It’s Not About a Wedding Cake: “Religious Freedom” Laws

by Stephanie Guilloud, Truthout | Op-Ed –


Religious freedom laws are signals of two things: the rise of legal protections for social control and segregation practices, and the growing power of cross-community movement alliances.

Over the last few weeks, religious exclusion bills were introduced, debated, modified and either defeated or signed into law. Basketball fans wore rainbow flags in Indiana; lesbians got arrested on the Georgia Capitol steps; even big business challenged the exclusionary policies.

But these bills are not aberrations or flash-in-the-pan hate legislation. More than 20 states already have similar laws on the books (half of them Southern), and 12 states introduced versions this year, including Georgia. The Indiana and Arkansas bills expanded the legal parameters. The Hobby Lobby decision in 2014 led to these state-by-state bills. The strategy is to test the social and legislative climate for how far states are willing to recodify discriminatory, exclusive, segregationist and violent practices.

At the height of Jim Crow segregation and violence, groups who were against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 argued that individual people, businesses and churches have the right to exclude and segregate particular groups of people based on religious liberty and individual freedom.

Fifty years later, those same arguments are being written into new drafts of old laws. The religious freedom bills sweeping across the South, Midwest and Southwest this year are about more than protecting gay people from mean bakers.

Religious freedom is being recodified to justify discrimination based on an individual’s beliefs, making anyone who falls outside of a narrow moral vacuum a potential target. If religious beliefs are legally allowed to disregard, diminish or oppose other religions, people’s behaviors or even people’s existence as humans, we are not on a slippery slope: We are swimming in the muck of a new era of social control and segregation.

The religious freedom laws and their byproducts are being introduced at a time of extreme racist hostility and violence. If we see these new codes as applying to or endangering gay people only, we will lose the opportunity to strengthen a social movement based in many communities under attack on multiple front lines.

Using the fear of abortion and gays to push a broader political platform of hate is not new, and LGBTQ communities are growing in strength to be able to confront and defeat these bills. But we should not miss the bigger opportunity. Social justice organizers have a responsibility in this new era to strengthen the alliances between the many communities affected by religious and social fundamentalism.

A few thoughts on crafting our strategies to move forward:

Look to History and Look to the South

As Southern movement organizers, we track historic patterns in order to devise stronger, comprehensive and transformative strategies that achieve victories for all of our people, not at the expense of any. The framework for these laws is based in the Jim Crow South.

The Black Codes crafted in the late 1800s were in direct response and counterattack to the growing political power of the Black community as a result of Radical Reconstruction in the South after official forms of slavery were abolished. Not only were Black people voting in high numbers, but also Black communities were becoming more represented in seats of power at many levels of state legislatures and the US Congress. The social, economic and political restrictions of the Black Codes ushered in Jim Crow laws, policies and vigilante terrorism that ruled the streets, businesses and courthouses for decades.



Reprinted with permission from Truthout