Will Arizona Go the Anti-Gay Way of Uganda?

Gov. Jan Brewer Under Pressure to Veto Law Allowing Discrimination

To Veto or Not: Jan Brewer, Arizona’s governor, will have to decide by Friday whether to let the new law pass.
Getty Images
To Veto or Not: Jan Brewer, Arizona’s governor, will have to decide by Friday whether to let the new law pass.

By Jay Michaelson

Published February 25, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Will Arizona become the next Uganda?

As we go to press, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is debating whether to sign a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that will allow discrimination if the discriminator claims a religious justification. It’s been nicknamed the “Turn The Gays Away” bill because it will allow any business — restaurants, nail salons, stadiums — to refuse to serve gay people because of its owners’ religious beliefs.

This is not quite the same as Uganda’s new anti-gay law, which imposes life imprisonment for homosexuals. But both laws are part of a backlash against the gains made by the LGBT movement in the United States. And in both places, those who wish to discriminate are the ones claiming to be victims.

In Uganda, the victims are said to be innocent Africans, whose traditional values are being imperialized by the West. Never mind that the “Kill the Gays” bill was actually largely written by American Evangelicals like Scott Lively. Never mind that forms of same-sex love have been celebrated in Africa for centuries. And never mind that LGBT Ugandans are not demanding any change at all — other than to be left alone. No, it’s “traditional” Ugandans who are the victims here. And who, as of today, can now have gay people imprisoned for life.

In Arizona, the victims are said to be good, upstanding Christians who don’t want homosexuality shoved down their throat. How, exactly, is it being shoved? By laws that say I can’t be fired simply for being gay. Or that all businesses, even those owned by religious people, have to obey the same anti-discrimination laws. Or that hanging out a sign saying “No Gays Allowed” is not the American Way.

Most American Jews, thankfully, have had enough experience with discrimination to know that these laws aren’t shoving anything anywhere — they’re protecting minorities from majorities. And most know that legitimizing prejudice of any kind is bad for everyone. This is why organizations like the Anti-Defamation League have taken the lead in opposing these laws.

Shockingly, however, a handful of Orthodox Jewish organizations — the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel, and Yeshiva University — are supporting these laws that distort the true meaning of “religious freedom.” Which is ironic, because it will end up hurting Jews as much as anyone.

To understand this topsy-turvy reality, we need a bit of background.

“Religious Freedom” used to be a shield, not a sword. In the 1990s after the government tried to prosecute Native Americans for using peyote, Jews, Christians, and civil libertarians banded together to register their objection. One result was the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” passed mostly by Democrats. This act said that the government may only restrict religious conduct under very rare circumstances.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.