by Travis Weber
April 14, 2015
In a recent opinion piece on Louisiana’s Marriage and Conscience Act (HB 707), state representative and speaker pro tempore Walter J. Leger III tries to dictate morals to his constituents, but only ends up exposing his hypocrisy and desire to discriminate. Against who? Against religious people he doesn’t agree with, such as Richland, Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman, who has happily served gay customers but doesn’t want to be forced to service a same-sex wedding, and the owners of Memories Pizza in Indiana, who received death threats for simply holding traditional views on marriage. These people have never discriminated, but Rep. Leger doesn’t care. Why? Because he’s not interested in stopping discrimination. He’s interested in eliminating dissent and conforming all thoughts to his.
As if that wasn’t enough, Rep. Leger abuses American history and our founding documents, claiming what is “happening today in Louisiana with the proposed Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act is a perversion of the lawsthat have been established to reflect the beliefs of a moral and religious people.”
I’m not sure how that is. The Marriage and Conscience Act will protect the consciences of a minority group of citizens. This is the very purpose of the entire Bill of Rights. Besides, a “moral and religious people” would hold no belief but the belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Indeed, that’s why our country has never seen anyone even seriously suggest the idea that marriage could be between two people of the same sex for over its first two hundred years. If someone is not reflecting the views of a “moral and religious people,” it’s those who want to destroy the entire idea of marriage and family, and then violate the consciences of those who disagree by making them support the idea.
Rep. Leger pharisaically tries to decree the “correct” religious views to his constituents. Instead, he ends up insulting them and revealing what he’s really about.
Indeed, it is “moral and religious” people who now need protection. And it is these people who HB 707 would protect. All the bill would do is prohibit the government from taking “any adverse action against a person” due to that person’s “religious belief[s] or moral convictions[s] about the institution of marriage.” HB 707 would prevent the government from discriminating against people because they believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and would prohibit the government from using its heavy hand to condition tax treatment, contracts, and other benefits on a person’s acceptance of the “acceptable” view in support of same-sex marriage.
HB 707 would also help protect those with religious objections to being forced by the government to play a part in same-sex marriage ceremonies under threat of fines and imprisonment.
This is too much for Rep. Leger, who has taken it upon himself to claim that “[m]oral and religious people do not discriminate.” As if that settles it. It doesn’t, and Rep. Leger glosses over the real issue and the bill’s protections as laid out above. The only one talking discrimination here is Rep. Leger, who’d want to discriminate against anyone who doesn’t agree with him (and who would be protected by this bill). The Marriage and Conscience Act would protect people from such discrimination at the hands of an intrusive government. Rep. Leger would rather remove their protections, and potential expose them to fines and imprisonment because they simply want to act in accord with their consciences.
People sharing Rep. Leger’s agenda showed their true colors recently in Indiana, where they harassed the family that owns Memories Pizza with death threats for simply holding traditional views on marriage. This family was minding their own business, just trying to live quietly and in peace and make a living. But reporters came to them and asked them about their religious views and how they exercise their faith. Only when asked did family member and owner Crystal O’Connor explain, “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no … . We are a Christian establishment.” Yet at the same time they made clear their establishment would continue to serve any gay person who walked in.
As a result of expressing their views on this hypothetical situation, outrage against this family ensued on the internet. Their business was trashed on Yelp. A high school girls golf coach in Indiana tweeted “Who’s going to Walkerton, IN to burn down #memoriespizza w me?” Many failed to grasp that the owners stated they would serve anyone who walked in; they just wanted their religious views protected. Consequently, the O’Connors closed their pizzeria temporarily. “I don’t know if we will reopen, or if we can, if it’s safe to reopen,” Crystal O’Connor told reporters. Kevin O’Connor told the L.A. Times, “I’m just a little guy who had a little business.”
Thankfully, the family had some supporters, and their shop appears to be re-opening. But this incident exposes the danger we are in and highlights the need for laws like HB 707 to protect those like the O’Connors who increasingly are holding a minority view.
If we can’t even protect unpopular views in law, and instead people are allowed to mete out mob justice like this more reminiscent of scenes overseas than in the United States, we are in serious trouble. The gravity of this matter only further highlights the need for laws like HB 707.
It is people like Barronelle Stutzman, who need the protection of laws like HB 707. Barronelle has happily served gay customers. She just doesn’t want to be forced to service a same-sex wedding, which her faith teaches her is wrong. Nevertheless, Barronelle was recently fined for refusing to use her floral skills in support of a same-sex union. She just doesn’t want to be forced to violate her conscience. But without a law like HB 707, she is left at the mercy of the all-powerful state should it seek to coerce her to act against her beliefs.
What would Rep. Leger say to Barronelle? In his opinion piece, he claims, “[f]ederal and state laws already exist to protect religious liberty.” Actually, there are no “federal and state laws” which would protect people such as those protected by HB 707. Rep. Leger is flat wrong here.
The only support he offers is his hyperlink to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—which compounds the foolishness of his claim—for he is apparently ignorant of the fact that the federal RFRA does not protect against state-level action (which is the very reason states have been trying to pass their own RFRAs).
Alas, Rep. Leger also tries to be a theologian, claiming to be “appalled at the length to which some people will go to ignore the lessons of love and acceptance that Jesus lived and died for and twist them into an excuse to discriminate.” His exegetical errors aside, the point of civil laws is not to dictate individual moral behavior, but to protect individual rights and freedom (even for those we disagree with). He should be ashamed at misrepresenting God’s Word in this manner, and more ashamed at using it to suppress views he doesn’t like.
He then brings out this sledgehammer: “Would we have stores place “Heterosexuals Only” signs in their windows where “Whites Only” signs once hung?” Ah, yes…. Of course that would be horrible. But who can point to any law which would permit that? All HB 707 does is protect against government discrimination against people based on their beliefs on marriage.
Rep. Leger continues, “[p]reventing a business from discriminating does not hinder the freedom of the business owner to hold his sincere religious beliefs in his heart and in his home. A business operating in the public sphere, relying on public infrastructure, is not at liberty to pick and choose who it will allow to be its customers. Either it is open for business or not.”
Rep. Leger apparently thinks the First Amendment only applies in the “heart” and “home.” It seems we can assume he is for taking away the First Amendment rights of the New York Times corporation to speak and report freely? If not, well why would he take away someone’s religious rights just because they want to make a living? If he would, he’s just discriminating against religion specifically.
Those who believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman are increasingly becoming a powerless minority, especially in the face of media voices, big business, academics, and government elites who look down upon their views. All HB 707 does is protect these relatively powerless people from government discrimination against them based on their beliefs on marriage.
Rep. Leger again exposes his ignorance for criticizing Indiana for passing “similar legislation.” Indiana had actually passed a RFRA very similar to the federal one Rep. Leger hyperlinked when claiming “federal and state laws already exist to protect religious liberty.” Moreover, Louisiana has had a RFRA for some time. Has Rep. Leger spent energy criticizing it?
As if this wasn’t enough, he then insults the people who need the protection of HB 707 by inferring they are racists—as they would bring up “evil apparitions from the Deep South’s dark past.”
Rep. Leger closes with: “[r]eligious liberty by right should and ought to be protected, and it is.” He’s correct that it should be protected, but wrong that it currently is. HB 707 would protect it. Yet Rep. Leger opposes HB 707.
Rep. Leger can’t (and won’t) be allowed to get away with the heavy-handed moralizing of telling believers their religion really means differently than they think it does. He can’t (and won’t) get away with the hypocrisy of claiming he is against discrimination, while at the same time himself discriminating against religious views he doesn’t like by seeking to strip believers of potential protections like HB 707.
Rep. Leger simply can’t claim to support religious liberty and oppose HB 707. He must pick one or the other.