DELUSIONS OF PERSECUTION

Two weeks ago, a video emerged of actress Ellen Page confronting the Texas Tea-partier with a hankerin’ for assault-rifle-seared-bacon, Ted Cruz. When Page asked Cruz about the ways in which the term “religious liberty” has been used, in the past, to justify denying equal rights to both women and African Americans, the Republican presidential candidate flipped the script on the Canadian, arguing that, to the contrary, Christians are the ones being persecuted. 

“In many states, someone can be fired for being gay or being transgendered … and I just don’t think that sounds very American,” Page offered.

“At the end of the day, what we should not be doing is persecuting people,” Cruz replied, pork sandwich in hand, before telling the story of a couple who was sued for refusing to allow a gay marriage to be held in their privately owned wedding venue. Cruz offered the story as an example of what he deemed persecution. This focus on protecting the rights of Christian business owners rather than the denial of the rights of gay and lesbian couples to have their marriage recognized by the government has played well for the junior Senator.

Cruz is a smart guy. He was a debate champion at Princeton before earning his law degree from Harvard, where he edited the Harvard Law Review. And Cruz approaches this debate with the instincts of a disingenuous lawyer who knows how to choose his words. Or word.

Persecuted. For Christians, that word carries a lot of weight. As Paul Waldman of The American Prospect argued just a few years ago, “The impulse to jam that crown of thorns down on your head is a powerful one in politics. It means you’ve achieved the moral superiority of the victim, and the other side must be the victimizer.”

In Iowa, or when addressing fellow conservatives, Cruz the lawyer demonstrates an almost effortless ability to poison the jury pool. He’s chosen the word persecution because it plays to the moral superiority of that jury.

The problem, as Waldman points out, “is that these folks don’t seem to have much of a grasp on what second-class citizenship actually looks like. Last time I checked, nobody was forbidden to vote because they’re a Christian, or not allowed to eat in their choice of restaurants, or forced to use separate water fountains, or even be forbidden by the state to marry the person of their choice.”

Ellen Page, who is not in quite the same eloquence league as Cruz, uses the word persecution just once, arguing that gays and lesbians used to be thrown in jail. She uses the word discrimination several times. And when she argues that in many places in the U.S., a person can be fired for being gay or transgender, she is by default talking about Jacksonville, Florida.

If you read this publication with any regularity, you know the story by now: The Jacksonville City Council failed to pass a Human Rights Ordinance that would protect gays and lesbians (but not transgender individuals) from discrimination in employment. Then, a couple of years later, Mayor Alvin Brown ordered his General Counsel to study whether or not discrimination exists in the city. The study came back in the affirmative and Mayor Lenny Curry, who argued during his campaign that the people of Jacksonville do not discriminate, has been very quiet on the subject.

Last week, at a private meeting at the River Club, several key players in Jacksonville politics agreed to “not get out in front of Mayor Lenny Curry on the issue,” according to Nate Monroe of The Florida Times Union. Former Mayor John Delaney told the T-U, “The community is ready, on both sides, to have this discussion.”

What is there to discuss?

The mayor has said, in regard to many issues, that he plans to convene all the interested parties. When it comes to a comprehensive Human Rights Ordinance in Jacksonville, however, that strategy has the potential to be problematic. As Maria Mark, who pushed through the area’s only Human Rights Ordinance protecting the LGBT community and lost her Atlantic Beach City Council seat last week, has argued, coming up with instances where the majority votes to protect the rights of a minority group is nearly impossible.

Of the nearly 320 million people in the United States, more than 70 percent identify as Christian, according to the most recent studies from the Pew Research Center. Florida is pretty normal (though Florida Man may indicate otherwise) when compared to the religious leanings of the rest of the country. And here in Northeast Florida, one only has to open his or her eyes and behold nine square blocks occupied by the third-largest church in the Southern Baptist Convention, or the crosses outside virtually every subdivision and/or converted Walmart, to decipher who the majority is. Christians are not being discriminated against in Northeast Florida. And they are certainly not being persecuted.

However, the General Counsel study showed that discrimination does exist. The majority has allowed such behavior to occur. The majority has proved unlikely to support protections for gays and lesbians. The majority has proved even less likely to support protections for transgender individuals. The majority has allowed discrimination. The majority has allowed the persecution of the LGBT-Q community.

Yet, the city’s leaders feel no sense of urgency to intervene.

Maybe it’s time to choose our words more wisely.

About EU Jacksonville

october, 2021

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