Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Religion Vs. Civil Rights

Republicans are desperately fighting against the increasing acceptance of homosexuality in America. They just suffered a resounding defeat in Indiana.

Here is what happened. The Indiana legislature passed a bill designed to allow private businesses to refuse service to people they don’t like on the grounds of religious belief. According to the official digest of the law, “a state or local government action may not substantially burden a person's right to the exercise of religion”. In plain English, the Republicans were seeking to override local ordinances in Indianapolis and other cities which banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This new law would have allowed a florist or restaurant to refuse service to homosexuals and then defend themselves on the basis of religious belief. Indiana has no state laws which ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

This law is called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it would restore the right to discriminate against homosexuals, which had been removed by these local anti-discrimination ordinances. It is clear that the purpose of the Indiana RFRA was to continue the Republican struggle against gay rights. Last year Republicans failed in a legislative attempt to amend the Indiana constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Immediately Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, said, “If there is no way to protect marriage as the union of a man and a woman, then we must protect the freedom of conscience, thought and speech on marriage in Indiana.” Other organizations which oppose same-sex marriage began to advocate that the Indiana legislature pass the RFRA, such as Advance America, which is explicit on its website about the anti-gay purpose of the law. When Gov. Mike Pence signed the RFRA, representatives of these groups were honored guests.

Then all hell broke loose. Major corporations who do big business in Indiana said the law was bad and this might keep them from spending money in the state. Angie's List announced it would cancel a proposed $40 million expansion project that meant 1,000 jobs in Indianapolis. Apple CEO Tim Cook said such laws are “dangerous”, and the president of the NCAA said he hoped the law would be amended. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce said it favored changing the state’s civil rights code to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. The CEO’s of Wal-Mart and Nike joined in the chorus criticizing the law. A number of states and cities banned officials from traveling to Indiana.

This is a classic case of the clash between two world-views: belief in universal equality and religious intolerance. Religious belief was used to justify earlier forms of discrimination. Some Christians asserted that passages in the Bible proved the inferiority and sinfulness of Jews and blacks, and thus made racist laws acceptable.

But the entry of big business, fearing economic repercussions, has changed the game. Indiana Republicans retreated as fast as they could. A “fix” was proposed that stated that the law could not be used to discriminate against gay customers. It passed the legislature within a few days, and Gov. Pence signed it hours later. But when asked whether it is wrong to discriminate against gay people, Gov. Pence has consistently refused to answer.

This is not a local Indiana issue, but a wider Republican effort to keep fighting the battle over gay rights. Senator Marco Rubio from Florida said businesses should have the right to discriminate. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal defended the right of businesses to deny services to homosexual couples. Jindal said he did not support “special legal protections” for the gay community.

A poll last fall shows that Americans are still divided about whether a wedding-related business should be allowed to refuse services to a gay couple: 49% said no, and 47% said yes. Breaking down those figures, it is older white evangelical Republicans who believe such discrimination should be allowed.
As long as the most conservative Republicans, those most likely to vote in primaries, demand that their party fight against equality for homosexuals, Republican politicians seem incapable of resisting. They line up with the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian President Putin in asserting that their religion demands discrimination. Most Christians, here and in the rest of the world, disagree.

But they are losing their battle. A similar legislative battle in Arkansas also ended in changes to the proposed law. The Georgia legislature let a similar bill die quietly. Republican governors in Michigan and North Dakota have urged their legislatures to ban discrimination against gays. The clumsy effort in Indiana to encourage discrimination has backfired.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 7, 2015

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hippies Were Happy

Hippies have a bad reputation, especially among conservatives. In 1967, the “National Review” said that hippies were self-indulgent and had a “horrified rejection of work and production”. Their thinking, “if indeed thinking it can be called, is more like orgiastic love-spluttering than coherent thought.” They might cause “outbreaks of polio and typhoid”.

In 2007, Ted Nugent remarkably blamed “stoned, dirty, stinky hippies” for “rising rates of divorce, high school drop-outs, drug use, abortion, sexual diseases and crime, not to mention the exponential expansion of government and taxes.”

The most popular speaker at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, received a huge applause for claiming that millions of cases of STD’s today are “the revenge of the hippies!”

Even less hysterical commentators still want to blame hippies for all of our ills: in 2010, David Brooks of the NY Times blamed the hippie “agenda” for the New York City crime wave of the 1970s.

These stereotypes of hippies were created by people who hated them and didn’t want to understand them.

Hippies utterly rejected the consumer life. They believed that watching the clock, dressing for success, and hoping for the next raise damaged the soul. Hippies put a lot of stress on stress. Unlike most people, they were willing to make big sacrifices to avoid stress. The anxieties of modern working life, the pressures of schedules, and the confrontations with authority were not worth the hassle. At a time when daily life was being compared to a rat race, hippies wanted to leave it all behind.

Hippies took spirituality seriously. They created lives far out of the mainstream in order to preserve and nurture their spirit. Traditional gods did not play a big role in hippie spirituality. Some remained with traditional religions, but tended to worship on their own. Many, perhaps most, hippies imagined their own spiritual worlds, blending the social gospel of Western faiths with the inward search of some Eastern beliefs. A love of nature often focused on the Earth as a living being and maternal symbol. In religion, as in every area of belief and behavior, hippies were independent spirits.

Hippies did not get in your face. They didn’t send out mailers or make phone calls or knock on doors or shout into microphones. They didn’t believe that their way was necessarily better for everyone. They wanted to do their own thing.

Hippies were peaceful. That attitude went far beyond signs and symbols, and was more profound than opposition to the Vietnam War. Hippies thought that peace is meant to rule our daily lives, from international relations to the family home. When they raised two fingers and said “Peace”, they converted a plea for cooperation into a daily greeting.

Hippies abhorred violence. For trying to escape or end the draft, they were labeled cowards, but they were not. They stood up to the entire straight world, including every familiar figure of authority, to say “No,” we don’t want that life. The hippie approach to violence has been forever symbolized in the 1967 photo of a protester putting a flower into a National Guardsman’s gun in front of the Capitol.

Hippies got high. That didn’t distinguish them from normal folks. They used a different set of drugs – not depressants like alcohol or pills, but marijuana and psychedelics, including LSD, peyote and mushrooms. Their infrequent bad trips were only bad for themselves. They were less likely to drive drunk or get into brawls than the people who criticized them for using dope.

Hippies were ahead of their time. Their unconventional ideas about gender equality, their acceptance of a variety of sexualities, and their preference for organic products and vegetarian diets are now widely accepted. “Question authority” is now a bumper sticker, but few actually reject social authority as profoundly as did the hippies.

Hippies were less likely to cause trouble than most people. Hippie “crime” was typified by the illegal planting of flowers in People’s Park in Berkeley in 1969. But that didn’t stop people from causing trouble for them. They were called lazy, irresponsible and un-American. Hippie rejection of conventional American life made them pariahs in a country supposedly founded on individualism and freedom.

Conservative attitudes toward hippies demonstrate the shallowness of right-wing libertarianism. Rejection of authority only means rejection of government. Liberty means freedom from taxes. Politics is war.

Enough to make the real libertarians want to tune in, turn on, and drop out.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 31, 2015