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Discrimination is anti-American

By , Opinions Editor  |  Sunday, March 9, 2014 11:40 PM
(Alex Goering/TommieMedia)

(Alex Goering/TommieMedia)

I would like to think that I have a pretty sound moral compass.

My parents and a Catholic school upbringing drilled the concept of right and wrong into my head, which has been a constant pillar in my life.

That being said, there’s a certain topic that you don’t need a religious or strong family upbringing to get on board with.

No matter your economic status, race, creed or gender, the idea of discrimination is something that everyone should oppose.

For clarification, Webster’s Dictionary defines discrimination as “the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people.” St. Thomas continuously states in the student handbook that it has a zero-tolerance policy for any form of discrimination. The United States has a Constitution with a Bill of Rights and amendments passed throughout its history stressing equality and abolishing discrimination.

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It seems painfully obvious that our society not only strives to move past, but also opposes blatant forms of discrimination as morally wrong … or at least that is what I thought.

Last week, the state of Arizona was in the national spotlight as it faced a moral controversy involving a proposed state law. The law proposed, SB 1062, would have allowed businesses to refuse service to customers based on sexual orientation. Lawmakers argued that the bill fell under the First Amendment’s freedom of religion, with many protesting that it was obvious anti-gay discrimination.

In the end, with large corporations like Delta Airlines and Major League Baseball strongly opposing, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, saying it “could result in unintended and negative consequences.”

I am happy to see Gov. Brewer take a stand against anti-gay discrimination, but looking at her track record raises a big question for me.

How can one form of discrimination be bad, but another be OK?

The black sheep that I am referring to is the Arizona law SB 1070, commonly known as the “papers please” law.

Approved by Brewer in 2010, the law allows law enforcement to stop and request identification from any person that is “reasonably suspected” of entering the country illegally. The bill also created fines for immigrants who did not carry their identification papers at all times.

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Many believe that the bill uses obvious racial profiling discriminating against the Latino community in Arizona. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down four provisions of the law that allowed for warrantless arrests of immigrants without legal permission and required immigration-status checks by law enforcement in certain situations. Later in 2012, an Arizona district judge allowed for the requirement to question immigration status while enforcing other laws.

I’m not going to say that I can fully understand the feelings of frustration and trouble caused by immigration in southern border states. I’m the furthest possible distance from that situation. Those feelings are real, and in many ways, justified by those trying to uphold a broken immigration system.

Let’s be clear. Discrimination is a destructive mixture of hate and ignorance.

I don’t have the answers for solving the problems with immigration, but I do have a moral responsibility to take a stand against discrimination. You don’t have to fully agree or believe in open borders or gay marriage to know that discrimination is wrong. We were all raised better than that, and we’ve all learned from the struggles of the past. From women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement to the discrimination that our ancestors faced when immigrating to the United States, we’ve supposedly learned from these mistakes, so why not prove it?

One hundred years ago, the Irish immigrants took the brunt of the scrutiny. Now, we pin it on our neighbors to the south as we boast what percentage of Irish we are on St. Patrick’s day. The National Park Service estimated more than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island alone. Today, with a horrendously tedious and unrealistic path to citizenship, the New York Times estimates that there are 11.7 million immigrants living in the United States without legal permission.

On the Statue of Liberty, one of our nation’s greatest monuments, an engraving reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” That message is why our ancestors came from across the sea. We take pride in famous immigrants like Albert Einstein and the Von Trapp family who came seeking refuge from violence. Many escaping South and Central America seek the same. Why are they different?

We are all the product of progress. Though we may be culturally, ethnically, economically, sexually and religiously diverse, we have all overcome obstacles to be here. So why hold each other back?

Discrimination is anti-American, and everyone deserves better.

Alex Goering can be reached at goer8777@stthomas.edu.

This item was posted in Featured News, Opinions and has 15 comments so far.

15 Comments

  1. Barbara Gorski
    Mar. 10, 2014 7:23 AM

    Alex -

    What a powerful article! You allow your passion to surface and you present facts to support your viewpoint; very well written. I pray that you continue to follow your passion for what is right and just. Our world is a better place because you are here and courageous enough to share your thinking. Thank you!

    Be Well!
    Barbara Gorski, Ph.D. – Director of the BUSN200 Program

  2. Dick Houck
    Mar. 10, 2014 8:16 AM

    OK, Mr. Goering. Answer this one if you can. Our Catholic Church and Faith teach that marriage was instituted by God from the beginning as between one man and one woman, and that marriage between same sex couples is wrong. Read the Catholic Catechism on the issue. And further, sexual relations between same sex couples is also wrong and against God’s commandments. Man made laws cannot change God’s law. And so, if one were to make a public statement as to our religious beliefs, he/she would then be charged with bullying or discrimination and prosecuted under man’s bullying and anti-discrimination law. It has already happened in Canada where priests have been prosecuted for preaching our Catholic beliefs. The question is, who is being discriminated against. The constitution also contains a freedom of religion clause. Either we are free to practice our religion openly or we are not. According to the homosexual lobby, we are not. Only they are free to practice what they believe.

  3. Joseph Mueller
    Mar. 10, 2014 11:43 AM

    Ah, Mr. Houck, but the thing about the US Constitution is that while it allows for freedom of religion, it does not allow one’s personal freedoms to infringe on the freedoms of another, or to cause a ‘harm’ to that person. So unless the entire state of Arizona is of the Roman Catholic faith, the argument of ‘freedom-of-religion’ does not hold up.And no one is arguing that the Catholic Church could must stop their services and ways of worship. Rather, they are arguing that people of different beliefs be allowed to worship/commune in ways they believe. Your argument is very hyperbolic.
    Class of 2013, UST

  4. Andrew Ring
    Mar. 10, 2014 1:24 PM

    Hey Dick, your argument against gay marriage reminds me of arguments made against interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia in 1967. One argument in the case was: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” See how silly this looks today? Because it’s basically the same question begging argument. Don’t be on the wrong side of history, Dick.

  5. James Heaney
    Mar. 10, 2014 4:39 PM

    @Joseph:  And yet, Mr. Houck’s comment is somehow still LESS hyperbolic than the extraordinarily aggressive posture Mr. Goering has adopted.  If you only call out the people who disagree with you for incivility, you’re not promoting civil discourse; you’re adopting a powerful silencing technique.

    I think there should be a rule: nobody can comment on SB1062 unless you’ve actually read SB1062.  It’s two pages, not much, but a great deal of coverage of the bill — claiming it “would have allowed businesses to refuse service to customers based on sexual orientation” — is, at minimum, seriously misleading (and, in my opinion, simply incorrect).

  6. Chris Gelke
    Mar. 10, 2014 9:39 PM

    I find it both revolting & morally backwards that anyone would want to harken back to the days of “Whites Only” & “No Irish Need Apply” in our present day under the guise of protecting religious liberty.

    But the issue at hand – SB 1062. I’ve read the bill (so no need to discount me from the debate) & its correct that theres no mention of the LGBT community in the bill.  However, SB 1062 reaches well beyond opposition to same-sex marriage by extending a blanket privilege on people with sincerely held beliefs: if it would violate your conscience to do business with pretty much anyone, you are under no obligation to consort with them. Under current law, a Catholic parish is under no obligation to give fair consideration to non-Catholic candidates when hiring a priest. But an electrician can’t discriminate in hiring an apprentice. With SB 1062 in place, anyone could deny you service or meaningful work if they felt doing so would “infringe on their conscience”. Car dealerships could not sell you a car if you did not use said car to attend Mass weekly. Bookstores could deny women the right to purchase school textbooks, if the owner believes their place should be in the home. SB 1062 is vague. Governor Brewer said so, as did many of the GOP representatives and senators who reversed their position on the bill. It would make the individual a mini-church and create a society in which denial of service was the norm. No free society does, or should, operate this way.

  7. Chris Gelke
    Mar. 10, 2014 9:39 PM

    Let me return to the Catholic argument. In regards to the Catechism, I’m sure we all know by now that it states that members of the LGBT community, “…do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided (CCC #2358)”. This is the very essence of unjust discrimination. Supporters of this bill using Catholic dogma as ammunition forget that members of the LGBT community are human persons possessing human dignity. Instead, once again, we have aligned our preaching of the Gospel with a political agenda that is championed by hateful bigots.

    If the face of American Christianity is an angry hotelier who wants to place a “straights only” sign outside his place of business, then we have no one but ourselves to blame for the decline of Christian faith.  The God of this branch of American Christianity is too small. 

  8. James Heaney
    Mar. 11, 2014 2:58 PM

    @Chris: I’m pleased you’ve read the bill! However, you have sorely misread it.

    Firstly, the bill simply does not establish a legal regime where, “if it would violate your conscience to do business with pretty much anyone, you are under no obligation to consort with them.” Under Arizona’s RFRA (like the national RFRA), the person whose conscience is violated must be able to demonstrate a “substantial burden” on the free exercise of religion to a court. Even if this is successful, the government may still force the violation of conscience if it can demonstrate a “compelling interest” in doing so. SB1062 does not provide a blanket veto to every business owner who feels aggrieved. It gives them their day in court; no more.

    Nor is SB1062 a legal revolution. For starters, the vast majority of 1062 is already in the Arizona statutes. So, in fact, every individual is *already* a mini-church under Arizona (and U.S.) law. Indeed, that is, literally, the point of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment. It’s the reason the Supreme Court upheld SB1062′s understanding of religious liberty in 1962′s Sherbert v. Verner, and it’s the reason RFRA was passed unanimously by an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress in 1992.  SB1062 is necessary only to clarify that religious freedom exists in the marketplace as well — which everyone believed it did under the existing law of the land, right up until a 2009 decision in New Mexico.

  9. James Heaney
    Mar. 11, 2014 3:03 PM

    In short, you’ve bought into a hysterical over-reaction against a bill that does nothing new, but merely clarifies the existence of a protection that has been part of American law for at least 50 years.  There are those who are desperate to revive Employment Division v. Smith (a monumentally bad Supreme Court decision) in order to weaponize it against the centuries-old understanding that the First Amendment protects the right of free conscience.  Those crusaders have paraded Jim Crow back and forth to scare Americans away from their constitutional right to religious liberty… while conveniently ignoring the fact that Jim Crow was *destroyed* during a period when SB1062′s understanding of religious liberty was the law of the land.

    I encourage you to reconsider your position.

  10. Lizzy Thibault
    Mar. 11, 2014 6:49 PM

    The arguments made thus far lead me to a question: What about private business owners, such as wedding photographers who do not want to cover a commitment ceremony or same-sex marriageor bakers who do not wish to bake a cake for a same-sex couple? Would you say that they should or should not be allowed to refuse to serve the couple in these ways?

  11. Lizzy Thibault
    Mar. 11, 2014 6:56 PM

    And by the way, Mr. Gelke, I fail to see how you calling those who oppose same-sex marriage as “hateful bigots” demonstrates respect for human dignity. I really do not mean this as a personal attack, but rather to point out that you may have caused yourself to lose credibility due to the inconsistency between your words and apparent attitude towards those with political views that oppose your own. 

  12. Chris Gelke
    Mar. 12, 2014 12:01 PM

    James, the bill would have removed the need to demonstrate a substantial burden, only needing to demonstrate that its not, “trivial, technical, or [a] de minimis infraction[s].” It may seem like its the same, but by reversing the need to demonstrate substantial burden to only need to prove its beyond trivial, its ensuring that almost every potential case would go in favor of the individual discriminating. So yes, it does create a regime in which pious discrimination is given a near-universal blanket protection.

    So no, I hardly call this hysterical/an over-reaction. Its a legitimate concern with a very vague piece of legislation that would have legally permitted the broadest & most concerning acts of discrimination since the dismantling of Jim Crow. I too have my problems with ED vs. Smith, & understand the passage of the Federal RFRA – but Arizona takes the RFRA and weakens the substantial burden test (the Sherbert Test) to make it (either intentionally or unintentionally due to incredibly vague language) that any individual could refuse to consort with another individual if doing so more than trivially impacts their conscience. The Sherbert Test allowed for the government to overcome religious freedom arguments against dismantling Jim Crow by asserting the public interest in ending discrimination outweighed the burden imposed on individuals, so weakening the Sherbert Test on the state level is very dangerous. I’d courage you to reconsider your position.

  13. Chris Gelke
    Mar. 12, 2014 12:20 PM

    And Lizzy, I do not think that either the baker or the photographer should have the legal protection to refuse service to LGBT individuals. Its a dangerous precedent that serves no compelling interest beyond ostracizing and demonizing members of the LGBT community. The same logic was used in denying Irish Catholics the right to meaningful employment in 19th century America, and again during Jim Crow. I would assert that if business owners are so concerned with the legal necessity of serving everybody equally, they should reconsider being in business in the first place.

    And also, I was by no means referring to those who oppose same-sex marriage as hateful bigots. I understand the complexity of the issue & believe there are people of good faith on both sides of the issue. This case here, in which people are using their religious beliefs to justify the denial of goods and services to LGBT individuals (unjust discrimination certainly, using the language of the Catechism) reeks of bigotry. There is NOTHING in the Gospel that condones this discrimination, and the Catholic Church would have done much better to pair its commitment to “traditional” marriage with a clear statement that no Catholic businessman or businesswoman should claim warrant in the Gospels or the teachings of the Church for discriminating against gays. That is all I am saying. 

  14. James Heaney
    Mar. 13, 2014 1:46 AM

    Chris, I appreciate your thinking there, but you are still a bit confused.

    The text you refer to (“not triggered by trivial, technical or de minimis infractions”) is from the original Arizona RFRA, passed in 1999.  See Arizona Statutes, Title 41, Section 1493.  SB1062 did not add or modify that language; it merely corrected the grammar of the clause leading into it.  (The full text is included merely to clearly show the precise nature of the revisions, in blue and red text; the unchanged text is in black.)

    There is no reversal of the substantial burden test in SB1062. It would have continued in the same form it has been given since Arizona passed its RFRA in 1999.  The exact same legal boilerplate appears in Idaho’s state RFRA, passed in 2000.  I could see an argument made that that clause is too broad, but so far it does not seem to have overly disrupted life in Arizona.

    It is worth remembering that, in Arizona, sexual orientation is mostly not yet a protected class, and so (in most jurisdictions), it is still perfectly legal for Catholic bakers and so forth to refuse service to same-sex couples getting married, even *without* passing a substantial burden test.  Yet Jim Crow has failed to arise there.

  15. Chris Gelke
    Mar. 13, 2014 1:31 PM

    I completely understand that it is already a part of Arizona law. SB 1062 is affirming the weakened form of the Sherbert test that already exists in Arizona Statute 41-1493.01. But by pairing that already codified weakened test with an expansion of who can claim religious freedom violations (any entity who feels a “substantial” [aka. not trivial] infringement on their conscience, from any source [not just the government]) would create a system in which broad denial of service could be permitted. That is the issue with his bill. It pairs an already existing weakened and vague Sherbet test with an expanding definition of who can claim infringement of freedom of religion and an expanding definition of against who that claim can be made. It seems like a problematic can of worms to open. Allowing each individual to operate as a stand-alone religion, in which all their acts and interactions become religious in nature, could have far-reaching impact. There are already laws that protect religious freedom in AZ in many ways. This bill seems like a way for the Arizona State Govt. to attack municipalities who have made LGBT individuals a protected class. 

    On your second point, yes a very important change to the law does need to be made in adjusting our national and state laws to ensure that sexual orientation is a protected class. Denial of service is happening, and luckily the free market is dealing with those companies.

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