Sunday, April 5, 2015

IRFRAK: The Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act Kerfuffle

Curmie wrote more blog posts in January this year than ever before… and then followed it up shortly thereafter with two months of nothing. Anyway, it’s time to get back on track, at least a little. And we start with the great Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act Kerfuffle (hereafter, the IRFRAK).

So… let’s start by saying that the world supplies of Stupid, Vicious, and Disingenuous must be seriously depleted now, as so much of those qualities have been expended over the last few days. We begin with the bill itself, absolutely the product of an imagined “war against Christians/Christianity” that right-wing media have somehow managed to convinced their ovine followers to believe in. Because, Christians are under attack, you see, being denied the right to substitute their religious beliefs (often directly counter to what their Holy Book requires of them) for the Constitution, denied the right to claim that they can do whatever the hell they want because Jesus, denied the right to discriminate against people unlike themselves because Old Testament. (By the way, don’t start talking about mixed fibers or shellfish or tattoos—those prohibitions applied long ago, but not in today’s world, silly. But to suggest that God doesn’t hate gays as much as we do is heresy.)

Anyway, the RFRA was trumpeted by proponents and reviled by opponents because it would allow assholes in the name of Jesus (hereafter, ANJs) to refuse service to people they think are icky. That such distortions of actual Christian teachings were used to support racial segregation (and worse) a couple decades ago is apparently to be forgotten.

Then, when Governor Mike Pence signed the bill into law, he did so in a private ceremony (a phrase which, ironically, invokes the concept of marriage), surrounded by a collection of religious leaders and, more tellingly, supporters of a gay marriage ban—which of course leads us to the real impetus for the law: if gay people are allowed all the privileges and responsibilities of… you know… real people, then we need a new law to uphold our right to be ANJs.

Surprising no one—although of course the bigots, fools and charlatans who passed and signed the bill purported to be dumbfounded—the new law pretty well passed by “controversial” and went straight to “incendiary.” Everyone from George Takei to Rush Limbaugh weighed in, and a stupid law passed by stupid people in a single state became the talk of the nation.

Gov. Mike Pence being taken to the woodshed by George Stephanopoulos.
Governor Pence went on national television and made an utter buffoon of himself, unwilling to say either whether or not the new law would do what everyone knew it was intended to do, or whether it should. If his appearance with George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” was intended to “clarify” the law’s intent, then Pence failed epically. Indeed, if water-muddying were an Olympic event, Pence established himself as a front-runner for the gold in 2016. But please, God, don’t let him near the 2016 prize he’s really seeking. He’s the perfect blend of Sarah Palin stupid, Scott Walker vindictive, Mike Huckabee hateful (while pretending not to be) and Jeb Bush smug. But he’s really the next version of Mitt Romney: nary a core belief (except his own self-interest) and a consummate prevaricator. I suppose we should rejoice that he isn’t—or at least doesn’t seem to be—as batshit crazy as Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann, Rand Paul, or Tom Cotton.  Small mercies.

Anyway, having made it perfectly clear that the new law was absolutely intended to allow discrimination based on sexual preference (because that’s what the ANJs want) but unable to bring himself to say so (because then he’d be shown to be the bigoted twatwaffle he really is), he (or, more likely, a ghost-writer) penned a piece in the Wall Street Journal (excerpts here; full article—behind a paywall—here), saying that of course Indiana wouldn’t pass a law that permitted discrimination… the fact that they had done so—or at least attempted to do so—should not in any way be taken as evidence that such a thing could occur. (Curmie is reminded of the 17th-century French Academy, which argued that actual events aren’t necessarily plausible.)

Sometimes The Onion really is “America’s finest news source.” They ran one of their best (and most scathing) satirical articles last Monday. Its title: “Indiana Governor Insists New Law Has Nothing To Do With Thing It Explicitly Intended To Do.” Not to be outdone, Andy Borowitz wrote an article that opens “Indiana Governor Mike Pence is ‘stunned and amazed’ that so many people appear to have gay friends, Pence has confirmed.”  Comedians are now our best journalists.

Anyway, Pence (the real one, who is very like the satirical version except not quite as funny) says that if he “saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, [he] wouldn’t eat there anymore.” Needless to say, not eating there is a step or two short of charging them with a violation of civil rights laws and working to put them out of business. One presumes that if he witnessed a gay-bashing, Mike Pence would courageously refrain from joining in.

Meanwhile, as dissension mounted, defenders of the bill argued two mutually exclusive positions: that the bill was virtually identical to existing federal statute (and therefore shouldn’t be criticized), and that it was necessary because, you see, the federal law was insufficient to protect Bible-thumpers from discriminating against everyone else exercising their religious freedom. Wanting to have it both ways is apparently a pre-requisite to being an ANJ.

Inevitable conclusions: Mike Pence is an intellectual lightweight, a liar, and a jerk. Anyone purporting to have been broad-sided by the national outrage is so out of touch that Mitt Romney is shaking his head in disbelief, is dumber than the proverbial sack of hammers, or is a dissembler of such stature that Pinocchio’s proboscis could extend from here to Tierra del Fuego and he still couldn’t keep up with Pence.

And then there’s the saga of Memories Pizza. By now, Gentle Reader, you know all about this family business. A young journalist from a local television station asked the proprietor and his daughter about their response to the RFRA law and the accompanying furor. They said some pretty stupid things about denying their services to a (purely hypothetical) gay wedding, although they’d serve gay customers in their restaurant per se.

Cue the outrage. And then cue the outrage at the outrage. And then cue the outrage to the outrage to the outrage. The restaurant’s Yelp page exploded with negative reviews, most of them, no doubt, from people who had never eaten there. There was a choreographed and largely successful campaign to put the pizzeria out of business. People would call in fake orders. There were death threats (Curmie has no way of knowing whether these actually took place, but has no evidence to the contrary).

And, of course, there was a Glenn Beck-orchestrated GoFundMe campaign that generated over three-quarters of a million dollars—even after the site takes it cut—in only two days. The tax implications are unclear—I’m pretty sure the contributions aren’t tax deductible, but will the pizzeria be on the hook to Uncle Sam for a few hundred thousand bucks? Curmie’s no tax accountant, and he’s seen claims both ways. It would be especially apt if the loathèd government made a tidy bundle out of these shenanigans, but they may not profit at all. Any way you slice it (get it, “slice it”?), however, Memories Pizza will end up with a lot more money out of this enterprise than any small-town pizzeria is going to net in a very, very long time.

How to parse this all out? First, the human capacity for hypocrisy and over-reaction has seldom been more in evidence. The pizzeria owners said something dumb but apparently sincere during a local news interview. They draw a line between serving gays (they will) and catering a gay wedding (they won't). Let us leave aside for the moment the relative unlikelihood that there would be a significant number of gay weddings interested in procuring the services of a pizza joint in a town of a little over 2000 people. (To be fair, Curmie ate pizza at a wedding reception only three months ago, but that involved shutting down a pizzeria for the private event and making use of the entire space as well as the food. In other words, this called for a special consideration, and any business owner would be perfectly justified to say “no” for whatever reason.)

Crystal O’Connor: “That's our belief.”
The point is that for all Kevin O’Connor’s silly claim to that he “chose” to be heterosexual, neither he nor his daughter Crystal have actually denied service to anyone; they just said that they would, in a purely hypothetical (and limited) scenario. This is enough for reasonable people to think twice about patronizing Memories Pizza. It is not enough—nothing, including actual denial of services, is—to call in death threats, to place fake orders, or to give 1-star, profanity-laden, Hitler-referencing, reviews on Yelp (which is an utterly unethical business, anyway… but that’s a rant for another day) without having actually eaten the food. Such behavior undermines any claim the pro-LGBTQ community (I almost said the “left,” but there are of course many conservatives—and Christians—who are passionate about equality) has to the high moral ground. In this moment, at least, the O’Connors were definitively out-assholed by their detractors.

But while we’re on the subject of threats, let’s also condemn at least as vociferously the yahoos on the other side of the religio-political divide: those who threatened the job (and the person) of Alyssa Marino, the ABC57 (South Bend) reporter who committed the sin of asking for a response from a local business-owner. There is nothing in her reporting that is anything but respectful. Be it noted, however, that the same cannot be said for the smug set-up for the piece by studio anchor Brian Dorman (contrasting “a welcoming South Bend with a much different view”) and the misleading at best on-screen crawl that the restaurant “denies some service to same sex couples,” a statement which is, to be charitable, not entirely true. Neither of these items, however, can be linked to, let alone attributed to, Marino. The station’s new department has something to answer for. Marino does not.

Meanwhile, of course, although the O’Connors were allegedly in hiding, fearful for their lives, they did dare to emerge to do a Fox News interview. Funny how that works, isn’t it? And then, of course, there was the GoFundMe campaign orchestrated by Lawrence Jones, a contributor to Glenn Beck’s The Blaze and proud minion of James O’Keefe, who might just be the most unethical person on the planet now that his former boss, Andrew Breitbart, is no longer among us. All that is fine, of course. Being despicable shouldn’t prevent you from setting up a crowdfunding campaign, providing only that the donated monies end up in the hands of the advertised recipients, and that the money-gathering itself is above board. I have no reason to assume that the process was anything but honest. So Curmie must disagree with the depiction of the fundraiser as a “conservative media scam.” Still, if I were the O’Connors, I’d be more than usually diligent about receiving the money due me, and more than usually cautious about being manipulated by my presumed allies.

One last thought on the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised in the GoFundMe campaign: Curmie says something stupid several times a day. Where’s my check?

Other fallout from the IRFRAK: On “This Week,” Governor Pence proclaimed that “We’re not going to change the law, OK?” That promise was good for less than a week. Excoriated by the national press, Pence quickly trotted out a fix for the original stupid legislation, signing the Changes That Would Not Happen into law precisely four days after declaring that he wouldn’t do so. The changes are not as far-reaching as some would hope (overturning the RFRA altogether, for example), but the revisions were apparently precisely the right combination of judicious backpedaling and intentional obfuscation so that both sides can declare victory and move on. Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Elsewhere: Arkansas also watered down its similar bill and then passed it, Virginia passed one, Georgia withdrew theirs, Texas is considering one. Sooner or later, SCOTUS will have to get involved. Given the utter stupidity of most Roberts Court rulings, this isn’t a good thing. File this under: screed for a another day.

Perhaps not an actual photo of Joshua Feuerstein,
 but close enough.

And, of course, there’s the inevitable smug reversal of positions, with ANJ Joshua Feuerstein, a former televangelist, siccing his million-plus Facebook followers on a Longwood, FL, bakery called Cut the Cake because they refused to provide a cake with the message “we do not support gay marriage.” This is a well-crafted smear by Feuerstein, as his requested message walks the edge of hate speech without actually crossing over. It is political and incendiary, of course: that was its intent. Needless to say, the ANJs did exactly the same thing to Cut the Cake as the nutjobs on the other side did to Memories Pizza—threats, false orders, obviously fabricated reviews, the whole nine yards. Cut the Cake seems to be holding up just fine, at least from the look of their Facebook page.  That's the one piece of good news.

La la how the life goes on.