The “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” was signed by Governor Mike Pence. If you’re behind the counter at a coffee shop in Indiana, you can refuse to sell a double macchiato and a cup of decaf to two men, because…well, just because. Two women who were looking forward to sitting at the corner table, reading the New York Times with a latte and a croissant…well, they can take their New York Times elsewhere.
I hope that at some point, Governor Pence will realize that he has made a mistake. A huge mistake. I hope that over time, he’ll think back to the day he put his signature on that paper, and feel painfully embarrassed. Sadly, I doubt it.
The title of this bill bothers me. Including the word “religious” is an insult to any belief system promoting values of decency. I live in The South, with the majority worshipping some form of Christianity. I’m Jewish. Whether you believe Jesus was a man or a God, he was a good guy, with exemplary values of acceptance, decent to the bone. To attach the word “religious” to this bill is blatantly disrespectful to the teachings of Jesus.
As for “freedom,” I just don’t get it. I’m reading through the lines, between the lines, above and below the lines. I’m searching for “freedom,” even a hint. I’m certain that over time, this bill will be viewed with the same contempt as the efforts to fight Women Suffragists. Mike Pence will be grouped with the people who tripped and shoved the women marching for the right to vote. The governor of Indiana and his bill are nowhere close to “freedom.”
And “restoration” – often that word has a positive connotation, like preserving historical artifacts. But in this case, the word just means that Governor Pence and his followers are moving backwards.
Yes, I’m angry. But I’m also hopeful and determined. When I was in high school, my U.S. History class studied Magellan and Columbus. The unit was called “Great Explorers”; now, my children study those same men in a unit called “Pirates.” I learned nothing in school about Lucy Stone or Julia Ward Howe (women suffragists), but my children know their names well. My children and I studied the Civil Rights Movement, although I hope my children’s children will never see the Confederate Flags that still fly in The South.
Progressive change is inevitable, as are those who fight for oppression in the name of “religious freedom.” But as I said, for every pound of anger I carry, I hold equal amounts of hope and determination. I believe that if my children have children, when they study U.S. history, there will be a section on the Gay Rights Movement. The unit will include the Stonewall Riots and Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco who legalized Same Sex Marriage in 2004. Teachers will guide their students to understand the roles of Harvey Milk and Larry Kramer, speaking their names with the same respect as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Every step toward LGBTQ+ rights will be taught as progress toward “freedom.”
We’ll get there.