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“A wolf in sheep’s clothing”

“A wolf in sheep’s clothing”

The Arizona legislature has passed a bill that uses the cover of “religious freedom” to allow a person to discriminate against a GLBT person in public accommodation. Episcopal Bishop Kirk Smith opposes the legislation.


The bill allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination. It also allows the business or person to seek an injunction once they show their actions are based on a sincere religious belief and the claim places a burden on the exercise of their religion.

The legislation prompted a heated debate on the floor of the House, touching on issues such as the religious freedom, constitutional protections and civil rights.

Opponents raised scenarios in which gay people in Arizona could be denied service at a restaurant or refused medical treatment if a business owner thought homosexuality was not in accordance with his religion. One lawmaker held up a sign that read “NO GAYS ALLOWED” in arguing what could happen if the law took effect, drawing a rebuke for violating rules that bar signs on the House floor.

Democrats also said there were a host of other scenarios not involving sexual orientations where someone could raise their religious beliefs as a discrimination defense.

The bill is backed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a social conservative group that opposes abortion and gay marriage. The group says the proposal is needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts and simply clarifies existing state law.

Bishop Kirk Smith of Arizona responds:

Who among us doesn’t want to support religious freedom? This argument seems to be the tactic of some arch-conservative lawmakers, who have convinced our Arizona legislators that it is fine to deny people basic human rights under the guise of religious freedom. Lawmakers in other states and members of both political parties have been astute enough to see what bills like this really are – a wolf in sheep’s clothing that masks discrimination under a venue of piety. Arizona, however, with its propensity for making itself into the political laughing-stock of the nation, has been duped once again. One can only pray that our Governor will, as the Arizona Republic said this morning, “get out her veto pen.”

“I must admit that I wasn’t aware of the details of the State Senate’s action yesterday, but I was immediately aware of the pain that this bill has caused, not only to our own LBGT community in Arizona, but also around the country. Fortunately, Dean Troy Mendez of Trinity Cathedral has been following this issue more closely, and so I asked him to join me in writing about it today. Our E-pistle is thus a bit longer than usual, but we wanted to give you the back ground that will help you convince the Governor that true religious freedom means, as our Prayer Book so clearly states, “respecting the dignity of every human being.”

Dean Troy Mendez of Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix writes:

As Christians, we’re called to be peacemakers in the world. But sometimes we face unexpected challenges, and scripture helps us find our center, our peace. Paul’s letter to the Romans calls us ever closer to this peaceful center when he writes, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free…for those who walk [now] not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” And in that Spirit, Paul says, we find “life and peace.” (Romans 8:1-2a, 4, 6).

The Episcopal Church has heard this call from scripture to live into our common life with the Holy Spirit, and as recently as the 2012 General Convention in Indianapolis affirmed resolution D019, which states and reaffirms Title I, Canon 17, Section 5: “No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons.” As a former Presiding Bishop Browning said in 1986, “there will be no outcasts in this church.”

No Outcasts. Period. We are fortunate that we have collaborated, prayed, argued, and listened to scripture, tradition, and reason to discern our church’s guidance by the Holy Spirit. However, the majority leadership in the Arizona State Legislature has recently diverted attention from our state’s economy, educational systems and overall well-being, and instead has put forward two articles of legislation (SB1062/HB2153) that will most likely be sent to Governor Brewer’s office for her signature. The intent of this legislation runs contrary to not only our church’s canons, but also to Holy Scripture itself: the legislation intends to allow people to discriminate on the grounds of their religious beliefs and practices. Individuals and entities will be able to determine who in society is “religiously righteous” or not. (A more detailed description of the legislation is below.)

If we are followers of Jesus, then we must use this time as a call to recognize all the victims of this potentially harmful legislation. Who around you might be shut out from fully participating in society? How might this legislation prohibit the church from exercising ministry in the best ways we see fit? If we’re promising in the Baptismal Covenant to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” how might this newly enacted legislation fly in the face of what we’ve promised? Where is the church’s presence of peace in all of this?

Arizona Episcopalians, now is time for us to be peacemakers. The Holy Spirit promises to lead us, if we open our hearts, into the fullest life and peace imaginable. Being a Christian means we are asked as a community to follow Jesus to proclaim Good News to the people in the state legislature who seem to be walking in darkness. How do we help them see the great light – the reconciling love and deep peace of Jesus Christ for all people?

Meanwhile, Kirsten Powers in USA Today, writing about the Kansas version of the law, says that these laws amount to a return to Jim Crow laws directed against gays.

It’s probably news to most married people that their florist and caterer were celebrating their wedding union. Most people think they just hired a vendor to provide a service. It’s not clear why some Christian vendors are so confused about their role here.

Whether Christians have the legal right to discriminate should be a moot point because Christianity doesn’t prohibit serving a gay couple getting married. Jesus calls his followers to be servants to all. Nor does the Bible call service to another an affirmation.

Adam Hamilton, pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, the largest church in Kansas, pointed out to me what all Christians should know: “Jesus routinely healed, fed and ministered to people whose personal lifestyle he likely disagreed with.” This put Jesus at odds with religious leaders, who believed they were sullied by associating with the “wrong” people.

Hamilton suggested that “if this legislation were to pass … those who wish to refuse service to gay and lesbian people (should be required) to publicly post (their policy). This would allow gay and lesbian people and all other patrons to know before entering a business.”

He’s right. Christians backing this bill are essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws.

Jonathan Merritt reminds us that we have been down this road before:

In the 1950s, “The Alabama Baptist” newspaper editorialized, “We think it deplorable in the sight of God that there should be any change in the difference and variety in his creation and he certainly would desire to keep our races pure.” In 1956, Texas pastor W.A. Criswell, still considered a paragon among some evangelicals, argued before a joint session of the South Carolina legislature that de-segregation was un-Christian.

It was into this context that King argued a public business owner cannot choose to serve certain customers and not others, regardless of religious convictions. He believed a public business must serve the entire public—period. It is not a far leap to see how King’s arguments coincide to our current situation. King’s logic can be boiled down to this: if a business is public, it must be totally public.

We can only conclude—like it or not—that Martin Luther King, Jr. likely would agree with Powers on serving same-sex couples. When it comes to the American marketplace, the ocean of religious convictions stops at the shore of public service



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I’m happy to report that yesterday the Maine House of Representatives voted down LD 1428, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom,” by a margin of a 89-52.

Rep. Charlie Priest (a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brunswick, Maine, and the Chair of the Joint Judiciary Committee which voted the bill “Ought Not to Pass” last month,) said before the vote, “This is not a bill about religious freedom; it will only create religious discrimination. Maine’s law and constitution has strong protections for religious freedom. This bill is not necessary.”

One of the five Republican representatives to vote against the bill is a member of an Episcopal congregation.

The Maine Senate voted down L.D.1428 on Tuesday by a margin of 19-16.

Heidi Shott

Gregory Orloff

Laws such as these break one of the cardinal commands of Christ Jesus:

“Treat others the same way you want to be treated” (Luke 6:31).

Don’t want to be discriminated against? Then don’t discriminate against others, Jesus says.

Alas and alack! How much credibility the gospel of Christ Jesus loses when Christians not only refuse to put it into practice, but connive to enact legal protection for refusing to put it into practice!

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