John Inazu says there’s an increasing amount of political rhetoric surrounding proposed changes in civil rights law with regards to religious liberty. There’s also uncertainty in how those laws will play out. Which is why finding consensus on expanding non-discrimination laws to protect LGBT persons, for instance, is so difficult.
Inazu is a law professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. On Tuesday evening, he visits Missouri State University to deliver a lecture titled “Religious Liberty and the Expanding Circle of Civil Rights: Conflict and Accommodation.” He says what we’re seeing is a greater attention to the collision between religious liberty claims and civil rights, and it’s getting uglier.
“The uncertainty [of the law’s impact] drives some of it, but I also think the political rhetoric really makes it even worse, and we saw that in Springfield and we’ve seen that elsewhere around the country that rather than trying to work together toward solutions we quickly demonize the other side so the other side becomes predators or bigots instead of fellow citizens or people."
In April, Springfield voters narrowly repealed the city’s revised non-discrimination ordinance that expanded protections for LGBT persons in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations. City council had amended the ordinance months prior but the issue was put to a vote following a successful referendum petition.
In other debates such as Indiana’s Religious Freedom Act, Inazu says the political rhetoric focused on a very narrow set of businesses in relationship to the bill.
“We had the cake bakers and the florists and the pizza makers and whether those businesses would offer their services at a gay wedding. And that’s a really important question and the stakes on both sides of that question are high, but it doesn’t mean the collapse of gay equality on the one side or the collapse of religious liberty on the other side. It’s a narrow set of issues.”
Inazu says that while there’s always going to be political winners and losers, it’s important to figure out where that line is drawn.
“As an example, if you poll most Americans, most Americans probably think that churches outa be able to control their own membership. And most Americans conversely probably believe that Walmart needs to serve all people. And then there’s a lot of space between Walmart and the church.”
He says “we’ve gotta do a better job” of working toward that line and finding a solution than how we’ve seen it in recent debates. That leads to the topic of pluralism, and the solutions to how to live in society with one another in spite of deep differences. It’s also a part of Inazu’s lecture Tuesday.
Inazu has written extensively about pluralism and religious liberty, as well as the events in Ferguson. You can view those entries at his website.
“Religious Liberty and the Expanding Circle of Civil Rights: Conflict and Accommodation” is a free event that is open to the public. It begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday in room 101 of MSU’s Meyer Library.
Hear Inazu’s full conversation with KSMU above.