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

(page 2 of 2)

Of course, what RFRA had in mind were personal religious practices that didn’t significantly affect anyone else: wearing a yarmulke, consuming peyote in a religious context, that sort of thing. It was a shield against government coercion.

In the last few years, however, a network of arch-conservative Catholic organizations and familiar, Christian-Right Protestant ones has sought to redefine religious liberty as a sword, not a shield. Led by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank, they have gone from state to state promoting “mini-RFRAs” to allow religious belief to trump any law at all, especially those prohibiting discrimination. Arizona’s is one of these. So is Georgia’s, Idaho’s, and South Dakota’s.

Now, we all know what this is really about: Religious conservatives disapproving of gay people. Trouble is, you can’t come out and say that in a law, because then it won’t pass judicial review. (This was the problem in Idaho, which withdrew its mini-RFRA just as the Arizona legislature passed its.) So, the laws are written more broadly. “Religious freedom” is proposed as a defense to any lawsuit at all.

But the trouble with that is, it includes too much. Suppose I’m a conservative Christian who sincerely believes that the Jews killed Christ, and contemporary Jews must be held accountable. Under the mini-RFRA, I can simply hang a “No Jews Allowed” sign on the front door of my store, inn, restaurant, or yoga studio — and that is perfectly legal.

Or suppose I believe that God demands racial segregation — as Bob Jones University claimed a few years ago. Now I can go back to “Whites Only” drinking fountains, as long as I can prove I’m motivated by a sincere religious belief. Which many racists are.

Of course, this isn’t what the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the conservative think tank behind the mini-RFRAs, may have in mind. They just want pharmacists not to have to dispense birth control pills, photographers not to have to take pictures of gay couples, and corporations of any size not to have to cover same-sex partners on their insurance plans.

But then again, using religious freedom as a sword wasn’t what RFRA’s authors had in mind either. Once you open Pandora’s Box, it’s open.

Let’s invite our Orthodox friends to rethink their shortsighted support of these laws, which ultimately are bad for gays, Jews, and anyone else who might be the target of discrimination. Let’s tell them: don’t sell America’s birthright of religious pluralism for a bowl of anti-gay porridge. Let’s not make Arizona the next Uganda.

Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor to the Forward.


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!
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • 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.