Mike Delph and “Religious Freedom”

It’s deja vu all over again.

Mike Delph–whose hysterical (in both senses of the word) tweets in the wake of the failure of HR3 left no room for doubt about his feverish homophobia–has introduced a bill to protect “religious” folks from having to recognize the civil rights of LGBT citizens. [Update: Evidently that other “religious warrior,” Scott Schneider, authored this particular bill. Given Delph’s legislative history, you can understand how I made the mistake…]

(I’m sure Schneider is equally anxious to protect good Christians from being forced to do business with unwed fornicators, bearers of false witness, adulterers and other sinful folks. That bill will undoubtedly be introduced any day now. Not.)

My friend Bill Groth, a highly respected lawyer who frequently litigates constitutional issues, reminded me via a Facebook post that we’ve seen this movie before. In Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc. the Court wrote:

” The free exercise of one’s beliefs…is subject to regulation when religious acts require accommodation to society. Undoubtedly Bessinger has a constitutional right to espouse the religious beliefs of his own choosing, however, he does not have the absolute right to exercise and practice such beliefs in utter disregard of the clear constitutional rights of other citizens. This court refuses to lend credence or support to his position that he has a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of the Negro race in his business establishments upon the ground that to do so would violate his sacred religious beliefs.” 

Newman was decided in 1968.

The identity of the people who we are being asked to classify as second-class citizens may have changed, but the desire to justify bigotry in the name of religion sure hasn’t.

Fortunately, on this issue, that pesky Constitution this proposal ignores hasn’t changed either.


J.D. Ford, Mike Delph and the Social Contract

At a recent candidate forum, J.D. Ford–who is running against Mike Delph–made what should have been one of those “duh, yeah, we learned that in high school civics” observations: when businesses open their doors to the public, that constitutes an obligation to serve all members of that public.

There is a reciprocal relationship–a social contract– between business and government. The government (which collects taxes from everyone in its jurisdiction, no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation) uses those tax dollars to provide services. Those services are an essential infrastructure for the American businesses that must ship goods over publicly-financed roads, depend upon police and fire departments for safety, and (in some cities, at least) public transportation to bring workers and customers to their premises.

As Ford noted, business that want to discriminate– who want to pick and choose which members of the public they will serve–are violating that social contract. They want the services that are supported by the tax dollars of all segments of the public, but they don’t want to live up to their end of the bargain.

Where Ford (and I) see fundamental fairness, Mike Delph (surprise, surprise!) sees religious intolerance.

“I was saddened to hear him express such intolerance for those of us that hold deep religious conviction,” Delph told The Star. “Religious liberty is a fundamental American ideal.”

Let’s call this the bull*** that it is.

If your religious beliefs preclude you from doing business with gays, or Jews, or blacks, then don’t open a retail establishment. Don’t enter into a contract knowing that you will not honor its terms.

Religious liberty allows you to hold any beliefs you want. It allows you to preach those beliefs in the streets, and to refuse to socialize with people of whom you disapprove. You have the right to observe the rules of your particular religion in your home and church, and the government cannot interfere. But when you use religious beliefs–no matter how sincere–to disadvantage people who are entitled to expect equal treatment, when you use those beliefs as an excuse not to uphold your end of the social contract, that’s a bridge too far.

Mike Delph wants a government that favors (certain) religious beliefs, and gives adherents of (certain) religions a “pass” when they don’t follow the rules that apply to all of us.

I want Mike Delph out of Indiana government.


Mike Delph and the Book of Mormon

In the wake of Mike Delph’s bizarre meltdown, and his obvious inability to distinguish between his personal (and idiosyncratic) religious commitments and his civic and constitutional responsibilities, I couldn’t help thinking of The Book of Mormon.

Bear with me here.

For those of you who have yet to see the musical, Book of Mormon is both a delightful comic entertainment and a meditation on the role of religion in human society, for good or ill. While the ostensible subject is Mormonism, the real subject is the uses to which religious commitments are put, and the various harms done by unquestioning adherence to dogma.

When youthful “Elders” from Salt Lake City are sent to Uganda to convert the villagers, they find horrific conditions: widespread AIDS, hunger, poverty and hopelessness. The blond, blue-eyed, privileged Americans are steadfast in their beliefs; they sing of the “spooky Mormon hell dreams” that follow even minor indiscretions, of the “little Mormon trick” of “turning off” and denying unapproved sexual impulses, and–in my favorite, a song called “I Believe”– they affirm all manner of (implausible) doctrinal beliefs, including the belief that “in 1978, God changed his mind about black people.”

Elder Cunningham, one of the missionaries and the play’s comic relief, is a reluctant apostate: when a member of the tribe announces his belief that he can cure his AIDS by raping a baby, the appropriately appalled Cunningham invents a scriptural passage about AIDS that forbids such behavior (and substitutes a frog…you really need to see the show.)

This spontaneous invention–and many others that follow, including a divine prohibition against genital mutilation and commanded reverence for the clitoris–is clearly not consistent with Mormon doctrine. But it’s just as clearly humane and socially useful. And in fact, Cunningham’s version of Mormonism (which owes a considerable debt to Star Wars) is wildly successful with the Ugandans.

This musical morality tale brings us back to what I am going to call the Delph Dilemma.

Every religion has its doctrinal fundamentalists, a minority of believers for whom (their version of) the letter is far more important than the original spirit or purpose of religious law. And that’s fine, so long as we all recognize the wisdom of the First Amendment’s religion clauses, which essentially say “Okay folks, you have a right to believe what you want, and to live in accordance with those beliefs (at least until you start sacrificing small children or violating other basic laws of society). But you don’t get to make the rest of us live by your rules, especially when those rules require marginalizing those who are different.”

People like Mike Delph and Eric Miller and Micah Clark have an absolute right to their belief in a God who doesn’t want gay people to get married. They have an absolute right to throw a hissy fit (on twitter or elsewhere) when they lose a legislative battle. Those of us who see religion as one of many ways humans approach questions of ethics and morality, one of many way we try to understand our obligations to the other humans with whom we share this planet–have a right to think and live differently, and in our system, the government doesn’t get to make anyone’s religious doctrine the law of the land.

Although none of us has the right to impose our preferred religious doctrines on others, we do each have a right–perhaps even a duty–to assess whether any particular belief system ultimately encourages loving-kindness or abets mean-spiritedness– whether any particular worldview promotes amity or enmity.

We get to decide which is better: the dogma that sacrifices the baby, or the modification that targets the frog.


Gotta Love Texas

Facebook friends and even the Indianapolis Star have been having a lot of fun with Mike Delph’s unhinged tweets in the wake of the Senate vote on HJR 3. Delph–who can make even other Indiana legislators look relatively balanced in comparison–tweeted a long string of increasingly incoherent rants about the Godless Hoosiers who rejected Christianity by refusing to outlaw sin and civil unions. Or something.

If you thought that no one could top Delph’s little display of faux religiosity topped with a soupçon of constitutional ignorance, however, you were wrong. Once again, Texas wins the “you’ve GOT to be kidding” sweepstakes.

Watch this and weep!

Theocracy, anyone??


Echoes of Republicanism Past…..

This morning’s Star reports that Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has conceded the unconstitutionality of the anti-immigration bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Delph and passed by the General Assembly.

For those of you who do not follow such things, Indiana had passed its own version of Arizona’s mean-spirited and deeply flawed immigration law; a couple of months ago, the Supreme Court found virtually all of the Arizona law unconstitutional. That decision operated to doom most of the Indiana statute as well. And rather than use the Court’s decision as an occasion for grandstanding or ideological posturing, Zoeller did what a good lawyer in that office should do–he agreed that Indiana should follow the law.

The article also quotes an observation by former Marion County GOP Chair Mike Murphy to the effect that much of the current anti-immigration fervor on display is a response to tough economic times; in such times, he points out, people look for someone to blame.

An elected official doing his job properly, and a political operative conceding to the nature of reality might not seem newsworthy, but it is a small, heartening reminder of the GOP to which I used to belong–the party that produced Bill Hudnut , Dick Lugar and John Mutz.

Now we have Mike Delph, Mike Pence and Richard Mourdock. It’s enough to make you cry.