In 1958, Bruce Boynton, an African American student at Howard University Law School traveled on a Trailways bus from Washington D.C to Montgomery, Alabama. During a short transfer at the Trailways Bus Terminal here in Richmond, Virginia, he was arrested for refusing to move to the ‘colored section’ of the Terminal’s segregated restaurant.
In 1960 the Supreme Court overturned the conviction in a landmark decision which led to the Freedom Riders movement.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the 50th anniversary of which was this past Wednesday) stated that all persons shall be entitled to equal enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and public accommodations; that discrimination, be it based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, was outlawed. A tremendous achievement for America, and one that is still ongoing.
On this past Tuesday, Mississippi’s new adaptation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by Gov. Phil Bryant became law. The bill, which went through revisions in wording after a similar bill in Arizona failed to pass, gives both legal recourse and the right to refuse service to anyone if doing so burdens the religious beliefs of an individual. Supporters claim the law protects first amendment rights and religious freedom. Critics of the bill refer to it as the “turn away the gays” law and believe that it encourages broad discrimination.
Passed by the federal government in 1993, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows citizens legal recourse when a government regulation infringes or places burden on the practice of their religion. At the time it mainly dealt with Native American religious ceremony and land expansion on sacred ground. Many states, including Virginia, have sincemodified and amended the RFRA, some adding controversial terminology which can be interpreted as exclusionary to those who do not share Christian or conservative beliefs. Across the nation, many state’s legislature has continued to meet resistance and many of the bills have been withdrawn.
The new law inspired business owners in Jackson, MS who support equal rights to create the We Don’t Discriminate sticker, which proclaims “if you’re buying, we’re selling”. A group of chefs who oppose the law organized The Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Supper to peacefully protest and raise money for LGBT organizations on MS college campuses.
On this past Monday June 30th, the Supreme Court, again citing the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, ruled in another landmark decision; that corporations can now claim religious burden.Thus, they have assigned corporations a human right, that of religious freedom, as well as finding that the decisions of another, which in no way directly affect an individual can somehow burden the beliefs of an individual. As one of the dissenting justices stated, it is a “decision of startling breadth“
So, why am I mentioning this here, on a food blog? Because of the many implications and possible repercussions of both of these decisions. What constitutes burden? Refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay couple? Having to accommodate a person’s religious dietary restrictions? Employing a woman who takes a contraceptive? That these legislation came back to back on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act is not only astonishing, but a harbinger of struggles to come. They amount to sanctioned discrimination under the cover of religious freedom.
Today, Friday, is the 4th of July. As we get caught up in the zeal of patriotism and the “unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” all it takes is a look back at the past week to realize that these truths are not yet self evident, that equality and protection for all citizens has not been reached. Yet.
true empathy, respect, equality and protection for all citizens can one day be reached, across our nation.
for many.The Civil Rights act spawned many