Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Special Rights" for Me, But Not for Thee

You know what's funny about this?
Columnist Cal Thomas, radio host Dana Loesch, and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins took part in a CPAC panel on religious freedom Saturday, and they pronounced that times were dire for followers of Jesus Christ.

“I feel like it’s time to make Christians a protected class,” Dana Loesch said, as the discussion reached a fevered pitch of self-pity.
This is what's funny about it, from the 1964 Civil Rights Act, emphasis added:
SEC. 201. (a) All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.
In other words, Christians are already a "protected class." And as apologists for bigotry have been saying for fifty years, if your civil rights are now guaranteed by law, you have nothing to complain about anymore, so shut up shut up shut up.

Of course, there's a catch. The Act doesn't specify which religions you can't discriminate against. Christianity is just one, and the Act refers to all of them. (There are Christians who would consider this persecution in itself, since they insist that Christianity is not a religion but a 'relationship with God', something like that.  So it's a hate crime to say that discrimination against Christians is discrimination based on religion, because Christianity should be singled out by name as a protected class of its own.)  Which means that Christians can't persecute members of other religions, or that right-wing Christians can't persecute other Christians -- and that, of course, they regard as persecution, a "dictatorship of relativism" as a noted Bavarian theologian called it. (Nor are they alone in this: the ultraorthodox Jewish Israeli men who got their jollies by spitting on and vilifying as whores eight-year-old Orthodox girls complained, when they were compelled by other Israeli Jews to stop doing so, that they were being persecuted, just like in Nazi Germany. Yes, really, they did.)

So, when the clowns at CPAC claim that Christians are being persecuted, what they mean is that some Christians -- their kind -- are being persecuted, because they aren't allowed to persecute others for their beliefs. Their kind of Christian isn't exactly a marginal, fringe sect -- there are quite a lot of them -- but they aren't all Christians and they don't speak for Christianity as a whole. But then, NO CHRISTIAN DOES. That includes liberal Christians, who also would like you to believe that they are the True Christians. They aren't. There is no true pure core of Christianity, or of Judaism or of Islam or of any other religion. Which is why the current fuss over whether ISIS is 'really' Islamic annoys me. Of course Isis is Muslim; so are the Muslims who repudiate them. But that's another issue.

Of course civil rights legislation doesn't address all the kinds of discrimination that people can suffer from.  But there is a lot of confusion over what "civil rights" are and what the law covers.  As I've noted before, a lot of people seem to believe that "civil rights" means specifically, the rights of black people.  One indication of this confusion is terminology like "the gay rights movement," which encourages gays and straights alike to believe that adding "sexual orientation" to civil rights laws will protect only gays and not heterosexuals or bisexuals.  (For the same reason, I suspect that there will be some unwelcome consequences as "gender identity" and related language is added to civil rights laws to protect transpeople.  These provisions will also protect cis people.  I can't think offhand of what cis people will need protection from, but as with "sexual orientation," I suspect we'll find out soon enough.)

P.S. While I'm on the subject of unforeseen consequences of legislation, I should mention the Equal Access Act of 1984, which I've seen mentioned in a couple of different books on gay youth that I've read lately.  Christian groups lobbied for the bill to force public schools to allow student religious clubs to meet in school buildings and use school resources, and it was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.  According to Melinda Miceli in Standing Out, Standing Together (Routledge, 2005) her book on gay-straight alliances,
... in the hearings leading up to the passage of the EAA, the point was raised that passing the act would also permit school clubs (such as a club for gay and lesbian students) that the religious leaders lobbying for the act did not approve of to meet on school property.  Passage of the EAA was so important to its advocates’ goal of fighting what they viewed as discrimination against religious speech in public schools that they were not dissuaded by this possibility. ... The EAA is now, perhaps, the single most important tool available to students who wish to start GSA clubs, especially after the Salt Lake City case made national headlines for over two years [39].
The EAA was probably intended to get the theocratic camel's nose into the tent, but it had consequences its advocates preferred not to consider.  No doubt they believed that, with Reagan in the White House, they could use the EAA to advance their agenda but no one else could.  But Reagan served his two terms and went back to private life, and imposing reactionary Christianity on the nation has proved more difficult than its adherents expected.  Not only GSAs but student groups espousing non-Christian religions -- or no religion at all -- have found the EAA a useful tool.  I love such little ironies.