Here we go again.
Mississippi passed a law on Tuesday protecting business owners’ right to freedom from religious discrimination and compelled speech, little things prohibited by the Constitution.
A quick skim of the headlines shows a theme: “Mississippi Gov. Signs Law Allowing Service Denial to Gays.” “Mississippi Governor Signs LGBTQ Segregation Bill Into Law.” “Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant Signs Anti-LBGT Bill Into Law.”
You’d think, from a quick read, that Mississippi had passed a virulent anti-LGBT law. You definitely wouldn’t know that there’s overwhelming popular support for the bill from both Democrats and Republicans in the state of Mississippi. You might not be sure if we’d been flung back to the era of Jim Crow laws, to the Middle Ages, or a cave-dwelling existence sometime before then, but there’d be no doubt in your mind that things are really, really bad.
So what about it: Does the Mississippi law allow people to discriminate, to refuse service to someone based purely on their sexual orientation? Does it hurl us back thousands of years into the past?
No, it doesn’t.
For most businesses, the law won’t make any difference at all. It doesn’t allow religious restaurant owners not to serve a gay man a sandwich because of their convictions. It doesn’t let religious booksellers refuse to sell a book to a lesbian.
It does, however, protect the religious freedom of certain business-owners who provide wedding-related services, without in any way infringing upon the right to same-sex marriage. A Christian cake baker cannot, under this law, refuse to sell a cake to an LGBTQ individual. He can, however, refuse to express a message that violates his beliefs — so he can choose not to craft a custom wedding cake for a same-sex wedding. To force him to do so would be to compel speech.
For example, in the 1943 Supreme Court case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Court ruled that the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses could not be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance, because certain phrases in the Pledge violated their religious beliefs. The opinion contained this statement: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word of act their faith therein.”
In one sense, then, the Mississippi law is a throwback — a throwback to the days of this “fixed star in our constitutional constellation.” Today that star is in serious danger of being extinguished by the penumbras of Political Correctness, which strive to dictate what we can and cannot express in every area. Mississippi’s legislature has simply said that business owners cannot be compelled by the government to express something that violates their religious beliefs, or be punished if they choose to abide by their consciences.
Compelled speech was a major weapon of such regimes as Soviet Russia, where a favorite tactic of the government was to force artists and creative professionals to use their talents to express support of something they (the artists) didn’t agree with. Soviet leaders knew that one of the best ways to demoralize people, strip them of their dignity, and make sure they were completely subjugated to the country’s oppressive regime was to force them to say something they believed was not true. The spitting rage we see from the media is because some of those deeply held beliefs go against the sacred laws of Political Correctness: namely, the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.
To argue that America is in no danger of becoming Soviet Russia is to miss the point: Many progressives would love nothing more than to compel religious citizens to express convictions that violate their faith, and they have so far done a sneaky-good job of convincing the general public that their intent is anodyne. In reality, it is the intent of those behind laws such as Mississippi’s that’s pure: They simply want to preserve and protect the liberty and human rights recognized by our Constitution, clarifying what have always been essential principles upon which our politics are based. That they’ve inspired such an outpouring of overheated bile from the left-wing media only proves they’re on the right track.
— Jane Clark Scharl is a freelance culture and politics writer who lives in Phoenix, Ariz. Her work has been featured at National Review, The Intercollegiate Review, and The Imaginative Conservative.