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Jesus may be your personal savior but not your personal property

Personally, I got a loud and persistent alarm bell in my mind when, long ago, I saw the emerging evangelical Christians of the Seventies waving one finger around in their affirmation of the "one way" system of salvation, the One Way being conversion to evangelical Christianity.

Shortly afterwards the growing evangelical community sought to appropriate the word "Christian" as being descriptive of their faith only, which I am sure didn't go over well at all with Catholics. Right now, a couple of generations later, they are seeking to take over the civil government of the United States with such actions as the anti-gay legislation in Arizona known as SB 1060. The bill, which was so broadly worded as to permit widespread against almost any group by any other group, including denial of services such as health care, was vetoed by Arizona's governor after she experienced a rare moment of living in the reality-based community.

They are definitely seeking to codify the evangelical definition of Christianity at the expense even of other Christian denominations, such as Episcopalians who have full spiritual equality that extends to ordained clergy who are LGBT all the way from deacons to bishops (the highest clerical rank in the Episcopal Church).

The argument that was advanced in Arizona recently in SB 1060 has to do with a deliberate misconstruction of the concept of religious freedom. The intent of the Constitution of the United States is that there should be no religion of state in this country. Citizens and visitors are free to practice their faith in any expression that does not violate civil law.

The intent of Arizona's SB 1060, however, was different in that it was meant to allow public discrimination against one group of citizens by another group that would be deemed, by definition, superior before the law to the first group. It is an attempt to make laws that protect the personal taste and emotions of a group of people who may be, temporarily, in a position of power. However, in the Constitution there is no protection clause that holds one group superior to another; that is why the provision in question is referred to as the Equal Protection Clause.

This never ends well; we see it in the many years of history in Europe when Jewish citizens were hounded and persecuted even by (and especially by) the Church. But its success, and the success of all laws that seek to codify hatred depends entirely on misunderstanding. A caller on my favorite radio talk show, the Randi Rhodes program that you can stream live from KPHX Radio in Phoenix, pointed out that there would be a quick reaction if Mexican restaurants in Arizona began posting window signs that say, "No Gringos."

But how does it work? Don't ask Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) because he does not know. He is comfortable with owners of private business discriminating against people they don't like. After all, says Paul, it is a privately-owned business. But most private businesses deal with the general public, and as such, they are subject to civil law. So how does it work, really?

Let's use the example that springs to my mind. The Walmart Corporation has two well-known franchise store lines: Walmart itself and also Sam's Club. Everyone can shop at Walmart, but is that also true of Sam's Club?

Well, no: Sam's Club and a similar line of stores, Costco, are membership stores. If I walk into either of them I will be asked to show my membership card before I can purchase there. And this is not against the law, because the stores are structured in the membership model.

It is a possible point of legal contention to consider whether a members-only store could refuse customers who are members but who are, for example, African American. The issue could be dealt with when you apply for membership; a question could ask, "Are you LGBT or African American?" and the responses could be treated as qualifiers. That is, if you answer Yes to either classification your application could be refused. This is possible if you apply for membership in a club, but it is not acceptable if you are applying, for example, for a credit card.

So the general public is allowed, under American law, to shop in businesses that may be privately owned. But if the store is not members-only, it may not discriminate, which is to say for example, they cannot post a sign in the parking lot that says, "For Whites Only."

I think this is too hard for Senator Paul. The idea that a photographer must deal with the general public as such is incomprehensible to him. The idea that a group of people can get together and form a photography club, and deal only with each other (and/or allow recommendations) is something that apparently has never entered his mind, possibly because he has never had his staff look it up and plagiarize the material into one of his speeches.

Of course, it is also customary for a state to have standards for practitioners of various medical specialties; Paul calls himself an ophthalmologist but he is not board-certified and licensed in his state. I wouldn't advise my worst enemy to make an appointment with his office.

But this is the slippery slope that Republicans are on. Hand in hand with people who call themselves Christians, they are heading for a police state that keeps people from standing in certain lines and receiving everyday services. This could extend to you, if you happen to be driving late at night and the desk clerk of a motel comes from a different faith than you (or thinks s/he does). She or he just might refuse accommodations to you. Keep driving, bub, we don't serve your kind here.

So are we clear now? Whether your business is privately owned or not, if you open your doors to the public, you must serve all patrons under American law. If you want to restrict your clientele to those of whom you approve (not a good business model, by the way) you can form a members-only business and deal with your own kind. Go ahead and do it! You won't be alone--the evangelical Christians got into the home-schooling and private/charter school business decades ago when they couldn't seize the curriculum of the public schools, although they are still trying.

For more info: I Tweeted out an article from the Huffington Post that created an excellent example of how the Arizona law would have, or could have worked. If you don't get my Tweets, find the article here:

The Randi Rhodes show airs on KPHX Radio in Phoenix from 1:00 to 4:00 p. m. at this time of year. In the fall it will go back to noon until 3:00 p.m.

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