By Robert Mann
Considering the passion Gov. Bobby Jindal devoted to his big speech on religious liberty earlier this month at the Ronald Reagan Library, you’d think he would have been all over the airwaves this week.
Surely, if Jindal really believed what he said about a “silent war” on religious liberty, he should have publicly begged Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to sign legislation, passed by her state’s legislature, to permit business owners to deny service to gays, lesbians and other people on religious grounds.
Brewer, of course, vetoed the legislation after it became a national embarrassment to the Republican Party and cast Arizona in a most-negative light. Even the NFL threatened to pull next year’s Super Bowl from the state. In the end, Brewer had no choice but bow to the will of her state’s business leaders and reject to this morally repugnant bill.
But, all the while, Jindal was silent.
He had, as best I can tell, absolutely nothing to say about an issue that, only days before, he was promoting with great passion and enthusiasm.
In his highly publicized speech, Jindal alerted the Reagan Library audience that “the freedom to exercise your religion in the way you run your business, large or small, is under assault.”
Using a case against Hobby Lobby as an example, Jindal said:
None of this matters to the Obama administration. The argument they have advanced, successfully thus far, is that a faithful business owner cannot operate under the assumption that they can use their moral principles to guide the way their place of business spends money. According to the administration’s legal arguments, the family that owns Hobby Lobby is not protected by the First Amendment’s “free exercise” of religion clause.
That’s the part of the First Amendment which states that “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.
The Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder argue that because “Hobby Lobby is a for-profit, secular employer, and a secular entity by definition does not exercise religion.” A federal judge agreed: since Hobby Lobby is a “secular” corporation, they have no right to be guided by the religious beliefs of their ownership.
Then, Jindal turned to the heart of the matter, the real reason for his speech and the scenario that he hoped would strike fear in the hearts of his conservative audience: business owners and others might be required by the government to provide services, in violation of their religious beliefs, to gays and other objectionable people.
In other words, if President Obama has his way, Jindal worried business owners might not be allowed to use their religious beliefs as a shield for bigotry and discrimination. Jindal said:
Consider the many cases against bakers, photographers, caterers and other wedding consultants who have religious beliefs, which prevent them from taking part in a same-sex ceremony. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in August that one small business, Elane Photography, had violated the state’s Human Rights Act by declining to photograph a same sex commitment ceremony. In his opinion, the judge informed the Christian photographers being fined that they were “compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” because that was “the price of citizenship.”
This assault will only spread in the immediate future. We will see continued pressure brought on anyone who “refuses and refers” to be penalized for their views, denied membership in professional groups or even rejected from licenses.
Many states have considered these issues in the light of the ongoing legal battle over marriage laws in the country. But that pressure is not going to stop with photographers and bakers – it’s going to be brought on churches, mosques, and synagogues, too.
Illinois shows us a preview of what this looks like. In legislation they proposed altering the definition of marriage, they would have required churches and other congregations to essentially close their doors to outsiders, stop providing services to the community, and close off their facilities to other non-profits or church groups in order to avoid being required to host same sex ceremonies.
The Illinois legislation would have required an unprecedented degree of government oversight, such as sending government representatives to survey students at Catholic schools to see how many were actually Catholic.
They would not allow religious bodies to rent their facilities to non-members for use in weddings. They would drive churches to have to eliminate classes, day schools, counseling, fellowship hall meetings, soup kitchens and more.
In other words, this law and others like it would require believers to essentially choose to break with their deeply held theological beliefs, or give up their daily activity of evangelism, retreat from public life, and sacrifice their property rights. Churches that do not host same sex unions would essentially be barred from participating fully in civil society.
This is the next stage of the assault, and it is only beginning. Today, an overwhelming majority of those who belong to a religious denomination in America – that’s more than half the country – are members of organizations that affirm the traditional definition of marriage. All of those denominations will be targeted in large and small degrees in the coming years.
And then, only days after issuing this grave warning about the war on religion, a battle broke out in Arizona.
What where was Bobby Jindal as this battle was raging?
He was AWOL.
Jindal remained silent, even though legislators in Arizona were standing up for “religious liberty” in exactly the way that Jindal’s speech encouraged and envisioned.
If I didn’t know better, I’d think that Jindal didn’t mean a word of what he said in California.
If I didn’t know better, I’d think that Louisiana’s governor stokes and exploits the fears of evangelical Christians for political gain.
If I didn’t know better, I think that Jindal failed speak up for his version of “religious freedom” when it was on the line in Arizona.
If I didn’t know better, I’d also say the national and Louisiana media gave Jindal a pass on this issue.
Note: After posting this, I finally got around to reading today’s Baton Rouge Advocate op-ed page and saw columnist Stephanie Grace’s piece today in which she notes that Jindal was AWOL in the debate this week over the Arizona law. Kudos to Stephanie.