We're "disappointed" in Indiana for passing RFRA, says ... NASCAR

A statement that says everything while saying nothing.

NASCAR’s Brett Jewkes, senior vice president and chief communications officer, issued a statement as Pence spoke Tuesday.

“NASCAR is disappointed by the recent legislation passed in Indiana. We will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance. We are committed to diversity and inclusion within our sport and therefore will continue to welcome all competitors and fans at our events in the state of Indiana and anywhere else we race.”

Translation: Nothing has changed, including our willingness to do business in Indiana, but here’s some rhetoric for gay-rights activists in hopes that they won’t hassle us. It’s a nothingburger in practice but the fact that NASCAR felt obliged to dish it up goes to show how even groups closely identified with red-state culture now feel obliged to stay on the right side, i.e. the left side, of gay issues. That’s not because NASCAR’s controlled by liberals (or is it?). It’s because gay-rights activists are running circles around social cons when it comes to mobilizing economic and media power to support their cause. (Admittedly, not hard to do when upwards of 100 percent of the media sides with you on the issue.) If NASCAR was worried about its conservative audience rebelling, this statement wouldn’t have been issued.

Most of the left-wing criticism of RFRA is vacant on the merits too, in fact. As Scott Shackford says, the attacks on the statute are little more than a pretext for broadly signaling your virtue to fellow gay-rights supporters, which includes most of the media and corporate America. It doesn’t matter what the law says or what it’ll mean in practice. It doesn’t matter that 19 other states have their own version. It doesn’t matter that RFRA laws traditionally have been used by followers of marginalized religions to defend their beliefs from laws passed by the Christian majority, something the left logically should (and once did) support. What matters is showing those peacock feathers to impress the other birds.

Obviously nobody is obligated to engage in any form of discrimination in Indiana, and I would wager that 99.9 percent of Indiana’s businesses will not turn away a single person for being gay. But it’s all about positioning yourself within this moment we’re having. Pence has to pretend the law doesn’t protect bigotry against gays because that doesn’t poll so well anymore, but can’t seem to argue that protecting civil liberties often requires defending bigots or it’s not really a civil liberty. The CEO of Apple has to write a big commentary about how discrimination is wrong and bad, and how you should also know that Apple, the company that he works for that sells many, many expensive things to customers, would never do such a thing…

Massive gaming convention Gen Con had initially made a big deal about possibly moving out of state in response to passage of the RFRA, to “deny” the state millions in revenue. But that’s confusing the government of the state with the citizens of the state. It’s businesses in Indianapolis who actually rake in money from the convention. Gen Con has backed off for now after actually talking to the businesses that they deal with, who of course have absolutely no interest in discriminating against any gay Gen Con attendees.

But they signaled loud and clear. It doesn’t actually matter that the RFRA won’t really lead to some sort of new dark ages against the gays because culture simply has no interest in going there. The important thing is that people position themselves properly to be seen as good people by their peers.

Even Mike Pence has been caught up in the signaling game. His press conference this morning has conservatives calling him a sellout because he said he’ll push for an amendment clarifying that RFRA creates no right to discriminate against gays. But that’s been his position all along, and it’s correct on the merits: RFRA creates no absolute “right.” It creates a defense which you can introduce in court if you’re sued for denying service to someone on religious grounds. It’s left to the judge to balance the interest of the state in preventing discrimination against the interest of the defendant in his religious freedom in order to decide who wins. There’s no guarantee that the defendant will. But Indiana’s taken such a beating this week in PR that now Pence himself feels obliged to do some signaling to gay-rights activists by insisting that the law will only do, er, what it was supposed to do all along. It’s his own version of the NASCAR statement: Business as usual on RFRA but let’s make sure gay Americans understand that they’re welcome.

This seems like a fine time to repeat a point I’ve made in other posts about gay rights and religious liberty. If you want the left to appreciate freedom of religious conscience in business, you’ll get nowhere appealing to them with examples of Christian grannies politely refusing to provide flowers to a gay wedding ceremony. They’re not going to find someone like that sympathetic. The left views politics through a prism of power and reliably assumes that the advantage obtained by the powerful is ill-gotten and illegitimate. That’s why they can see the virtue of RFRA when used as a defense for someone practicing Santeria, say, but not Christianity. Being a Christian means you’re part of the majority which in turn makes you officially capital-p Powerful, whether or not that judgment is supported by the actual corporate/media dynamics of the current public accommodations debate. A “Christian baker versus gay spouse” match-up is an easy equation for the left in that context; all they’re doing in their minds is correcting an historical injustice by redistributing power between the two groups. A “Muslim baker versus gay spouse” match-up is not so easy because it involves two powerless, or at least less powerful, groups. If you want to force a hard choice on them, start going into Muslim-run bakeries and demanding gay-wedding cakes. Eventually one of them will turn you down. That’s your test case, although the baker will lose that in that case too. Hans Fiene knows why.

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