First we get Cliven Bundy. A free-loading rancher who wants to educate us about what he “knows about the negro.” Then the very next week, we get Donald Sterling. He is the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. He went on a racist rant with his girlfriend over her posting on her instagram pictures of her with black people. Even Magic Johnson.
At first, the right-wing noise machine called Cliven Bundy a patriot and hero. After his comments, they backtracked before they looked like an oil slick on a lake. Now they consider Mr. Bundy a kook. Mr. Sterling has been criticized by almost everyone, except the usual suspects like Fox News, Donald Trump, and the fat drug addict. Fox is basically saying “what’s the big deal?” Donald Trump says Mr. Sterling just fell into a trap set by his girlfriend and that exonerates him. Of course the fat drug addict says that Mr. Sterling, a registered Republican, is being punished because he “didn’t donate enough to Obama.” He didn’t mention anything about Mr. Sterling settling a lawsuit over his “slum-lord” business practices as evidence of his beliefs.
In everyone’s haste to shun, criticize, and punish these two people, the main point is being missed. Prejudice is real, it is current, and it will never go away! These people should be criticized and/or punished for their comments. But, we cannot stop at just them. We cannot simply tackle one episode after another. We have to try to at least make people understand that prejudice is real and that we are all guilty of it at some point in our lives. Only then can we hope to stop the stupidity of prejudice and at least harness so it doesn’t hurt other people.
The right-wing of the Republican Party has truly let the cat out of the bag when it comes to prejudice. Their argument that it is their religious “right” to discriminate against anyone they choose is the first open blow to common sense. Their budgets speaks for themselves. As we have discussed in other articles, their budgets are truly “reverse Robin Hood” budgets that hurt the poor and reward the rich.
Prejudice is not limited to just race. Yes, race has been the tinder box for civil rights for generations. As a matter of fact, it has been a tinder box since before our country was founded. Prejudice is bad all by itself. But, when religious beliefs are used to justify prejudice, the problem becomes even more critical.
At the beginning, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal”. During the debate over this declaration, the southern states argued that did not include the blacks in slavery. They called it their “peculiar institution”. The declaration passed only after Jefferson agreed to take the paragraph about the evils of slavery out of the document. He even vowed that he would free his slaves. Though he never did.
Throughout our history, slavery and the segregation laws of the Jim Crowe court were backed up by “religious” beliefs. It is very easy to discriminate against someone by race if the “bible tells us so”. Unfortunately, those “religious beliefs” have held course ever since. If we cannot discriminate via segregation laws, then we can discriminate via “religious beliefs”.
Since then, the same arguments have been used to discriminate against women, the LGBT community, immigrants, even other religions. It has become the rallying cry for anyone who wishes to discriminate against someone else for whatever reason they choose.
In 2009 a group of Christian Conservatives led by convicted felon Charles Colson issued a manifesto called the Manhattan Declaration. In it they wrote:
In recent decades a growing body of case law has paralleled the decline in respect for religious values in the media, the academy and political leadership, resulting in restrictions on the free exercise of religion. We view this as an ominous development, not only because of its threat to the individual liberty guaranteed to every person, regardless of his or her faith, but because the trend also threatens the common welfare and the culture of freedom on which our system of republican government is founded.
Restrictions on the freedom of conscience or the ability to hire people of one’s own faith or conscientious moral convictions for religious institutions, for example, undermines the viability of the intermediate structures of society, the essential buffer against the overweening authority of the state, resulting in the soft despotism Tocqueville so prophetically warned of. Disintegration of civil society is a prelude to tyranny.
The essence of the rest of their claim is:
Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.
According to their manifesto, they can “pick and choose” the laws they wish to obey, and ignore those they do not agree with based on religious belief. Did you notice that the death penalty was not included as an “anti-life act?” Plus, I don’t know any “liberal” who would argue that a woman must undergo an abortion. Churches should be forced to perform same-sex marriage. Any one should be forcefully be euthanized. Or for that matter, any woman be forced to use birth control. So, what are they really trying to say?
Today, we have states passing laws that allow private business to discriminate against the LGBT community based on their “religious belief”. Another one just passed in Mississippi. Fortunately, in Mississippi, business are fighting back putting up stickers in the window of the shops that they “don’t discriminate”.
The irony in all of this is that the Christian Right didn’t expect a group of Christian Clergy to challenge the same-sex marriage ban in North Carolina claiming that the law is an infringement of their “religious beliefs”. They are not opposed to same-sex marriage and want to perform marriages for their members. However, one little part of the North Carolina ban makes it a crime to perform same-sex marriages. Yes, North Carolina in its infinite wisdom decided that if someone “marries” a same-sex couple they are guilty of a crime.
Just to show how much they really believe in “religious freedom” the North Carolina Values Coalition, who helped pass the law, did not step up to defend the religious freedom of these Christian Clergy. Quite the opposite, in fact. They attacked their religious belief:
It’s both ironic and sad that an entire religious denomination and its clergy who purport holding to Christian teachings on marriage would look to the courts to justify their errant beliefs. These individuals are simply revisionists that distort the teaching of Scripture to justify sexual revolution, not marital sanctity.
So, you see, “religious freedom” only applies if you agree with the “religious beliefs” of those trying to set up legal discrimination. Who are these people to use words like errant beliefs or revisionists that distort the teaching of scripture? Those who want to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of society, that’s who.
Prejudice comes in many forms. People of color are inferior. Women are the root of all evil because Eve made Adam eat the apple. Homosexuals are immoral sub-creatures who need to be kept away from polite society. Christians fight Christians. Muslims fight Muslims. Jews fight Jews. Hindus fight Hindus. Buddhists fight Buddhists. It doesn’t matter if the prejudice is born out of plain ignorance or if it is justified through religion. Prejudice is prejudice. It is evil. And, we are all guilty of it.
Yes, the current right-wing nuts are the loudest offenders of good taste when it comes to prejudices. But, everyone has prejudices. The real difference is that those who are running their mouths don’t think before they speak. They don’t think because they have been told by the right and their preachers, that it is okay. After all, they are only speaking their “religious beliefs”.
Before we can really become an equal society, we all must learn to harness our prejudices. We cannot play the “greater than thou” card when someone else spews their vile. Nor, can we claim superiority over them. Yes, offenders must be put in their place. But, each time something like this happens, we all must look inside and work hard to harness our own prejudices. Especially our religious prejudices. That is the only way we can overcome it.