Cherry Picking the Bible

Mike Pence
Mike Pence (Wikipedia)

The Bible has been in the news this Holy Week because social conservatives are promoting state laws to protect “religious freedom.”

Indiana’s Republican Gov. Mike Pence recently signed a bill, called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics said would have allowed businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples.  The criticism was so intense that this week the Republican-controlled Indiana legislature quickly passed and Pence immediately signed a revised version of the law that he claimed would prevent discrimination.

Arkansas’s  Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson refused to sign a bill this week, also called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, in response to intense criticism that it would also allow businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians.  He then signed the bill after it was revised to be less controversial.

Florida’s Republican legislators are promoting HB 7111, called the Conscience Protection for Actions of Private Child-Placing Agencies, that would allow private adoption agencies to refuse to help same-sex couples to adopt based upon religious grounds.

These laws aren’t the first of their kind. Last year Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature passed HB 1062, which critics said would have allowed businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples. The criticism was so intense that Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed it.

These new “religious freedom” laws result from the realization by social conservatives that the legalization of same-sex marriage across the entire U.S. is very likely, and probably inevitable. They believe homosexuality is a sin because it says so in the Bible, so people should be allowed to treat homosexuals differently – as unrepentant sinners. (They conveniently ignore, however, that the Bible also approves of a lot of things that are considered immoral today.)

These religious zealots are often the same type of people that find no problem with listening to a charismatic preacher or a slick TV evangelist focus on a single sentence, phrase, or word from the Bible to interpret its “true” meaning – even though they say they believe the Bible is the literal word of God.

This cherry picking from the Bible is so popular that I decided to try it too, but without any interpretations. The excerpts I’ve listed below are from the small portions of the Bible that pertain directly to Jesus:

  • “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
  • “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”

On June 7, 2018, an Arizona appeals court upheld a Phoenix anti-discrimination law that makes it illegal for businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples because they believe that homosexuality is a sin. The Alliance Defending Freedom, which was identified as an anti-gay hate group in 2017 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, said it will appeal the decision to the state’s Supreme Court.

They Were Always There Among Us

LBGT flag
LBGT flag

When I was a young boy I participated in the popular practice of calling other boys queers, faggots and homos. I don’t believe I was meaner than any of my friends. In fact, most of us didn’t really understand homosexuality. We just knew these were among the bad words we could use to insult each other for the sport of it.

On of my best friends was the youngest child in his family so he usually learned the bad words before I did. He probably taught me how to use most of them. We moved to different parts of the country after we grew up and didn’t see each other for about 30 years. But he recently moved to my town and we reconnected. We were a bit nervous the first time we saw each other again. But within minutes it seemed like we’d never been apart and we agreed we were friends for life, no matter where either of us lived.

Still, a lot of things had changed since we were kids. We got to know each other’s families and it was obvious that one of his sons was gay. I didn’t bring it up because I was sure he already knew it and I didn’t really care. When he finally talked to me about it he was very relieved to find that I understood.

During a recent visit from my sister, who lives out of town, we updated each other about what had happened to all of the kids we’d known growing up in our old neighborhood. (We agreed that Facebook was a great tool for re-establishing contact with people.) She told me that she’d reconnected with a boy we’d both known who’d lived down the street from us, and that he was now openly gay. She said she’d exchanged lots of texts with him and he’d told her that knew he was gay when we were kids, but in those times he was too terrified to be himself.

I’ve noticed, however, that these days more gay people are feeling free to be themselves no matter where they live in America. Maybe I’m just more aware of them now, but I don’t think that’s the reason. For example, there are now popular prime time major network TV shows with openly gay characters – lovable characters. And the spread of legalized same-sex marriage shows that the U.S. has crossed a tipping point in extending long overdue civil rights to gays.

I have a daughter who goes to college in New York City. During my trips to visit her I’ve learned how Manhattan is an important refuge for gay people, a place where they are truly free to be who they are, along with others like them. I think these visits have helped me developed pretty good gaydar too. Everyday I notice people around me that I’m pretty sure are gay.  I didn’t use to notice them very often. But I don’t think that was because they weren’t there. They were always there among us, living in fear.

Shame on us.

Ignoring the Will of the Voters

Arizona state flag
Arizona state flag

On October 6 the U.S. Supreme Court tacitly approved same-sex marriage by refusing to review earlier decisions made by federal appellate courts that had found local bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. Subsequently, on October 17 U.S. District Judge John Sedwick declared Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional too. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne responded by declaring that he would not appeal Sedwick’s decision to the Supreme Court, as it would obviously be a waste of time and money.

Because Arizona voters had approved Proposition 102 in 2008 to amend the state’s constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage, many opponents of same-sex marriage are complaining that the nullification of the state amendment by the federal courts violates the will of the people.

“I’m heartbroken for a country and a state that has had the redefinition of marriage forced upon them by an out-of-control federal judiciary,” said the Center for Arizona Policy’s Cathi Herrod, who helped promote the passage of Proposition 102.

“The federal courts have again thwarted the will of the people and further eroded the authority of states to regulate and uphold our laws,” added Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer.

But there are a couple of big problems with these complaints. To begin with, the U.S Constitution says federal law, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, always supersedes state law. And just because a state law was implemented by a voter referendum doesn’t exempt it from federal law.

More importantly, however, those Arizona Republicans complaining about a violation of the will of the people are big hypocrites. That’s because they’re simultaneously opposing the implementation of Proposition 301 that was approved by the voters in 2000.

The purpose of Proposition 301 was to allow the voters to circumvent the Arizona legislature’s habitual underfunding of the state’s schools by passing a 0.60% increase in the state’s sales tax rate, with the proceeds to be devoted to the state’s public school system. But the legislature drastically cut education funding when tax revenue plunged because of the Great Recession and diverted the Proposition 301 money to the state’s general fund. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature has cut school spending by 17.5% since 2008, the third highest percentage in the nation, which has resulted in the state’s school spending being in the bottom 10 nationally.

The Arizona Legislature Broke the Law

A coalition of education groups sued and in September 2013 the Arizona Supreme Court found the legislature had violated the state constitution by ignoring Proposition 301. The case was remanded to the trial court for resolution and this August Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper issued a judgment requiring the state to increase funding to K-12 public schools by making an initial payment of $317 million this fiscal year as part of a total of $1.6 billion in payments over five years.

The legislature, however, still hasn’t appropriated the money, even though the judge’s ruling instructed them to do it immediately. This is despite the fact that the state has about $455 million in its “rainy-day fund.” Republican legislative leaders are complaining that the state is too broke to make the payment because the state is projected to have a budget deficit of $49 million by the end of the current fiscal year.

But they are directly responsible for a big part of the state’s budget problems. In 2011, while they were reducing school spending, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill cutting Arizona business taxes, which legislative budget analysts estimate will cost the state about $538 million in tax revenue by 2018. This was despite the fact that, according to the Arizona Republic, two out of every three Arizona corporations already paid almost no state income tax, with many just paying the $50 minimum.

Furthermore, in 2006 the Republican-controlled legislature passed the Arizona Corporation School Tuition Tax Credit Law. It gives local corporations tax credits for contributing to private schools – including religious schools. There is no maximum tax credit for each corporation, just a cap on the total credits offered to all of the corporations in the state, with a 20% increase in the cap each year. This fiscal year Arizona’s corporations will be allowed to divert about $43 million tax dollars to private schools.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Ducey supports the legislature’s refusal to comply with Judge Cooper’s order. He says he wants to appeal it to buy time to come up with some unspecified cost-saving reforms. He claims he’d support making the first payment “once the appeal is exhausted.”

It’s obvious that Arizona’s Republican leaders only care about the will of the people when it agrees with their conservative ideological agendas.

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