A religious freedom bill movement is sweeping the nation in an attempt to protect the free exercise of religion against liberal bullying. And it too is coming up against liberal bullying. Tim Cook is the latest person to argue against religious freedom restoration acts (RFRAs), but he’s not alone. Some cities and states are mulling over whether to boycott RFRA states either politically or economically. It’s sort of a pre-discrimination discrimination policy. A “How do you like it when it happens to you?” policy.
I’ve talked about this topic before. For some reason, our generation is allergic to freedom. They think that there is no social justice without the civil government forcing us all to get along. And that just isn’t true. My biggest problem with RFRAs is that most of what they “protect” isn’t actually exercise of religion.
It is not an exercise of religion to deny service. That is an exercise of choice or preference. Let’s say the KKK wanted a cake-cake-cake (or some cooKKKies) for an event, and they asked a black baker to make it. Perhaps they wanted the black baker to put a message on the cake: “Keeping America White”. Would anyone have a problem with the black baker turning down the job? I certainly wouldn’t. But what if a black man came into a bakery owned by a white supremacist, and the black man were refused service? Most of us have a knee-jerk reaction that says racism is just lame. And we’re right. It is. But really the only way to decide this thing and maintain freedom and equality is to extend the same rights of refusal to everyone, for any reason.
These are “discriminations” for sure. They aren’t religiously motivated actions though. They’re not even political. They’re just choices people make. Based on preferences. And private individuals and businesses are allowed to have their preferences and exercise them. If you don’t like their preferences, you are free to discriminate against these individuals and businesses. You are free to publicize how close-minded they are. But equality means that no one has more of a right to free expression than anyone else.
And that is what gets to me. RFRAs are definitely forwarding a kind of equality. But equality goes one of only two ways. Either you allow everyone, even the most extreme and ugly people, to have the choice to exercise their preferences. Or you allow no one to. These are the only ways to achieve equality. Either everyone has the right to refuse service or discriminate for whatever reason. Or no one does. You can’t have it both ways and call that equality.
Part of the hang up here is a misunderstanding of equality. Equality simply cannot mean that everyone should be legally guaranteed to do whatever anyone else can do. That’s absurd. No matter how much I may want to, I can’t give birth to children. I’m a man. I don’t have a womb. Should the civil government get involved if a fertility clinic refuses to help me get pregnant? It’s an extreme example, but the principle remains. What if I am a woman and I want to play in the NBA? Not the WNBA, mind you. Is it discrimination that the NBA has never had a woman player? Yes. It is. The NBA discriminates against people on the basis of their ability to compete in the NBA. What about a million-dollar home loan? Is it discrimination that I can’t seem to secure one? I thought we were all equal? Why doesn’t the lender treat me the same way he would treat Tim Cook? Where’s the equality?
Discrimination happens all over the place. We’re different. We have different skills, cultures, capacities, socio-economic levels, etc. Get over it. We’re not equal. Equality from a civil perspective just means that the civil government doesn’t play favorites. The civil government shouldn’t extend rights, privileges, or benefits to some people that it doesn’t extend to everyone else. If you’re thinking about that, you know that we don’t enjoy equality even in that sense in the United States. The civil government discriminates against people all the time, and it extends unequal benefits to certain minority groups. RFRAs are not intended to give religious people something extra that no one else gets. They are just attempting to remove government interference in personal private matters all together.
RFRAs are a perhaps misguided, and certainly much-maligned, attempt to restore equality to a group of people (white Christian males, for the most part) who have been unjustly treated in the United States for decades, in an attempt to “right the scales.” You can’t create justice through injustice. It’s not the case that justice for one person means injustice for another. A fair system of discrimination is simple: allow people to operate their personal lives and businesses without interference from the civil government. Will that mean some ugly people will be able to express their ugly opinions and preferences sometimes? Yes. But the alternative is even uglier.