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!
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • 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.