Have you seen/heard Stairway to Heaven performed by Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson at the Kennedy Center the night that Led Zeppelin was honored? If you haven't, take a few minutes and check this video out.
Powerful, huh? But now that The Rolling Stones have announced the dates for their tour of the US, I just have to say it. I cringe when I see Mick Jagger strutting on stage these days. I do. It's involuntary, like a gag reflex. Jagger has become a caricature of himself and it's sad.
Picturing Jagger strutting on a stadium stage to the signature strains of (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction forces me to give a pass to Robert Plant for his antipathy toward the idea of a Led Zeppelin reunion. Plant's just not that shirtless guy wearing low rider jeans any more, screaming into the mic, brushing his shoulder length, curly locks off his face with an almost effeminate flip of the wrist. He realizes that he can't be that guy again without becoming a cartoon. You just can't recreate history. You can honor history the way that the Wilson sisters did at the Kennedy Center that night and the way that Plant does when he performs semi-acoustic versions of Led Zep hits in duet with Allison Krause. But trying to recreate those great Led Zep onstage moments, night after night, note for note and solo for solo, 40 years later? No. So Plant gave up the stadiums and the big money and found ways to be the Robert Plant of today. Like this...
What does all of this have to do with Religious Freedom Restoration Acts? Well, it's about understanding and honoring history. And while those who say that RFRAs honor American history, a closer examination suggests that, like Jagger's strutting, their idea of American history is cringe worthy.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM MISCONCEPTION #1
If you are like most Americans, you think that the Pilgrims came to the New World to escape religious persecution. Senator Tom Cotton of Open Letter to Iran fame recently repeated that meme in discussing his state's passage of a RFRA. Like most Americans, and like Senator Cotton, you'd be wrong. Repeating poorly taught history does not make it so.
The Pilgrims did initially leave England after that country's break with Rome in order to practice their own version of non-Catholicism. Since they would not join the Church of England, they had to leave. But they didn't leave to go to the New World. They left to go to Holland. In Holland, they were free to practice their religion as they saw fit. The Pilgrims were not being persecuted when they decided to ship themselves across the Atlantic from Holland. They were, however, poor. Unskilled labor working at low-paying jobs. And their kids were enjoying the less restrictive social life that their host country had to offer. So their parents, for economic reasons and to keep control of their kids, left for the New World.
You can make the argument that the Pilgrims left England for reasons related to religious freedom, but you cannot make that argument for their eventual decision to sail to North America. At that point, the only religious component to their flight from Europe was their inability to convince their kids of the worth of their cloistered, austere lifestyle. There are echoes of such frustrations today, the belief of some religionists that they are losing control of the narrative, especially as regards their children. I get it. It's disheartening when your children reject teachings that you hold dear. But giving religionists license to discriminate based on an imperfect understanding of the Founders intent is not my idea of the American ideal.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM MISCONCEPTION #2
If you are as old as I am, you remember the civil rights struggles of 50 years ago.
(I do part with some of my liberal friends when I say that I consider the LGBT struggle today qualitatively different from that of black Americans back in the day. Yes, the LGBT community is discriminated against and that discrimination is is as wrong and as hateful as racial discrimination. But as a Jew, I can tell you that I have been discriminated against in my life primarily when I declare my Judaism. I can walk down the street anywhere in the world, I can even drop my pants and display my lack of a foreskin, and unless I declare my faith, I can pass. The same goes for the LGBT community. Unless they declare their orientation verbally or by their actions, they can pass. Black Americans don't have that option. The reason that they are discriminated against is literally written across their foreheads. Just sayin'...)
If you remember those struggles, you remember folks like Lester Maddox. Lester owned a restaurant in Atlanta. He swore that he would close it before he would allow it to be integrated. He stood in the doorway, waving an ax handle, to make his point. And he eventually did close the restaurant rather than comply with the law. States rights and private property were his mantras. The federal government had no business telling the Georgians what they could and could not do. And anyway, don't people have the right to associate with whom they choose on their own property?
1. States should be able to determine for themselves the definition of marriage.
2. And whether or not a state allows LGBT marriage, who a businessperson decides to serve is his or her own business.
By that reasoning, we're back to Maddox. And that just won't fly. The reason that federal laws can trump states' rights is to protect the rights of minorities, not ratify the will of a misguided majority. Never doubt that Georgians were in the majority sympathetic to Maddox. Two years after he closed his restaurant to avoid integration, he was elected governor of Georgia. And once you enter the public sector in business, civil rights trump religion. (Or used to. We'll see what happens once gay marriage hits the Supreme Court. If corporations are people and corporate money in politics is not a corrupting influence and corporations can have religious beliefs, anything is possible.)
One last note...
Misconception #3 is that traditional marriage is the union of one man and one woman. You can't cite the Bible while you are saying that. How many wives did David have? Seven? Did Solomon? 700? Indeed, the history of marriage is not as clear cut as you may think, even into the 19th Century. Look it up sometime.