Cumberland Times-News

February 27, 2014

Deja vu?

‘Religious freedom’ act just a new ‘Jim Crow’ law


Cumberland Times-News

— Those of us who have long memories may have felt a shiver when we first heard about the law passed by Arizona’s legislature that would have protected people from lawsuits if they asserted their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays.

Why did this sound familiar? Where have we heard this before? Where have we seen it?

We’ve seen it on signs that said, “No Colored Allowed” or “Colored Waiting Room.”

What used to be called “Jim Crow” laws mandated racial segregation and allowed discrimination in some sections of the country. Mostly they were in effect in the South, but by no means were confined there.

It wasn’t until 1954 that segregation in schools was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Until then, separate-but-equal schools for black and white children were the norm even in our area. Even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, there remained local businesses and organizations where whites were welcome, but blacks were not. It’s probably still the case today.

An old saying among Arabs is that if you allow a camel to poke his nose into your tent during a sandstorm, it won’t be long before the rest of him comes inside.

Likewise, if businesses are allowed to refuse service to gays, it may be just a matter of time before we start thinking it must be OK to discriminate against other groups as well.

Blacks weren’t the only targets of discrimination in our history. Hispanics, Italians, Irish, Poles, Roman Catholics, Jews ... anyone who fell outside the accepted norm ... also have been regarded as second-class people (as have women, regardless of their race or religion).

No one is saying that you have to like gays or approve of their lifestyle — or anyone else’s, for that matter. That’s not the issue. What is the issue is the fact that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees equal protection of the law to everyone in this country.

This is not a case of “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” That’s one thing. “No Gays Allowed” is quite another.

Using one’s religion as a reason for refusing anybody the services of a public business is just plain wrong. But then, for many years, millions of Americans accepted slavery because they believed it was justified by passages in the Bible.

Neither gay rights nor religious rights are involved here. This is about civil rights.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the so-called “religious freedom” bill, saying it was too broadly worded and could have caused unintended consequences.

She was right to do so. “Jim Crow” is an abomination, regardless of whom it targets.