Thursday, November 02, 2017

When religious liberty was used to justify racism instead of homophobia . . .

Zack Ford of ThinkProgress has just published an excellent piece about the upcoming SCOTUS case involving  the baker attempting to use his religious beliefs as an excuse to not serve gay couples.

In 8 arguments against the anti-gay baker you may not have considered, Ford looks at the amicus briefs submitted in the case on behalf of the gay couple. It's all a fascinating read which proves that this is not a case simply about baking a cake.

One brief I found interesting in particular was by the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund. Apparently the idea of using religious liberty as a way to deny services was already litigated in the courts. But that particular case had to do with racial discrimination:

One particular amicus brief makes perhaps the most compelling argument that the Masterpiece Cakeshop case poses a threat to all civil rights. Here’s how the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund describes it: 
This case involves a familiar story: Three customers walk into a small business that sells specialty foods. The owner is said to be an “artist” for his unique culinary skills and believes his religious convictions imbue his work. The owner turns the customers away entirely or denies them access to the full range of his products because these religious beliefs forbid him from serving a particular group of persons. When the owner is challenged in court regarding his refusal to serve the customers, he claims that the First Amendment should abrogate public accommodations laws and immunize his refusal to provide service. 
This portrays what occurred in 2012 to Mr. Mullins, Mr. Craig, and Ms. Munn in the instant case—but it also describes what transpired in 1964 to three African-American customers at a barbeque restaurant in South Carolina, which led to this Court’s seminal case addressing racial discrimination in public accommodations. 
The NAACP is referring to the case Newman v. Piggie Park, which it litigated. And exactly as the organization describes, an “artist” of barbecue, Maurice Bessinger, denied service to customers on account of their race and argued that he was simply following his religious beliefs. The Supreme Court outright rejected these arguments and ruled that the discrimination was not justified. It’s an informative case because 50 years have passed and it’s clear there were no consequences to ruling against the owner’s “religious freedom.”
“The Court’s 1968 ruling did not induce a major backlash or give rise to some new wave of religious disputes in the courts or in public life,” the brief points out. “It did not impede religious institutions from their important and constitutionally protected activities. It did not impinge upon the commercial success or culinary artistry of barbeque specialists or other caterers.” 
The NAACP brief also rejects the notion that distinguishing between race and sexual orientation is justified. “At the time Piggie Park was decided, Mr. Bessinger’s religious beliefs were relatively mainstream,” it explains. “Far from viewed as fringe or disingenuous at the time, Mr. Bessinger enjoyed considerable political traction and became a statewide political figure.” A footnote adds that local news reports discussed his beliefs as legitimate and some were even “downright sympathetic.” In fact, Bessinger collected thousands of signatures to launch his own political party and later ran for governor of South Carolina.

Hopefully in spite of the political climate, SCOTUS today will have as much common sense as the court did back then. No matter how much you use deceptive phrasing to make it sound palpable, "religious liberty" is nothing more than a weapon to keep the so-called undesirables under heel.

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