In the wake of Arizona's SB 1062, "Jim Crow" is the new "Hitler"

The entire flap over SB 1062 in Arizona has left a lot of people scratching their heads, particularly given the virtual media explosion over the fate of the bill and what it means going forward. As it turns out, there is similar legislation pending in Georgia even as we speak, and even though public clamor has already led to the bill being taken off the calendar, the rampant hyperbole which marked the coverage of Jan Brewer’s decision is not in short supply.

One of the leading shots across the bow was penned for CNN by the two person team of James Richardson and Stacey Abrams. By way of disclosure, I’ve corresponded with Richardson many times over the years when he worked for the RNC and for Governor Haley Barbour. Abrams is apparently the Democrat minority leader in the Georgia Assembly. And when you get a two party, cross the aisle collaboration like this to denounce something, what could possibly go wrong?

Georgia — with its tumultuous past of discrimination — is following Arizona’s recently failed attempt to pass what amounts to anti-gay legislation with the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act.

The state may shift from the cradle of the civil rights movement to the vanguard of legalized 21st-century bigotry with the consideration of this legislation, modeled on Arizona’s, that would allow businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers on the basis of alleged religious conviction.

Being a bit of a pragmatist – or any of a number of other, less flattering descriptions, as I’ve been so often reminded – I don’t know if Jan Brewer signing that bill would have been the best idea or not. Not because the bill was some horrible exercise in oppression (it wasn’t, in my opinion), but because opponents had so rapidly seized the media high ground in the battle, redefined it as they chose, and turned it into a potentially huge political liability in an election year. But none the less, the tactics employed in Arizona – and now in Georgia – are so over the top that they should have given any journalist with even a smidgen of a conscience left pause. This editorial provides an excellent example.

Like the controversial Arizona bill, this broadly written proposal has profound implications — not only for the aggrieved minority it would directly affect but also for the social reputation of the state at large. Those implications will permanently stain us, cementing the lasting ignominy of Jim Crow.

Seriously? Jim Crow? I have to wonder if any of these people actually read the text of the Arizona bill. I mean, unlike the Affordable Care Act – copies of which are being used as construction material in new hydroelectric dams – this one was only two pages long. It wouldn’t be that tough for them to actually read. And if they did, they might reach at least some of the same conclusions that Rich Lowry did.

The bill was roughly 998 pages shorter than much of legislation that passes in Washington. Clocking in at barely two pages, it was easy to scan for disparaging references to homosexuality, for veiled references to homosexuality, for any references to homosexuality at all.

They weren’t there. A headline from The Week declared, “There is nothing Christian about Arizona’s anti-gay bill.” It’d be more accurate to say that there was nothing anti-gay about Arizona’s anti-gay bill.

The legislation consisted of minor clarifications of the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been on the books for 15 years and is modeled on the federal act that passed with big bipartisan majorities in the 1990s and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

I’m really beginning to think that it’s past time we come up with an updated version of Godwin’s Law. Rather than being the first one to mention Hitler when speaking of someone with whom you disagree, perhaps we should be able to stop listening and tune out anyone who immediately invokes Jim Crow as soon as a legislative matter arises which even tangentially touches on issues of race, sexual orientation or gender, because this was just over the top… if not over the rainbow.

Jim Crow laws barred entire segments of the social structure from people based exclusively on race, resulting in separate but very unequal facilities – if any existed at all – for minorities with the express consent of the government and law enforcement. In the case of these laws we’re talking about individual wedding photographers or bakers who may wish to not provide their services as part of a wedding ceremony which goes against their personal and religious beliefs. It gives such vendors the opportunity to defend themselves from attack and fiscal ruin – such as what has already happened in New Mexico – based on that decision. It does not cut off the couple from getting the same service elsewhere. And as Lowry noted in a somewhat tongue in cheek manner, [t]he wedding business is not exactly bristling with hostility to gay people.

Everyone is welcome to debate the relative merits of these bills on both sides, and particularly given current questions about how heavily the thumb of the government will rest on the shoulders of small business owners, it’s a debate worth having. But let’s cool down on the end of the world hyperbole, shall we? Not everything is the same as Jim Crow laws, no matter how clever you may think that sounds in your op-ed. I swear… some of you people are worse than Hitler.