By Robert Mann
Is it not enough that Gov. Bobby Jindal will leave office next January with our state’s higher education system in tatters and its health care system shattered? Is it not sufficient that he is leaving our budget in shambles?
Jindal apparently doesn’t believe he’s done enough damage. For his finale, he appears eager to undermine the state’s economy – including our vital tourism and convention industry – by backing a so-called “religious freedom” bill. That legislation, in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling negating anti-gay marriage laws, would allow businesses to deny services to gay couples based on “a religious belief or moral conviction about the institution of marriage.”
Some call the legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, a “religious freedom” bill. Let’s be honest. It’s the “Cloak My Bigotry in Religion Act.”
While the governors of Indiana and Arkansas thought better of annihilating their states’ business climates, Jindal sees a similar Louisiana bill as an opportunity. Not an opportunity for enhancing “religious freedoms,” but rather to distinguish himself as the most outlandish extremist in the GOP presidential field.
Jindal apparently believes playing the fanatic is a winning campaign strategy. Perhaps he forgets that public opinion on homosexuality is evolving rapidly. Many Republicans, especially those under age 30, have accepted the reality of gay rights, including marriage equality.
Republican governors like Mike Pence of Indiana and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas also listen to their states’ business titans on these issues. The priests and preachers prodded Pence to sign his state’s “religious freedom” bill, but outraged business leaders wisely persuaded him to scrub the bill’s language allowing businesses to discriminate against gay people.
Jindal, meanwhile, has doubled down on support for legislation to outlaw government intervention when businesses discriminate based on religious convictions. “There used to be a bipartisan consensus in this country around religious liberty saying that as Americans we don’t all have to agree with each other, but we should respect each other’s rights and freedom,” Jindal said. “And that’s what this debate is about: Are we going to use government to force people to contradict their own sincerely held beliefs.”
On this issue, governor, yes, we are. That is what the civil rights movement was about. No one suggests Jindal wishes to revive Jim Crow segregation. That said, the arguments of some political leaders on the question of a business owner’s right to refuse services (or contraception) to whomever he or she pleases is hauntingly reminiscent of the language segregationists used against the public accommodations section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Proponents of these “religious freedom” bills argue, what could be more American than respecting the right of a business owner to express his or her religious beliefs? The answer? Well, how about the principle that every business open to the public should serve people without judging their lifestyle, religion, race or sexual orientation?
Johnson says his bill would merely prevent the denial of government benefits to businesses that discriminate based on religious beliefs about marriage. To that, I would respond: You want to allow businesses to deny services to gay couples? Then, maybe the taxpayers should withhold tax deductions and credits, government-backed loans and other government benefits that subsidize those businesses.
I’ll go one step further. If you want to run your business like a private social club, then let’s make it subject to all the IRS rules governing such non-profit organizations.
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