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Religious freedom, Ted Cruz and the NFL

Sign in a business in the pre-Civil Rights Act south.
Sign in a business in the pre-Civil Rights Act south.
Ben Shahn, released to public domain by the US Government

The now dearly departed and allegedly reverend Fred Phelps put it clearly and starkly: “God hates fags.” Some of the more sophisticated evangelical theologians, which is pretty much all of them, suggest one should “hate the sin, love the sinner”. For those disposed to hate, well, something involving homosexuality, determining how that hatred is apportioned (between sin and sinner) can be seen in practice.

Arguably, laws prohibiting gay marriage are aimed at “the sin”, since marriage implies sex. The “sinner” in that case – the person wishing to get married – might feel personally punished, but at least there is a talking point for those who feel the need to justify it. But when proposed laws keep people from access to goods and services, including lodging, food and other necessities of life, one starts to wonder if whispeers from the ghost of Fred Phelps aren't being heard in the proposal. And when someone proposes to interfere with a gay person being hired by someone else, for a job that has nothing to do with homosexuality, old Fred would seem to be positively shouting.

As court after court has struck down restrictions on gay marriage, the Christian right has taken a different tack: “religious liberty” laws designed to keep Christians from the indignity of having to actually have anything to do with gays. You think your religion opposes homosexuality? Fine, keep them away from your lunch counter. Have a law to let you do it. And such laws have been introduced in several states, and at the national level.

Haven't we been there before? In the 1950s and 1960s? Did we learn anything in those days?

In the pre-Civil Rights Law days, the “sin”, of course, was being born black, and it was common in many places to deny blacks access to public accommodations. Hate the sin, don't you know. The lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro and elsewhere were signs of a national disgrace. But these proposed laws would re-authorize them, just for a different class of “sinner”.

Senator Ted Cruz, who yearns to be Commander in Chief, has for the time being assumed the role of Complainer in Chief. He is a strong supporter of these laws. It is, it seems, a matter of “religious liberty” not to serve gay folks at your lunch counter, or allow them to buy cakes, or, well, pretty much anything. If you think your religion “hates the sin”, Cruz would visit the fruits of that on “the sinner” to protect your religious sensibilities.

“Everyone has to reconcile their own faith with how they interact with others, and that’s a choice you’ve got to make based on your understanding of biblical teachings and based on the best understanding you can come to it . . . , I don’t think the law should be forcing Americans to violate their religious faith.” Cruz said.

Now, Cruz being a politician and all, we have to expect certain kinds of behaviors, among them flat out lies in service of his cause. And Cruz serves one up, a claimed example of his position:

“The Obama administration is litigating against the Little Sisters of the Poor, trying to force them, trying to extract millions of dollars of fines to force them to pay for contraceptives and abortion-providing drugs for others,” he said.

Except, that is not true. The Little Sisters oppose contraceptives and abortion-providing drugs, to be sure. The administration is trying to force them to say, in writing, on a waiver request, that they oppose contraceptives and abortion-providing drugs. And they won't do it.

If they refuse, of course, then all those millions of dollars of penalties apply. But if they sign, which is what the administration wants, what happens? Uh, well . . . nothing happens.

See, if the Little Sisters just sign a form that says what they say their position is, their employees will not be given contraceptive and abortion-providing drugs and services. That's because their health care insurer is itself religiously affiliated, and is exempt from the requirement.

So, here's the deal: if they sign the form, nothing happens. Nothing at all. Their employees don't get those drugs and services now; they will not get them afterwards. Nothing changes, The whole lawsuit is about them signing a form, not about employees getting any benefits.

But Cruz' mendacity is, by now, so routine that it should hardly come as a surprise. What does come as a surprise is the open, full on assault on Michael Sam in the name of “religious freedom.” For this one, the ghost of Fred Phelps is practically shouting out loud, so brutally direct and obvious is the hatred.

You see, Mr. Sam is a talented football player, and is gay. Prior to the 2014 National Football League daft, a lobbyist for several Republican politicians and Christian organizations announced that, “he would 'leverage his political clout' to ensure that the franchise that selects the 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive end from Missouri would get 'roughed up financially.' 'We shall exercise our First Amendment rights and shall not stop until the drafting NFL franchise cannot sell a single ticket, jersey or autographed football. In short, we shall be relentless."

The lobbyist, Jack Burkman, claims “he is currently mobilizing 'powerful grassroots organizations in 27 of the 50 states,' as well as a 'coalition of Evangelical Christian leaders from across the nation to take part in a protest if Sam is drafted.'”

Assuming Mr. Burkman is to be believed (and as a heavy political hitter in Washington, one must make that assumption), a substantial segment of the Evangelical Christian community is prepared to “hate the sin” by punishing not only the sinner, but anyone who would employ him, all their employees, customers and fans. The St. Louis Rams chose to draft Mr. Sams. We shall see what kind of protest, if any, actually results. It may be that these unnamed “Evangelical Christian leaders” will be less willing to come out of the shadows to protest a fait accompli.

The Sermon on the Mount seems all too often forgotten in these hateful actions against people that some Christians feel are sinners.

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