RFRA wind-down

With that hopeful title, and with Orthodox Holy Week coming, I offer what I intend as my last word on Indiana’s RFRA battles of the last two weeks. I may even go on a “media fast” to avoid sullying Holy Week with agitation and ill-feelings like those of this week in particular. If you’re wondering whether you should sully your Holy Week by reading further, be assured that I’ve tried to be objective and irenic.

With that intention, I offer as my closing thoughts an edited version of something that someone put up on Facebook Saturday morning, in response to his brother-in-law. It remarkably reproduces my sentiments exactly, at least as those sentiments have been honed by the occasionally enlightening (rather than inflaming) discussions of late.

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I’m so out of politics, I had no idea a RFRA was being forwarded in Indiana until the furor hit; then I had to take a crash course on what the Indiana iteration said, and how it supposedly differed from those in other states.

What I missed in focusing on what the law said and thus what it did (silly me, thinking like a lawyer instead of a PR guy or a powerbroker) – and what I still think the press gave too much sinister significance to – is who were the “interest groups” that pushed for it: notably, 3 Religious Right groups/figures in the state, with the most odious of the three leading the charge, perhaps misrepresenting the law to his own followers. (I can’t bear sliming myself by going to his website/blog/etc to see how he may have been selling it.)

Mark Movesian at First Things warned the, oh, three or four people in the cosmos who want to deny bubble gum and baseball cards to gays and lesbians, that Indiana RFRA did not give them a right to do so, even before Thursday’s “fix.” It might have given them a defense to raise, but the defense was no slam dunk when it came to simple “I don’t want to deal with These People” bigotry. (I’m prescinding the question of whether we’ve labeled too many entities “public accommodations” that mustn’t “discriminate.”)
But no significant constituency in Indiana planned mass boycotts of gay dollars or “straight only” signs on their doors. This is news only to those who distrust their fellow Americans even more than I do.

A distinct case is posed by the artisan bakers, photographers, florists (and counting) who for reasons of conscience won’t create a custom product or do custom services in celebration of same-sex weddings. I was going to call it a “tougher case,” but for me it’s not: if sincere (and why would they turn down business and risk bad PR if they aren’t?), they shouldn’t be compelled to express what they don’t believe. Your mileage may vary from that, but I think my opinion is better rooted in fundamental American law – assuming the law still has something to do with court outcomes, and it’s not all power plays and irrational “distortion factors.”

So far, the courts have been unable to distinguish the two, and my position has lost. But the Saint Patrick’s Day paraders in Boston (who rejected an Irish GLBTetcetera group) lost repeatedly, too, enduring even mockery from Judges, until they won unanimously in the Supreme Court, not on religious grounds, but on free speech grounds. “One important manifestation of the principle of free speech is that one who chooses to speak may also decide what not to say.” That was the notoriously right-wing fundamentalist David Souter writing, by the way.

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Sorry. One more comment. I don’t think I had yet commended Rod Dreher’s extended quote from his reader “Raskolnik.” I do so now.

Raskolnik offers the sociologist (or was she “anthropologist”?) Mary Douglas’ idea of a “condensed symbol” – certain practices or ideas that become a kind of shorthand for a whole worldview. Same-sex marriage may have become a condensed symbol, in the WEIRD world, of Christian resistance to secularism writ large,  participation as equivalent to worshipping a false God with the proverbial “pinch of incense.”

Advocacy of same-sex marriage, of course, is a condensed symbol of the hagiographical version of Selma, with recusants in the role of Bull Conner.

So I’m likely to be back after Holy Week, but RFRA per se may have faded by then, and Indiana’s alignment with the zeitgeist may have been completed. Sigh.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.