I think the hardest part to understand has been the use (or misuse) of the phrase "religious freedom." Those two words are constantly referenced by the bill's proponents; obviously #1 at the top of the talking point memo. This concept hearkens back to the founding fathers/mothers of our country; people who left a place where they were told how to worship and practice their beliefs by an oppressive patriarchy; the chilling merger of church and politics. What our forbearers sought when they came here was freedom from religion to practice their faith the way they wanted to.
The bill's use of the phrase is something else entirely: it's not freedom from religion that's being sought; it's freedom to inject religion into some of the basic interactions and relationships that undergird the bedrock of society. Interactions and relationships, incidentally, that are not inherently religious in nature. Goods and services, the hum of the marketplace - they depend on the equal participation of all. And yet the Kansas/Arizona/Next State bill seeks to erect barriers to this in the name of "religious freedom." This is not at all what our ancestors envisioned - in fact, it is precisely the thing they were trying to get away from.
The quick retort, of course, is that being forced to interact with people you don't want to, in spite of your religious beliefs, qualifies as "religious persecution." Once again, a misuse of a common catchphrase. True religious persecution occurs when the primary political/cultural power of the day lords that power over a politically/culturally weaker subgroup. As the cultural architects of much of Western society, American Christians can hardly play the victim game. It may not be easy being the church today, but our struggles certainly don't come from religious persecution or threats to our religious freedom. In short, we're not being burned at the stake.
All of this has been rolling around in my head the past few weeks, trying to find a way out. It finally did - last night, in seven words on a TV screen. The family and I were out for dinner, and a television in the far corner of the restaurant was showing cable news. The segment was on the Arizona bill and a supporter - a pizzeria owner - who referenced "religious freedom" as the reason he'd deny service to some, and that doing so was his way of serving God. This, followed by the beautifully simple counter-voice of a protestor; their words in big bold letters across the bottom of the screen:
"You're not serving God, you're serving pizzas."
Let's forget for a moment that Jesus himself not only shared company with people who were different from him, but actively sought out interaction and lifelong relationships with those folks. Let's forget the common human dignity for all people that lies at the heart of a high-functioning, civil society.
Let's just focus on this: we in the community of faith serve God best not by rigidly adhering to our objective beliefs based on a selective reading of scripture. We serve God, ultimately, in the way that Jesus himself directed us to: Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.