Thanks to McKee and the General Assembly, 2021 is the year Rhode Islanders lost religious freedom.
The amazing thing, when government officials establish a religion, is that everything becomes clear and easy. Through a clerisy, their god (even if it is an undefined Great Progressive Spirit) tells them what is right and wrong, and they simply conform the law to those requirements. Anybody who believes differently has to put their beliefs aside and get in line.
Their god has spoken.
Thus we get Democrat Governor Dan McKee flanked by Democrat Representatives John Edwards the Fourth (Tiverton, Portsmouth) and Edith Ajello (Providence) and Democrat Senators Melissa Murray (Woonsocket, North Smithfield) and Meghan Kallman (Pawtucket, North Providence) celebrating their proclamation that Rhode Islanders cannot live under the belief that there is any god greater than the LGBTQ+ god.
The first bill (H5741 & S0755) forbids the proprietors of any “place of public accommodation” from designating distinct single-use bathrooms for the use of specific genders. Regardless of the wishes of the owners or the clients who typically utilize the facilities, Edwards and Murray know better what is right and wrong. Whether the concern is religious (e.g., men and women are different and have a right to distinguishing identification and private spaces) or practical (e.g., men leave toilet seats up and tend to keep bathrooms in… let’s say… less pristine condition), Rhode Islanders have no right to make that call in their own spaces.
Edwards worries that “gender-specific restrooms can cause a great deal of anxiety for members of the transgender community.” But if the lack of a gender-specific restrooms causes somebody else anxiety, she’ll just have to get over it. Edwards’s god has spoken.
Similarly (but worse), the most substantive change in the second bill (H6215 & S0563) is that it removes an exemption (i.e., a legal compromise) that allowed Rhode Islanders to give preference to tenants based on sexual orientation when renting out portions of the homes in which they live. A devout Muslim couple with small children can no longer rent out their second floor apartment if they don’t wish to allow what they consider to be immoral behavior under their own roof. A lesbian who has had bad experiences with straight men can no longer decline to share living space with one if renting out a unit of her home.
Ajello proclaims “the dignity and rights of all Rhode Islanders,” but clearly does not include religious and property rights. Kallman cites “the critical housing shortage,” but apparently does not consider that her bill may reduce the availability of housing. When faced with a shortage of something, adding restrictions to providing more of it is not typically the best way forward.
But their god has spoken, so it must be so.
None of the supporting statements provide evidence that allowing people to act according to their beliefs is generating insurmountable hardship for others. The facts don’t matter. Our rulers have identified a moral wrong in principle, and anybody who believes differently has no right to live according to their own deeply held convictions. Your rights are gone, and your property is ultimately theirs to manage.
Featured image by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash.