Saturday, April 18, 2015

Using "Religious Freedom" Laws for Good

During the big media controversy over Indiana's "Religious Freedom" law it was noted that similar laws already exist in a number of other states. The main difference is that generally speaking those other laws only apply to government entities and mirror the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed into law in 1993. One of the states with such a law is Texas, where a woman may have found a novel way to use the 1999 state RFRA to do something positive.

Over the last couple of years many cities have decided that offering food to homeless people should be illegal. I have no idea what supporters of such laws hope to accomplish, since people aren't generally homeless by choice. The rhetoric about "letting them starve" is bullshit, since humans are among the best survivors nature has ever produced. They will find a way to eat, even if it means resorting to crime. Why criminalize charity?

At any rate, when Joan Cheever was fined for distributing food to the homeless in San Antonio, she argued that doing so was a free exercise of her religion and therefore the fine was in violation of the Texas RFRA. She plans to make her case before the court in June.

From Express News:

"Cheever is scheduled to go before Municipal Court on June 23, but she remained defiant after receiving the citation, arguing that under the 1999 Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, she has a right to serve food to the homeless because she considers it a free exercise of her religion."

“One of the police officers said, ‘Ma’am, if you want to pray, go to church,’” Cheever told WOAI-TV. “And I said, ‘This is how I pray — when I cook this food and deliver it to the people who are less fortunate.’”

I'm assuming that Cheever is Christian since it's the majority religion, especially in Texas. And the fact is that feeding the poor was something Jesus actually did in all four canonical Gospels. I expect that it will be very difficult for the state to argue that doing so is not a Christian practice. The case might still go against Cheever, but I have a hard time seeing such a ruling as anything other than rank hypocrisy.

Not all Christians hate on gays. Jesus, in fact, said nothing about homosexuality and the only quote from the New Testament that is used to justify discrimination is from the epistles. He considered feeding the poor a very big deal, though, which to my way of thinking is the whole point of the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

If the Texas RFRA turns out to not apply here, what that says to me is that this alleged religious freedom only means religious freedom for assholes. And that would be a very big problem with the law.

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