Georgia now has its own variant of the Arizona “religious freedom” bill (recently vetoed by that state’s governor) known as HB 1023 (“Preservation of Religious Freedom Act”). At first blush the Georgia bill appears to uphold the libertarian principal of the right of association (i.e. the right to decide who we do or do not associate with). However, upon further analysis I have come to the conclusion that this is a bad bill and should be opposed. For those that don’t already know, the bill essentially says that if a person acts with a religious motivation then they are immune from any and all laws, ordinances, rules or regulations that might otherwise restrict the actions they undertook as a result of their religious convictions. Taken literally one could claim immunity from murder and theft if one stated it was motivated by religious belief. So on its face it is hyperbolically broad. Strike 1.
Proponents of this bill are engaged in a bit of prophylactic legal wrangling. It is currently completely legal to discriminate against homosexuals. But despite this apparent lack of protection there has been virtually no private sector discrimination of homosexuals. In fact the biggest discriminator against homosexuals has been the public sector aka government (non-recognition of marriage, non-equality in the tax code, etc.). Recently though two isolated cases of a wedding cake maker and photographer refusing to sell their services to gay couples under a highly specific scenario (wedding) has risen to the national news level. Following this outrage theater set on the national stage, the extreme Christian right felt the writing was on the wall and it would only be a matter of time until their views on homosexuals would be not just socially but legally verboten. Their only course of action? Legalize (or rather outlaw the illegality of) their peculiar brand of bigotry. Through this bit of legislative memorialization they attempt to normalize their position in society. Because, you see, if something is a “law” then that means it is “ok”, and conversely, if something is illegal then that means it is “bad.” Without laws to tell us right from wrong we would be rudderless in an ocean of moral ambiguity. Yes, sarcasm.
Racism, bigotry, sexism, ageism, insert-your-own-ism-here-ism are stupid, ignorant, sad, hateful, preposterous and irrational. But what they are not is criminal. In other words, it should always be legal to be a first class jerk. While we don’t need laws against boorish behavior in order to know it is unacceptable, we also don’t need laws that place the seal of state approval on such behavior either. Strike 2.
This bill does get it half-right on one front though. Everybody should have the right to act on their beliefs. But, this freedom should not be restricted solely to those possessing the religious get out of jail free card. Religious freedom is merely one flavor of natural rights based freedoms. Respecting everyone’s freedom means recognizing the fact that we each have the right to live our lives as we see fit, as long as we do not employ violence or the threat thereof to prevent others from doing the same. So, rather than exempting a subset of people from all laws, this bill should instead exempt a subset of laws from all people. In other words, it wimps out where it really counts: freedom. Strike 3.
To think that the fabric of society would fall to tatters without flecks of ink scattered upon slices of dead trees is to ignore the true source of order in society: the people. The vast majority of people behave in a civilized manner because the vast majority of people are not evil. Ask yourself, if all laws were repealed tomorrow do you truly fear that your friends, neighbors, and co-workers, would all try to rob and kill each other? Would you behave any differently than you do today?