Wednesday, May 14, 2014
I've been excited to see the "We Don't Discriminate" campaign take off in Mississippi, in part because it says great things about the state to a nation that is watching closely. The thoughtfulness of the business people who have reacted to a regressive law passed by a Legislature with misplaced priorities is ultimately going to help Mississippi's cause, if only thanks to the contrast offered by the "other side" in the argument.
This past week, the American Family Association put out an "action item" that accuses the "We Don't Discriminate" campaign of being ... discriminatory. To quote from the piece:
"Ironically, this sticker represents the very promotion of discrimination ... against the freedom of religious convictions."
So let's think about that for a second. The Mississippi Legislature passes a bill that appears to enable people to discriminate against others based on their personal, religious convictions. In response to that bill's signing, a group of businesses decide to create a campaign to make it clear to their customers that they don't plan to discriminate against anyone—if you're buying, they're selling.
That's what the sticker says, that's what the campaign is about. "If you're buying, we're selling."
So how does that discriminate against anyone's religious convictions?
The AFA would certainly have a case if the sticker said, "We refuse to serve committed Christians," or "no Muslims here," or even "only gays allowed."
But that's not what the sticker says. It says everyone is welcome. So why is that so threatening to people with strong religious convictions?
I'm forced to assume a "we don't discriminate" campaign feels like a threat to the AFA not only because they (a) want the legal right to discriminate, but (b) they also feel bad about it and don't want to be reminded of that desire.
Maybe seeing some people in town put a "We Don't Discriminate" sticker in their businesses' window makes those people feel guilty that they want to discriminate—when what they want is to feel righteous.
But how righteous are your convictions if you feel bad about them?
That's the only logic I can come up with, because a campaign that has non-discrimination at the absolute core of it is—by definition—not discriminatory. It's the businesses' choice to tell people they won't discriminate; this is America, and I applaud their willingness to stand up for what they believe in.
The AFA, on the other hand, says this: "The businesses listed below are spreading hateful rhetoric against the religious freedoms and convictions of Christians."
The problem is, the "We Don't Discriminate" folks aren't doing that.
Isn't there a commandment that says something about bearing false witness?
One could guess that the AFA is saying that the "We Don't Discriminate" campaign is "spreading hateful rhetoric" because the Religious Freedom Restoration Act isn't designed for discrimination. That could be fair.
Unfortunately, the AFA clearly admits that banning gays from public accommodations is the purpose of the bill as they see it—a sidebar on that same page reads:
"The homosexual lobby is bitter against Governor Bryant's signing of the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects Christian business owners against lawsuits from gay activists. The typical response is to spread their hatred for religious truths by attacking and intimidating Christians."
One thing I love about the "We Don't Discriminate" campaign is the fact that it doesn't attack anyone—even if the AFA fervent wish to convince their followers that they are being attacked.
The fact that "We Don't Discriminate" is such a purely positive message is the greatest threat to groups like the AFA, which traffic in judgment and negativity in an effort to drum up indignation from their support base. That fills the coffers.
But the admission by the AFA that this is definitely about gays is very interesting, because groups aligned with the AFA in support of this bill (http://jfp.ms/adfmedia) have gone to great pains to distance themselves from that purpose, instead suggesting that the bill simply mirrors aspects of the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by Bill Clinton. (They then generally fail to mention that federal courts struck down aspects of the federal RFRA, which seems to be why they're so worried about passing the same sort of laws at the state level.)
The AFA and ilk feel they have a compelling interest in denying accommodations to gays on religious grounds—they want, by definition, to discriminate. In their estimation, they should be allowed to do so and—to all appearances—a majority of Mississippi lawmakers and the governor agree. (The upshot of the true effects of the Mississippi law, like too many of Mississippi's poorly considered laws await testing in the courts.)
But the response to this potentially discriminating law has been an open, positive campaign by business owners to simply differentiate themselves from those pushing for that law. They want people to know, publicly, that they're not going along with it.
The AFA? Its response is to squeal like a stuck pig. One is forced to wonder why.
I'm not here to argue theology. I'm a great admirer of Jesus, and it's my understanding that he himself made no mention of same-sex marriage in the Bible, although he mentions divorce quite a bit. (Head over to the AFA website and look for recent references to divorce as a challenge for American families. It's shockingly harder to find that than homosexuality.)
But whatever the AFA believes about religion and marriage, I'm surprised to find it so concerned that these business leaders are exercising their rights and freedoms in a free society to let people know that they don't plan to discriminate against their customers.
There's nothing negative in that message; I would hazard to guess that Jesus might approve of the outreach to all comers. (For some reason the song "Just As I Am" keeps playing in my head.)
I applaud the "We Don't Discriminate" businesses for offering a positive message for Mississippians and to represent Mississippi with a positive message to the rest of the country.
Todd Stauffer is the president and publisher of the Jackson Free Press.
Wright917 9 years ago
Shame on afa for their stand and how can a sticker that simply states everyone is welcomed be discriminatory? I think they are confused. Maybe they think that all businesses are required to have this sticker which is not the case. My problem is this. Why do we have to have a law to say that a person who owns his or her own business does not have to cater to persons they don't want to? Not to say that it is right, but... Stores everywhere used to and some still do have signs that read "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone". As a business owner I think they should have that right, but don't use that right against groups of people, use it against individual people. Somebody comes in your store raising hell, refuse service to them. Don't refuse service because they are white, black, yellow, or green. Don't refuse service to homosexuals or homophobics. Unless they come in your business acting a fool then kindly ask them to leave, sure they are going to say they were kicked out because of whatever reason they want to use, but with the surveillance equipment businesses have these days they won't stand a chance in court. If there is a business that you know discriminates against certain groups of people and you don't like it, don't go there. Simple! I don't go into Hollister or Abercrombie and Fitch because they don't sell clothes to fit me, why would I go in there and raise hell because they discriminate against fat people? I wouldn't, I just don't go there. I felt discriminated against a few weeks ago after I had just gotten my enhanced concealed carry firearms permit, I was proud of it! I had my weapon on and well concealed, you couldn't see it if you tried. I walked up to the door of Shoe Dept in Flowood and noticed a sticker on their door that stated they were a privately owned business and they forbade firearms of any type in their store. Were my feelings hurt? Did I feel discriminated against? Yes! Did I go in the store with my weapon showing and make demands to the manager and tell him that I could do what I wanted to because he couldn't discriminate against me and then call my attorney and file a huge suit against shoe dept? Nope! I had two choices, take my weapon to my vehicle and go back to the store or shop somewhere else for shoes. I walked back to my truck and put my weapon away and went inside the store. I didn't have to. My permit lets me carry there even when there is a sign. Also you couldn't see my weapon. Shoe dept was certainly discriminating against a group of people. I don't hear anybody complaining about them, nor do I care if anyone complains about them. My point is this, business owners should have the right to cater to who they want to cater to, just as we as consumers have he right to not shop at businesses that don't want us there. We don't need a law for that.
js1976 9 years ago
"This sticker is part of an organized effort by homosexual activists to bully, intimidate and demean Christians"
What the AFA doesn't realize is their are guilty of their own accusations! I would say they do enough to demean Christians on their own.
donnaladd 9 years ago
For the record, I watched a lesbian woman cry today due to treatment in Mississippi today of her wife and family. She read Todd's column later in the day and thanked us for it.
Stand up, Mississippi. We are better and loving than the AFA, and so many, think we are. We've got this. And the AFA and their ilk know it. That's why they're acting so desperate.
KMCopeland 9 years ago
I like this: "Maybe seeing some people in town put a "We Don't Discriminate" sticker in their businesses' window makes those people feel guilty that they want to discriminate—when what they want is to feel righteous."
I think he nailed it.
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