The current debate about the need to protect “religious freedom” reminds me in some ways of another debate that took place in this country in 1883, the year that the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which provided that “all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land and water, theaters, and other places of public amusement. . . .” was unconstitutional. In explaining its decision the majority of the Court found that private acts of discrimination were simply private acts that the federal government was powerless to correct.
In the wake of the 1883 decision “indignation meetings” were held across the country in protest of the Court’s ruling; a ruling that paved the way for almost a century of racial segregation. The 1883 decision was not overturned by Congress until the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The religious liberty act, so-called, professes to protect acts of discrimination because they are private acts of conscience that the government is powerless to correct. Let us assume for a moment that state legislatures and the courts want to return to 1883, and reverse the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One of the basic principles of a good law is that it can be enforced. How will we protect the religious freedom of those who want to discriminate against gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and transgender persons? Obviously since the color of the offenders skin will not serve as an identity badge, we will need something else. We will have to enact legislation that will allow us to identify the people we want to discriminate against. Perhaps we could require them to wear a pink triangle?
Reverend David Hansen
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