Discussion the best route

To the Editor,

 

At a recent rally in Lion’s Park, local residents gathered to stand against racist, homophobic, anti-semitic hate demonstrated in Charlottesville. During this time, our City Council considered a non-discrimination ordinance (NDO), now changed to a resolution. Statements at a Council meeting and in letters to this newspaper opposition to the NDO were as follows:

 

1) We are a welcoming town with no need to fix something not broken, 2) People masquerading as transgender could improperly sneak into bathrooms, and 3) An NDO assaults religious freedom, including the freedom to discriminate in the public arena.

 

We should be able to rationally discuss whether someone masquerading as transgender could hide behind an NDO, and if so, what could be done about it. There is research and data on this. We should not assume, however, that we are so welcoming here that discrimination is of little concern. It is a public matter when religious belief (often based in the Old Testament and not the New Word brought by Jesus Christ) endorses discrimination as acceptable social conduct. When we accept discrimination of one group it is an easy path to discrimination against others.

 

The point of the hate groups in Charlottesville is that they have a God-given right to discriminate as they choose. We know in our community there is a double standard for, say, LGTB individuals. One recent letter writer spoke of a local “well-loved lesbian woman,” then identified transgenders as “troubled” invaders of our privacy. Another wrote that for reasons of religious liberty no one should be forced to provide a service to a gay wedding. Perhaps a merchant could refuse to sell a T-shirt to someone gay, or post a sign that Blacks or gays cannot enter. Not so many years ago this conduct was legal here. But we now welcome tourists who spend their money in our local economy, although the welcome may not extend to the gay couple who schedule their wedding here.

 

A recent letter-writer argued that government should “avoid…overreaching its authority in the legislation of morality,” implying that government has no legitimate role in protecting the public rights of all. If there is discrimination in church, there is nothing to stop it but our own conscience. In our churches we might ask, for example, if we truly welcome or exclude gays as full members. When we step into the public sphere we have separate obligations.

 

I am not sure what “dangerous game of identity politics” a letter-writer thinks is played in “our welcoming little town.” What I do know is that in an authoritarian society, state-sponsored religion is used to justify discrimination, and once this gets started there is hell to pay. Such thinking gave us the Civil War and its sordid aftermath. Rather than criticize a councilwoman for proposing an NDO, we should take the opportunity to have a rational, productive discussion of such an important matter.

 

There is a stark contrast between using religion to justify discrimination, and the positive words of religious leaders who spoke in Lion’s Park about the love and tolerance we must insist upon to counter hate, fear, disparagement and intolerance of others.

 

Steve Muth

 

Red Lodge