeemably hostile toward it, by small-minded people who exclude them in the name of God.
I remember chatting once with some gay men who seemed attracted to the promise of faith, but were repelled by the expression of it they had seen in churches, where they were regarded as outcasts and rejects. Sadly, I was never able to convince them that that humiliating treatment was not the sum and totality of faith. Now, here comes Julio Gonzalez, eager to give that kind of mistreatment the imprimatur of law.
He sees it as a matter of conscience. Really, it’s about the massive failure thereof.
Leonard Pitts Jr.’s via email is firstname.lastname@example.org.