On the right side of history

A great moral struggle is raging in this land as the majority move toward dismantling the residue of centuries of oppression.

By Miguel de la Torre

Imagine for the moment that I found fundamentalist Christians to be an abomination to the gospel message of Jesus Christ; or that I believe that the Tea Party is satanic. Now imagine that I own a coffee house in Arizona and the governor did not veto SB 1062.

If SB 1062 had become law, it would have allowed me to refuse “those people” service at my establishment — literally the right to sit at the lunch counter — because their lifestyle, their philosophy, their views are a burden upon my consciousness.

As an American, I have the right to be as close-minded and biased as I want. But I do not have the right to legalize my close-mindedness and bias to the detriment of other Americans (or non-Americans for that matter). Arizona SB 1062 was state-sanctioned discrimination using religion as the excuse.

Churches and religious organizations have always had the First Amendment right (and still do) to operate according to their own beliefs, regardless of whether I believe or reject their church teachings. What the Civil Rights movement taught us is that businesses operating within the marketplace cannot discriminate against persons on the basis of the entrepreneur’s beliefs. Business owners can no longer choose who they will provide service to and who they will not.

As the coffee shop manager, I must provide service to blacks, whites, women, poor, rich, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered regardless of any personal opinions I may hold. Yes, I even have to provide service to the fundamentalist and Tea Partiers, even if I believe their views and actions violate the liberating message of the Bible. But serving them coffee does not mean I endorse their views; it just means that discrimination is always wrong, always wrong, always wrong.

Let’s not fool ourselves, the purpose of SB 1062 was clear — to provide legal justification to individuals, corporations, institutions or business organizations to discriminate against LGBT folks using religion as an excuse. SB 1062 was a backlash in a country that is rapidly moving toward a more justice-based and inclusive society; and it is a wonderful thing to see the “hand of the Lord” moving upon this land. Still, before we celebrate Gov. Brewer vetoing SB 1062, let us not forget that similar so-called “religious-protection” legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma. Yes, the battle was won in Arizona, but the war against our LGBT brothers and sisters continues.

Ironically, the discrimination this law intended for the LGBT community moved beyond just them. The way that SB 1062-type laws are written mean that a heterosexual man with HIV may be denied medicine from a pharmacist if that pharmacist believes that HIV is God’s punishment upon the gay community. Or an unwed woman can be fired from a religiously affiliated school if she were to become pregnant — whether the pregnancy is or is not planned. Or pharmacies believing that we are to be “fruitful and multiply” can refuse to fill birth control prescriptions.

These examples are not what might happen — they are already happening throughout our country, and SB 1062’s purpose was to make this type of discrimination legal.

Our history as Americans has been a history of discrimination and exclusion. A great moral struggle is raging in this land as the majority move toward dismantling the residue of centuries of oppression. Yet, a powerful minority grasping for power they once held continues to demand a white, heterosexual, patriarchal America and the privilege that America always provided them. But here is the Good News: Because they stand on the wrong side of history, they will find themselves standing with those who in the past fought for an exclusive America, be they those who use the law to discriminate against blacks or those who used different laws to discriminate against women.

SB 1062 will not become the law of Arizona, and other states may also reject such legislative initiatives; nonetheless, laws like these are the last gasps of a sexist, racist, classist and heterosexist mindset. I have seen the future, and it is more inclusive. But here is the Christian ethical question with which to wrestle: When your grandchildren ask you on which side of history you stood, will you say — as many who fought Civil Rights must say — on the wrong side? Or worse, will you say you remained silent because it wasn’t your fight and thus through complicity reinforced a discriminatory status quo?

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.