It's My RELIGION, Stupid!
Religion has held a place in America's political and emotional landscape far greater than in most countries in recent history: the reverence paid to all things religious has been so resolute, so fierce, that whenever religion enters an arena, it is taken for granted that religion will gain the upper hand.*
Religion in America has always gotten special privileges. Tax exemption is one, of course, but it has always been given the privilege to discriminate: it rarely has to "put up with" anything. After all, telling religion that it MUST do something is akin to ordering around God. Religion may be God's representative, but Americans have a tendency to equate the two instead.
Perhaps that's why the relatively small fracas in Arizona caught the attention of the American public: in an article titled Arizona on Steriods, Think Progress wonders if the Supreme Court will make the ultimate decision on discrimination:
Unfortunately, Arizona is far from the only state where lawmakers are contemplating bills that would give the government, private businesses, and others the a license to discriminate under the guise of “religious liberty.” As Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards wrote yesterday, “this didn’t start with Arizona, and it won’t end with Arizona.”
Freedom To Discriminate
For years, the gay rights movement has described itself as one of civil rights, with a great many people (especially African Americans) aghast at the idea that the two were ever alike. The situation in Arizona, however, gave more credence to the gay-rights-as-civil-rights meme than the Christian Right imagined: in other words, while crying for "religious freedom", it had to admit to another freedom it already had - the freedom to discriminate. Rich Lowry of the National Review stated as much (see below): Arizona SB 1062 was simply attempting to define a form of discrimination that was already on the books, and it was clearly aimed at discrimination against gays. It's undoing was it's broad terminology - so broad that it could be used to discriminate against anyone else for any number of reasons as long as providing the service or goods to someone was "against my religion." Gays were not only grouped in with unwed mothers and prostitutes, they were lost in a vast sea of people one's religion might not abide: discrimination is limited only to the thousands of doctrinal variants.
The Coming War
The weapons used in any war depend upon who you are attacking, and the weapons of choice by the Christian Right will be the Bible and the Constitution, both used in the legislatures and the courts. To some, this might seem an unfair advantage, given America's reverence for religion: the enemy seems only to have the Constitution. But there is another weapon - totally ethical - which now eludes the Christian Right: America's conscience, it's sense of fairness.
The strategy of the Christian Right in terms of it's newly found cry of "religious freedom" will be to pitch each battle individually in each state, just as it has in its front on abortion. The battles will be won easily in states like Alabama and Mississippi, but expect blood to be shed in other states.
The coming war may seem to some to be bloodless, a battle for the rights of bakers to refuse to make wedding cakes for gay couples. Indeed, this is how the Right is portraying the whole confrontation: "We insist on our religious freedom to discriminate. Just go to another bakery!" This, however, is but a pretense: the implications and ramifications are far reaching and the Right can see victory on other fronts: discrimination can seep into the very fabric of America while under the guise of religion.
And the Christian Right is still a formidable adversary - formidable to inflict wounds into gay rights, pro choice and other progressive movements. Spurred on by its own wounds from federal court reversals, the Christian Right feels that it is fighting for its life.
... and it's "freedom."
*Case in point: the title "Reverend". The title is legal in over 28 states, giving the title holder the authority to perform marriages and conduct funerals regardless of which institution (if any) bestowed it on the holder. Yes, it's the reason I am able to call myself (legally), "Rev. Dan". To me, it is not only a statement of faith and commitment to the basic truths of Christianity, but also an acknowledgement of my studies in today's theologies. But while I consider my right to it as legitimate as anyone else's, there are others who take umbrage and consider it an offense to the clergy.