"Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion" -- The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, authored by Thomas Jefferson
Just because someone touts something with fervor, conviction and heightened decibel levels does not make it true any more than if spoken with a whisper. Moreover, no amount of emotion can make a misguided interpretation true.
While these observations are widely accepted, they reflect one of the unintended consequences of a democracy. The right to free expression does not grant the right to distort something to fit exclusively within one's preconceived notions -- for that is the dangerous terrain that ignores human dignity.
Those who espouse religious freedom the loudest in America also seem destined to take the path of misinterpretation, while paradoxically clinging to constitutional virtue.
Under the guise of religious freedom, the Arizona Legislature passed Senate Bill1062, which many feared would have allowed businesses to refuse service to anyone based on the business owner's religious beliefs without fear of lawsuits. It would have opened the door to widespread discrimination, particularly against the gay and lesbian community.
It was a bill that sought to close a loophole that did not exist by creating an escape clause through narrow-mindedness.
Not even the staunchest strict constructionist can cite the original intent of the Founding Fathers to conclude that religious freedom was synonymous with legalizing bigotry.
Title 2 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act specifically dealt with discriminatory practices in public accommodations. The only organizations exempted were private organizations.
Some supporters of SB1062 said that these were mostly businesses that operated exclusively in Arizona. But the Supreme Court has decided that such restrictive laws in a single state could still affect interstate commerce and, therefore, violates the Constitution's commerce clause.
It is here that misappropriation leads to an unjust bill like SB1062. The Constitution inconveniently makes freedom of religion, freedom from religion, and religious liberty an indispensable triad -- each cannot stand alone, nor can one support itself by violating one of the remaining two.
The cacophony surrounding SB1062 was based on religious freedom. Such claims are, at best, a mendacious cover to obfuscate reality. The real misappropriation lies not in one's understanding of religious freedom, but in it being used as a justification.
Advocating for religious freedom to discriminate against certain groups is akin to using the Second Amendment as justification to prohibit one from voting -- a non sequitur. This was not an issue of religious freedom, but a violation of the Title 2 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One cannot tout religious freedom by violating the law to justify intolerance.
As Justice John Marshall Harlan prophetically wrote in his dissent in the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson ruling:
"We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our people above all other peoples. But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with the state of the law which, practically, puts the brand of servitude and degradation upon a large class of our fellow citizens, our equals before the law."
Religious freedom notwithstanding, Arizona was headed back to the days of Plessy had SB1062 been enacted.
Moreover, had Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer not vetoed the bill, Arizona would have put into place a thinly disguised notion of "equal" that would have been unencumbered by discrimination, by misappropriating an understanding of religious freedom that is foreign to our constitutional values.
Byron Williams is a contributing columnist. Contact him at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.