Religious-Based Discrimination?


Don Rose

I am a sinner with a criminal past.

Since the statute of limitations has run out (I hope), I confess that as a kid I once or twice shoplifted the local dime store, swiped a 78 rpm platter at the record shop and even snuck into a movie now and then. Later ingested an occasional illegal drug. Never caught. The only time I was actually arrested and tried, I won the case and later a false-arrest suit.

Sins? I have broken several of the Ten Commandments, which I will not detail, but yes, coveting some neighbor’s wife was among them, to say nothing of frequently taking the Lord’s name in vain. I still swear a lot.

What brings forth these confessions is wondering what if I tried to buy a pair of shoes but the shop owner refused me, saying his religious views prevented him from doing business with a self-acknowledged thief. What if I was denied service in a restaurant because the chef’s religious views conflicted with serving a multiple sinner?

Could those businesspeople be permitted to turn me away because of their religious views?

Years ago in the South (perhaps even elsewhere today) the bible and religious beliefs were used to justify laws and deeds preventing “mixing the races.” There were also documents called restrictive covenants that forbade the sale of some homes to Jews such as myself.  It seems to me religious beliefs were cited in justifying such anti-Semitism. The covenants eventually were found unconstitutional, as were Jim Crow laws in the South.

I have to ask whether the invocation of religious beliefs in those instances were genuine or simply an excuse for prejudice—and, if they were genuine, were the federal and state laws that eventually nullified them a restriction of the right to practice one’s religion?

The questions arise because around the nation secular businesses are being sued for denying products or services to same-sex weddings, while in Arizona a law is pending that would permit businesses to refuse service to LGBT couples—all on the basis of the proprietors’ personal religious beliefs.

Similarly, there are cases pending before the US Supreme Court where secular businesses are refusing to let employee insurance policies cover contraception, again because of the owners’ beliefs.

No one denies businessmen like the owner of Chick-fil-A the right to speak out, but this goes beyond free speech rights. No clergy can be forced to perform gay marriages, any more than Catholic hospitals can be forced to perform abortions. But why should the beliefs of secular business people, licensed by states or municipalities to serve the public, over-ride the legal or constitutional rights of others? Same-sex marriages are legal in more than a dozen states and still expanding. Contraception is legal everywhere.

It’s extremely touchy when people claim religious rights are being infringed, but as an ACLU spokesman said recently, religious freedom “is not a blank check to harm others or impose our faiths on our neighbors.”

Stay tuned. Soon six Catholics and three Jews wearing black robes in Washington, DC will draw the boundaries.

A long-time political strategist (now retired), Don Rose is part of the conscience of Chicago and (we’re honored to say) an occasional contributor to The Contrary Perspective.

11 thoughts on “Religious-Based Discrimination?

  1. “The very beasts associate the ideas of things that are like each other or that have been found together in their experience; and they could hardly survive for a day if they ceased to do so. But who attributes to the animals a belief that the phenomena of nature are worked by a multitude of invisible animals or by one enormous and prodigiously strong animal behind the scenes? It is probably no injustice to the brutes to assume that the honor of devising a theory of this latter sort must be reserved for human reason.” — Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: a study of magic and religion (1922)

    Thus a meditation in verse regarding the unreasoning human animal and his superstitious assumptions about the nature of things political, social, economic, and military:

    One Nation Under Dog

    He voted for Bush because Dog told him to
    And in Dog’s Book the barking is plain
    All that growling and snarling and gnashing of teeth
    Only means that for Dog truth is pain

    Yet he couldn’t decipher those paw prints he read
    ‘Cause he’d thunk that them teachers wuz bad
    So he dropped out of hillbilly homeschool at ten
    And decided to study with dad

    Revelations came easier once he had found
    That the Church had for centuries lied
    And those long-dead elite monks who started them schools
    Had at last got their souls in Hell fried

    Yes, the curse of the word written down in good sense
    Only means that the rednecks will bite
    And do that leg-lifting and turf-marking thing
    That the Dog always does in his spite

    See, the Dog has this thing about giving his pups
    What he then tries to take back once more
    Having renamed his “gift” as a “loan” to repay
    With obedience to the Dog’s lore

    So the “men of the cloth” came to clear up the fog
    Crying “DAWG!” in strange tones so confusing
    To the happy young pups who rolled over on cue
    And did other tricks just as amusing

    Yet the cheap little trick has no secret profound
    Only long-observed patterns of lying
    To the desperate dogs who think learning is bad
    And so go on with Dog to their dying

    It would sadden the heart to see such a dumb thing
    If the dumb didn’t love themselves so
    For electing a man even dumber than them
    Who claims Dog don’t like learnin’ no mo’

    See, according to Deputy Dubya’s account
    Dog and him have these chats in the night
    When nobody but Bush and his Dog can relate
    What they barked about till morning’s light

    So to see the curs howl at the moon and the wind
    And delight in their Dog-induced sleep
    Only closes the case on the ignorant who
    Count their own entrails rather than sheep

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2011

    Or, again, as Frazer observed:

    “It is not our business here to consider what bearing the permanent existence of such a solid layer of savagery beneath the surface of society, and unaffected by the superficial changes of religion and culture, has upon the future of humanity. The dispassionate observer, whose studies have led him to plumb its depths, can hardly regard it as otherwise than as a standing menace to civilization.”

    Woof! Woof!

  2. I bought “The Golden Bough” a dog’s age ago (sorry, couldn’t resist) after learning it played a role in the making of “Apocalypse Now” (to wit, the sacrificing of the King, i.e. Col. Kurtz). And one of these days I’ll actually get around to reading it, dang it!! As to religion in Amerika, the “Founding Fathers” had a brilliant approach, and it’s right there in the First Amendment (true, the FFs needed nudging to append these Amendments, but that’s another story): government shall not meddle in the PRIVATE religious affairs of the citizenry. Some of the FFs were Freethinkers, rumor has it!! Good luck trying to convince the Army of Moronic Bigots who proclaim we were founded as “a Christian nation” of that! Freedom of religion includes the freedom of the private citizen to REJECT all organized superstition. But the AMB want to impose THEIR particular bigotry in the PUBLIC sphere and I’m sure the FFs would have swatted such nonsense to the ground. It is yet another stain on the US’s reputation in the world that in this supposedly advanced nation we even have to hold a debate about businesses discriminating against potential customers “on a religious basis.” ON A RELIGIOUS BASIS!! I guess HATE is the fastest growing new religion in the land. When I heard on the radio today that a half-dozen other states are considering Arizona-style pro-hate legislation I wanted to puke. DEAR ORGANIZED RELIGION: GET THE HELL OUT OF MY PRIVATE AND PUBLIC LIFE AND STAY THE HELL OUT!!! [But I guess none of this should really come as a surprise. I hear that surveys indicate 25% of Amerikans think the sun revolves around Earth and c. 50% don’t accept the concept of evolution. Is it any wonder we end up with the politicians/lawmakers we have?]

    • When I told my Taiwanese wife that the U.S. Congress starts every session with an infantile animist ritual, i.e., “prayer,” she couldn’t believe it. “Do you mean,” she asked me,” that they haven’t even started work for the day and they’re already begging for help?” I could only laugh and nod in agreement. What else could I offer in reply after such a trenchant, if not brutally concise, observation?

      As for The Golden Bough: a study of magic and religion, I found a copy of it in the library of a small Buddhist college in Los Angeles where I worked for four years taking care of computers and doing other assorted tasks, like occasionally teaching ESL classes. Since the school didn’t have many students at the time, I got to take classes towards a master’s degree in religion (with a concentration in Buddhism) without having to pay tuition — all as part of my employment. So, essentially, I got paid (a little) to take some classes and read some books that would otherwise not have interested me. I think I learned more from reading Frazer’s book on my own than I did from any of my courses, other than, perhaps, an introductory course in Sanskrit which I really enjoyed. Ocassionally I found certain of Frazer’s passages not only educational, but poetically inspiring, as well. Take, for example, his treatment of ritual cannibalism, or what some organized religions call “communion”:

      “It is now easy to understand why a savage should desire to partake of the flesh of an animal or man whom he regards as divine. By eating the body of the god he shares in the god’s attributes and powers. And when the god is a corn-god, the corn is his proper body; when he is a vine-god, the juice of the grape is his blood; and so by eating the bread and drinking the wine the worshipper partakes of the real body and blood of his god. Thus the drinking of wine in the rites of a vine-god like Dionysus is not an act of revelry, it is a solemn sacrament. Yet a time comes when reasonable men find it hard to understand how any one in his senses can suppose that by eating bread or drinking wine he consumes the body and blood of a deity. ‘When we call corn Ceres and wine Bacchus,’ says Cicero, ‘we use a common figure of speech; but do you imagine that anybody is so insane as to believe that the thing he feeds upon is a god?’”

      After reflecting upon that interesting bit of religious history, I started composing a few verse stanzas which I added to “Boobie Political Science” another episode of Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s Post-Literate Retreat to Plato’s Cave:

      As Cicero in Roman times
      Inquired of something odd:
      “Is there a man so mad he thinks
      He drinks and eats a god?”
      The mackerel-snapping Boobies blushed
      And answered with a nod

      If eating flesh and drinking blood
      Sounds like a lousy deal
      Consider Neolithic times
      When savages would steal
      A cave man from a nearby tribe
      And make of him a meal

      Since dinners in those bygone days
      Were far apart and few
      A dead piece of organic meat
      Made quite a hearty stew
      To dimwit troglodytic brains
      It seemed the thing to do

      But still some lazy cave man types
      Declined to toil like beasts
      They shunned the work of killing foes
      And serving them at feasts
      So some forgotten con man thought
      Of parasitic priests

      Someone would have to say the words
      Someone would have to curse
      Someone would have to gather beads
      And drop them in his purse
      For later use in living high
      While others fared the worse

      And so the classes formed at once
      With kings and priests on top
      And all the others down beneath
      With nothing left to stop
      The sword and “GAWD” from draining them
      Of every living drop

      Two thousand years of eating fish
      On Fridays hasn’t changed
      The need for human sacrifice
      Felt by the more deranged
      But only caused the ghouls to have
      The menu rearranged

      For some reason that I cannot fathom, the school declined to publish my master’s thesis, but they gave me the M.A. anyway.

      • Yes, this is something I talk about in world history. Why is it that the Aztecs were vilified for human sacrifice at the same time as Catholics believed in transubstantiation: that the bread and wine were transformed miraculously into the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, to be consumed by his followers? I try to point out both the common elements of these beliefs but also their incommensurate meanings to the peoples who partake of these beliefs. I’m not sure my students recognize the commonalities of these rituals, e.g. the Aztecs believed that human sacrifice was necessary to sustain the world, to make sure the sun rose again each and every day, while Catholics believed the consumption of the Son was necessary to sustain their communion with God. Fascinating stuff. Humans have a remarkable ability to believe in the supernatural and to sustain this belief in spite of evidence to the contrary. Are we too credulous? What is it about the incredible that we find so satisfying? So necessary?

  3. Professor Astore,

    In regard to your question: “What is it about the incredible that we find so satisfying? So necessary?” please consider:

    “Man differs from the lower animals because he preserves his past experiences. What happened in the past is lived again in memory. About what goes on today hangs a cloud of thoughts concerning similar things undergone in bygone days. With the animals, an experience perishes as it happens, and each new doing or suffering stands alone. But man lives in a world where each occurrence is charged with echoes and reminiscences of what has gone before, where each event is a reminder of other things. Hence he lives not, like the beasts of the field, in a world of merely physical things but in a world of signs and symbols.” — John Dewey, Reconsruction in philosophy (1920)

    People live as much — if not more — in the subconsious imagining of their own myths than they do in physical reality. Hence, they can witness and/or participate in the most ridiculous or terrifying things without a qualm of conscience because they do not see and experience the physical thing at all, but only the invisible something else for which they uncritically suppose it stands. Thus the cyncial contempt for “the reality based community” by those who understand and profit by what Korzybski meant when he said: “We are a symbol using class of life, and those who rule the symbols rule us.”

    • Mark Twain made mincemeat of the notion that Man is the “highest animal” (see essay “In The Court Of The Animals” and similar) and poor, benighted Dr. Dewey apparently wasn’t even aware we ARE animals! But I guess we can forgive him, having written the above in 1920. (Not that the notion that Man stands above and superior to Nature–which I identify as THE most ignorant, wrongheaded and destructive idea this biped with the enlarged cranium ever cooked up–isn’t still very much The Conventional Wisdom. Which is why I, personally, reject at least 85% of said “wisdom.”)

    • Yet another coincidence: I came across the Korzybski quote this AM while looking for an image to accompany b. traven’s latest article.

      • Yes, indeed. Alfred Korzybski read Charles Sanders Peirce and John Dewey (who learned logic from Peirce at the Johns Hopkins graduate school). The quote from Dewey above regarding signs and symbols pretty much forms the basis of Korzybski’s first published work, Manhood of Humanity (1921), together with his later — and far more influential — work, Science and Sanity (1933). Only one quibble: I would have titled b. traven’s article “Managing to De-Mystify,” since Korzybski, Hayakawa, and others in the field intended for their work to help illuminate meaning, not obscure it. A matter of “semantics,” you might say.

      • Yes, Michael. Yet the insights of K., H., and others in the field of semantics cut both ways, sadly. And it’s easier to mystify than it is to de-mystify. Quicker, easier, more seductive, as the Jedi Master noted.

    • Yes — We are part of nature, not apart from it. We are natural, not supernatural. Indeed, our exalted view of ourselves is probably dooming us to eventual extinction. The question is whether we’re going to take the entire planet down with us, My guess is no, as life is more tenacious than even our instinct to destroy it.

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