Editors' Note: Guest blogger Warren J. Blumenfeld is a professor in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Governor Jan Brewer, as you consider signing SB 1062, a bill recently passed by both houses of your Arizona legislature and now sitting on your desk, I ask you to think seriously about the issues this bill raises, namely balancing a business owner's freedom of religion with the public's freedom in public accommodations.
As you are well aware, the bill reads as follows:
"'Exercise of religion' means the practice or observance of religion, including the ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief."
I find the wording vague and arbitrary at best, but I think you understand at least the law's initial intent: to allow businesses to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* (LGBT) clients and customers on the basis of religious "values."
During open debate, Arizona legislators who quoted Scripture referred primarily to Leviticus 18:22: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination."
This actually surprises me since the primary proponents of this bill represent conservative Christian denominations, while this statement derives from a section of the Jewish Bible. Do these same Christians follow all 613 commandments referred to in the Jewish Bible?
My understanding is that Christians expressly extracted only ten while dismissing the remainder.
If not, do they follow other laws of Leviticus? For example, its dietary mandates:
"[T]hese [animals] you shall not eat among those that chew the cud or those that have cloven hooves:...the hare, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; and the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you." (Leviticus 11: 1-8)
Wow, if all residents of our country followed this commandment, farmers in Iowa, the state of my former residence, would face bankruptcy, and the state itself would lose a substantial source of revenue owing to the fact that Iowa stands as the largest producer and exporter of pork products among all the 50 states.
Then again, why stop at Leviticus? Many Christians also like to quote Exodus as well. Though I don't know any Jewish people who abide by this mandate, do you know any Christians who do?
"And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death. And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death." (Exodus 21: 15 & 17).
If you sign the bill into law, does this mean that not only parents but shop owners as well could murder youth with impunity if they, say, refuse to chow down their Chick-fil-A sandwich or Domino's pizza slice?
While the bill passed legislative muster purportedly to ensure businesses the "religious freedom" to deny service to LGBT people, where will this alleged "freedom" end? Let's look at the Christian testaments themselves. Would owners have the "freedom" to adhere to the following passages that could be used to justify denying Jewish people service?
"[T]he Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, the Jews who are heedless of God's will and enemies of their fellow man....All this time they have been making up the full measure of their guilt, and now retribution has overtaken the good of all." (1 Thessalonians 15-16)
And of course, what about our supposed infamous connection to the Devil?
And Jesus said: "If God were your father, you would love me...[but] your father is the devil and you choose to carry out your father's desires." (John 8:44) "The Jews...are Satan's synagogue." (Revelation 2:9) "I will make those of Satan's synagogue, who claim to be Jews but are lying frauds, come and fall down at your feet." (Revelation 3:9)
So could a shop owner deny me the experience of floating in a hot tub? Taking this further, could someone legally justify smashing my shop window on the alleged charge that I "killed the Lord"?
I realize this is a bit indelicate, but what about any male who has undergone circumcision?
"Christ set us free, to be free men. Stand firm, then, and refuse to be tied to the yoke of slavery again. Mark my words: I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will do you no good at all." (Galatians 5: 1-6)
I'm sure you realize this, but we can't simply grow back our foreskin to be given the right to eat hot dogs at our local cineplex. Would we "cut" males, therefore, not be accorded service?
And, Governor Jan, what about an interracial couple? Let's not forget the words of Judge Leon M. Bazile, who convicted an interracial couple, Richard Perry Loving and Mildred Delores Jeeter, for violating Virginia's 1924 so-called "Act to Preserve Racial Integrity" by engaging in sexual relations and marrying. This law and many others like it throughout the country rested on supposed "Biblical principles."
"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix."
Bazile based his judgment on Christian scripture, which justifies and condones the institution of slavery, including most notably:
"Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart." (Ephesians 6: 5-6)
Also, would these owners be able to deny feminists service? What about unmarried pregnant woman? What about women who chose to have an abortion? And what about the unmarried heterosexual couple who choose to live together?
"But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God." (1 Corinthians 11: 3) "Truly children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward." (Psalm 127:3) "We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day." (1 Corinthians 10:8)
In addition, if you sign the bill into law, could we non-Christians also discriminate by denying services to Christian evangelicals?
Governor Jan, if you sign this bill, you will be contributing to the further decline in Arizona's already wretched reputation due to your state's merciless attacks on the human and civil rights of its residents. As you know, a contentious and acrimonious debate occurred in your state around whether to officially recognize Martin Luther Jr. Day, which lasted literally decades after most other states certified the holiday.
Arizona's passage of SB 1070 in 2010, mandating that police officers stop and question people about immigration status if they suspect they may be in this country illegally, set the stage for massive boycotts of your state and instigated court challenges. And the reaction of your state legislature to decertify the popular and successful public school Ethnic Studies programs, and to ban important books like Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed from Arizona schools, stands as some of the most prejudicial, discriminatory, and pedagogically unjustified actions in the history of U.S. public education.
To be quite frank, I can't see how two women purchasing a sweet wedding cake or two men sharing a romantic meal in a nice restaurant could offend God. If God exists, what would be most offensive is using God's name to justify oppression.
So, Governor Jan, in making your decision about whether to sign the bill, if you feel compelled to regard Biblical justifications, you would do well to consider this one rather than those expressed during the legislative debate:
"If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers." (James 2: 8-9)
Rainbow Bible image by David W. Shelton of Skipping to the Piccolo.