PA lawmaker goes ‘off the cliff of rationality’ with legal discrimination idea, says professor
You know what our lives are missing? The chance to discriminate against people we don’t like.
That’s at least what one Pennsylvania lawmaker seems to think, and he’s gone so far as to float legislation which would return Pennsylvania to a pre-Civil Rights Act era.
The Philadelphia Daily News recently reported on state Rep. Gordon Denlinger’s (R-Lancaster) bright idea to introduce legislation that would amend the Pennsylvania state constitution to side-step the landmark 1964 Act and allow businesses to discriminate against anyone, for any reason.
Calling it the “Freedom of Conscience Amendment,” Denlinger’s idea is based on the theory that discrimination isn’t so bad, as long as such discriminatory practices are “sincerely held.” And even then, if you deny your business to someone, the invisible hand of the free market will show you what’s right.
“There’s no chance such a bill, if introduced in the Pa. Assembly, will pass because it reeks of racism, intended or not, and in an election year politicians want to avoid at least appearing as racists,” says Dr. Randall Miller, a historian at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “The intention of Denlinger’s proposal might be to find a way around the Affordable Care Act, but the result of such legislation, as reported, will be to throw the door open to all manner of racial and other forms of discrimination.”
Similar sentiments to Denlinger’s have been expressed by other Republican lawmakers in recent years, at all levels of government. Senator and likely presidential candidate Rand Paul (R-KY) has noted on numerous occasions that he does not believe in a federal law banning discrimination at privately owned businesses open to the public; in other words, he, like 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, does not believe in the Civil Rights Act.
“I don’t want to be associated with [racist] people, but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior,” Paul told Rachel Maddow in 2010, “because that’s one of the things freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn’t mean we approve of it.”
Paul was pounded in the media for that stance, but at Howard University last year, he implied he was never actually against the Civil Rights Act, which banned such practices at private businesses.
Denlinger probably isn’t just looking to legalize discrimination for the heck of it; rather, as Miller notes, the idea is likely part of a challenge against the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare. Conestoga Wood Specialties, a private company in Denlinger’s Lancaster County district, is actually challenging the federal health care law’s birth-control mandate, as reported by RH Reality Check. The representative has publicly declared his support of Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns operating nursing homes in Colorado and Maryland, who’ve attempted to argue that the birth control mandate puts a burden on their religious freedom.
As Denlinger’s legislative memo makes its rounds in Harrisburg, a large group of lawmakers—backed, surprisingly, by Gov. Corbett—are meanwhile attempting to add sexual orientation and identity to the list of groups that areprotected against discrimination in the commonwealth.
The representative “threatens to jump off the cliff of rationality in an effort to run so far to the right that nobody will ever outflank him by claiming to be a more red-blooded conservative than he is,” opines Miller, who adds that such a law would be struck down by the courts if it ever became law. “All this is posturing and needling,” he says, “the former to earn points from people who see anything that seemingly prevents them from doing whatever they please as criminal and a denial of their ‘natural rights,’ and the latter to get under the skin of supposed liberals who seemingly regulate too much behavior.”
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