State legislator tackles tough issue before a friendly audience
ELIZABETH CITY – State House Rep. Bob Steinburg was the recent guest speaker at Mid Atlantic Christian University, addressing an audience of university staff, students, and guests. He spoke about Christian values of tolerance and respect, and referred to the recent events in Indiana and Arkansas.
During the course of his speech, he was interrupted on several occasions by applause for his commitment to the values of Christianity in general but also the specific points to which he made reference.
In the context of his message, Steinburg referred to the Constitution and its relevance to the issue of discrimination in Indiana and Arkansas. In so doing, he related our “Right of Conscience” as pertaining to the rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Regrettably, he said, 40 percent of our world’s population lives under authoritarian rule, while the U.S. Constitution is the oldest written design of government in operation today.
Each of us has rights, even those in the minority, conveyed to us by the Constitution – rights that cannot be denied. Government does not grant citizens rights, citizens grant authority to the government. In fashioning the Bill of Rights, the Founding Fathers proposed versions, including the ‘Rights of Conscience.’ So if we conclude that the right of conscience is embedded in our Constitution, the religious elements in our current disputes are more about the Constitution than any other single element and the attempts to undermine that document.
Steinburg said our Constitution is brilliantly written, but not everyone admires it in the same way. For example, he referred to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who has said that if she were drafting a constitution today, she would not look toward our present Constitution because it is “a rather old document.”
So is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act a means of discrimination, or of protecting people from discrimination? Some people believe the law explicitly provides for religious belief as a defense in legal cases where government is not involved. For others, protection of religious freedom means that an individual should not be forced, by law, to act in a way or to condone an act that is contrary to their individual belief system.
Steinburg provided numerous examples to reinforce his point that people of religion can be discriminated against, just as easily as nonreligious people.
There is a considerable difference between serving an individual in your place of business, as opposed to being willing to serve the same product at a gay wedding. Likewise, while all of the attention is focused on the purchaser of products and whether they are discriminated against, there has been little attention given to the “rest of the story.” Would a gay person who owns an establishment, open to the public, be required to rent that establishment to a group of skinheads who wanted to bash gays?
It would seem that religious freedom cuts both ways and that the present day argument on this entire matter is mostly about politics.
In a related story, a radio personality recently hosted a gay activist attorney on his radio program. He asked her whether she believed the homosexual lobby could peacefully coexist with traditional Christian morality. She eventually responded saying “Sure, if Christians will give up their resistance to our cause.”
From that exchange, Steinburg suggested, it is not hard to see that the entire debate in this matter is rooted in politics and that the activists are willing to tear down the Constitution to achieve their ends.
According to the host, he related his belief that what we are witnessing is an attempt at seeking to harness the power of the state to deny the Rights of Conscienceto those who disagree with you — as the opponents of Senate Bill 101 are surely attempting to do– in a frightening appeal to the 21st century reincarnation of fascism: “Believe like us, think like us, embrace our views or be fined, evicted or punish by the state.”