Saturday, March 1, 2014

Don’t Assume The Translation Lost In The Debate


Recently a bill in Arizona was vetoed by the Governor, Jan Brewer. That bill, which would have made it legal for businesses to refuse service to same sex couples for religious reasons, grabbed national headlines and was a topic that was heavily debated. In this instance, the Governor was right to quash this bill in the state legislature.

However, as I have written about in previous posts, I would have like to have seen people look at all angles. Not in such a way as to change their views but as a means to try and see all of the ramifications in the passing of such a law but also how it was able to get so far in the process that it was up to one woman to take a stand and kill the bill. The above cartoon, while admittedly stretching the purview, is one of those things that does make you think about the aspects surrounding such a topic. While many would agree with the individual right to refuse service, however, that act is against the law as it would be discriminating against those whose views, while vile and hate filled, are protected.

It really does make you think about the rights of the individual business owner. So, with this topic in mind, I began looking through the law against discrimination on legalzoom.com. True, this is not the most detailed source but it did provide an interesting high altitude overview. The site summarizes the subject matter in the following way:

“Like many issues involving constitutional law, the law against discrimination in public accommodations is in a constant state of change. Some argue that anti-discrimination laws in matters of public accommodations create a conflict between the ideal of equality and individual rights. Does the guaranteed right to public access mean the business owner's private right to exclude is violated? For the most part, courts have decided that the constitutional interest in providing equal access to public accommodations outweighs the individual liberties involved.”

The angle that was applied in the Arizona bill sought to invoke the ideal of religious freedom. However, that really is a difficult argument to make. Basically, they were trying to assume protection not granted by the first amendment. The portion of the first amendment to which they attempted to leverage states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The amendment prohibits the establishment of laws limiting religion. In fact, many can apply this law against the proposed legislation as the passage of such a bill would, in essence, legally support the imposition of religious beliefs on others. It is an interesting aspect to think about.

What is going to be a more interesting debate is the one that has yet to come to the forefront in Illinois. In summary, the bill states that “no religious organization, including a school, is required to provide religious facilities for a marriage solemnization ceremony or celebration associated with [that ceremony if it] is in violation of its religious beliefs.” This is where there very well could be a much stronger constitutional agreement as it could be stated that the enforcement of laws supporting same sex marriage could be interpreted as violating the first amendment in this instance. It will be interesting if the state would be willing to give a definitive answer in this particular debate.

That dichotomy between the government and religious institutions is an interesting one. While the specific applications within religious institutions is one that has become highly partisan when it comes to the Arizona bill, as was reported in the New York Times, this debate is not one of partisanship. This is a subject that addresses individual views beyond the scope of party lines. It may be a fine line between what is of political and personal view but there are definitely topics of public policy that just go too far such as the aforementioned bill. The New York Times piece summed up that political line of demarcation in the following paragraphs:  

Frank Keating, a former governor of Oklahoma, said that while he opposed same-sex marriage, issues of public accommodation had long ago been settled. He said that he, too, would have vetoed a bill like the Arizona one.

“This isn’t 1964 anymore,” he said. “We’ve moved beyond that. If you open up your doors to the general public, you can’t pick and choose who you are going to deal with.”

Basically, the whole point of this post is simple. We all react one way or another to many different topics, especially one such as the bill that is being discussed above. Unfortunately, with this reaction many people make assumptions and start to generalize different groups of people. We are not all the same. There may have similarities from one person or group to another but there are limits to generalizations when the individual is responsible for their decisions, their views, and their motivations.

We have lost our desire, our drive to understand both subjects and people. Life is not that simple and even when a subject seems clear cut we need to make a better effort to try and look at all sides (many, many, many more sides and aspects then that which is discussed above). Sometimes learning about a subject is not about arguing for or against, it is about trying to see the whole gray picture that gives life its color.