CNN's Jake Tapper grilled a lawmaker who sponsored Arkansas' “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA), demonstrating the hypocrisy of conservatives who deny that “religious freedom” laws are intended to protect anti-gay discrimination.
Conservative media outlets have been scrambling to defend “religious freedom” laws in places like Indiana and Arkansas, which provide a legal defense for businesses and individuals who cite their religious beliefs in order to refuse service to LGBT customers. Proponents of these two states' RFRAs have repeatedly denied that the “religious freedom” laws would allow for anti-LGBT discrimination, despite evidence to the contrary.
During the April 1 edition of The Lead with Jake Tapper, Tapper interviewed Arkansas state Senator Bart Hester (R), a sponsor of the state's proposed RFRA. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson declined to sign the measure into law today, suggesting that it be reworked to more closely mirror federal law. Tapper began the interview by asking whether RFRA would allow Christian business owners to discriminate against same-sex couples if they felt serving them would violate their religious beliefs. Hester responded that RFRA doesn't allow discrimination but would allow Christian businesses to refuse gay customers.
The result was an awkward four minute exchange during which Tapper repeatedly tried to get Hester to acknowledge that refusing service to a gay couple is, in fact, discrimination:
TAPPER: This is what I don't understand with supporters of this type of legislation. Would it allow the florist to not give flowers to the same-sex couple or not? You're saying almost two things. You're saying that there's no discrimination, but the Christian conservative doesn't have to participate in a ceremony they find objectionable. It's just one or the other. I'm just trying to figure out what it does, I'm not judging the legislation.
TAPPER: How are they going to stay true to their conservative Christian beliefs and also not discriminate? This is what I don't get here. Are you saying that they can hold true and not participate in an event that they don't find holy, that they think is objectionable or sinful? Or are you saying that they have to? I'm confused.
TAPPER: I feel like people who are supporting this law are kind of fudging whether or not standing up for the Christian conservatives allows them to discriminate against same-sex couples in a ceremony or an event that they don't sanction. It would permit discrimination, is what you're saying, in the name of their religious rights.
The segment is a stunning example of conservative double-talk in defense of state “religious freedom” laws. The RFRAs in Indiana and Arkansas were crafted for the purpose of denying service to gay customers, even though proponents of RFRA have widely denied that the laws allow for anti-gay discrimination. That contradiction was apparent during Gov. Mike Pence's painful interview on ABC's This Week, and it's permeated much of the conservative media's coverage of RFRAs in Indiana and Arkansas over the past several days.
But, as Tapper pointed out, conservatives can't have it both ways. Refusing to provide services for a same-sex couple's wedding ceremony is discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, plain and simple. Holding these laws' supporters accountable for the true intent of their legislation should be the job of every mainstream journalist.