I've been excited to see the "We Don't Discriminate" campaign take off in Mississippi, in part because it says great things about the state to a nation that is watching closely. The thoughtfulness of the business people who have reacted to a regressive law passed by a Legislature with misplaced priorities is ultimately going to help Mississippi's cause, if only thanks to the contrast offered by the "other side" in the argument.
This past week, the American Family Association put out an "action item" that accuses the "We Don't Discriminate" campaign of being ... discriminatory. To quote from the piece:
"Ironically, this sticker represents the very promotion of discrimination ... against the freedom of religious convictions."
So let's think about that for a second. The Mississippi Legislature passes a bill that appears to enable people to discriminate against others based on their personal, religious convictions. In response to that bill's signing, a group of businesses decide to create a campaign to make it clear to their customers that they don't plan to discriminate against anyone—if you're buying, they're selling.
That's what the sticker says, that's what the campaign is about. "If you're buying, we're selling."
So how does that discriminate against anyone's religious convictions?
The AFA would certainly have a case if the sticker said, "We refuse to serve committed Christians," or "no Muslims here," or even "only gays allowed."
But that's not what the sticker says. It says everyone is welcome. So why is that so threatening to people with strong religious convictions?
I'm forced to assume a "we don't discriminate" campaign feels like a threat to the AFA not only because they (a) want the legal right to discriminate, but (b) they also feel bad about it and don't want to be reminded of that desire.
Maybe seeing some people in town put a "We Don't Discriminate" sticker in their businesses' window makes those people feel guilty that they want to discriminate—when what they want is to feel righteous.
But how righteous are your convictions if you feel bad about them?
That's the only logic I can come up with, because a campaign that has non-discrimination at the absolute core of it is—by definition—not discriminatory. It's the businesses' choice to tell people they won't discriminate; this is America, and I applaud their willingness to stand up for what they believe in.
The AFA, on the other hand, says this: "The businesses listed below are spreading hateful rhetoric against the religious freedoms and convictions of Christians."
The problem is, the "We Don't Discriminate" folks aren't doing that.
Isn't there a commandment that says something about bearing false witness?
One could guess that the AFA is saying that the "We Don't Discriminate" campaign is "spreading hateful rhetoric" because the Religious Freedom Restoration Act isn't designed for discrimination. That could be fair.
Unfortunately, the AFA clearly admits that banning gays from public accommodations is the purpose of the bill as they see it—a sidebar on that same page reads:
"The homosexual lobby is bitter against Governor Bryant's signing of the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects Christian business owners against lawsuits from gay activists. The typical response is to spread their hatred for religious truths by attacking and intimidating Christians."
One thing I love about the "We Don't Discriminate" campaign is the fact that it doesn't attack anyone—even if the AFA fervent wish to convince their followers that they are being attacked.
The fact that "We Don't Discriminate" is such a purely positive message is the greatest threat to groups like the AFA, which traffic in judgment and negativity in an effort to drum up indignation from their support base. That fills the coffers.
But the admission by the AFA that this is definitely about gays is very interesting, because groups aligned with the AFA in support of this bill (http://jfp.ms/adfmedia) have gone to great pains to distance themselves from that purpose, instead suggesting that the bill simply mirrors aspects of the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by Bill Clinton. (They then generally fail to mention that federal courts struck down aspects of the federal RFRA, which seems to be why they're so worried about passing the same sort of laws at the state level.)
The AFA and ilk feel they have a compelling interest in denying accommodations to gays on religious grounds—they want, by definition, to discriminate. In their estimation, they should be allowed to do so and—to all appearances—a majority of Mississippi lawmakers and the governor agree. (The upshot of the true effects of the Mississippi law, like too many of Mississippi's poorly considered laws await testing in the courts.)
But the response to this potentially discriminating law has been an open, positive campaign by business owners to simply differentiate themselves from those pushing for that law. They want people to know, publicly, that they're not going along with it.
The AFA? Its response is to squeal like a stuck pig. One is forced to wonder why.
I'm not here to argue theology. I'm a great admirer of Jesus, and it's my understanding that he himself made no mention of same-sex marriage in the Bible, although he mentions divorce quite a bit. (Head over to the AFA website and look for recent references to divorce as a challenge for American families. It's shockingly harder to find that than homosexuality.)
But whatever the AFA believes about religion and marriage, I'm surprised to find it so concerned that these business leaders are exercising their rights and freedoms in a free society to let people know that they don't plan to discriminate against their customers.
There's nothing negative in that message; I would hazard to guess that Jesus might approve of the outreach to all comers. (For some reason the song "Just As I Am" keeps playing in my head.)
I applaud the "We Don't Discriminate" businesses for offering a positive message for Mississippians and to represent Mississippi with a positive message to the rest of the country.
Todd Stauffer is the president and publisher of the Jackson Free Press.