I say grace, you pledge allegiance


Sometimes you just want to shout “Enough!”

Enough with the faux outrage. Enough with the willful disregard for the opposing view. Can we please take a deep breath and work to respect the dignity of all?

That’s how I feel regarding the “debate” swirling around the Arizona Legislature’s passage — and Gov. Jan Brewer’s subsequent veto — of Senate Bill 1062.

The Los Angeles Times got it right when it reported that SB1062 is “either a small fix to protect the free exercise of religion or a ‘no cake for gays’ bill,” because from there, both sides are out in force, swords drawn; teeth bared.

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t uphold the value of the free exercise of religion? Very few.

And is there anyone who doesn’t support equal protection under the law, no matter a person’s religion, age, race, sexual orientation, etc.? Again, very few.

Yet, here we sit as a nation living out that famous miscommunication scene from “Christmas Vacation,” in which the Griswold family sits down for dinner:

Clark: Since this is Aunt Bethany’s 80th Christmas, I think she should lead us in the saying of grace.

Aunt Bethany: (Turns to Lewis) What, dear?

Nora Griswold: Grace!

Uncle Lewis: They want you to say grace. (Bethany shakes her head in confusion)

Uncle Lewis: The BLESSING!

Aunt Bethany: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Clark: Amen.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, upon which Arizona’s SB1062 offers a tweak, is the latest topic that has America howling at each other — one side preparing to say grace, the other side pledging allegiance.

The Arizona Legislature passed SB1062 as a precautionary measure, its supporters say. Supporters were reacting to legal decisions such as this one in New Mexico: Elaine Huguenin, a photographer, turned down the business of Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth, a lesbian couple who wanted her to shoot their civil union commitment ceremony.

Ms. Huguenin said she’d have no problem taking their business if it were, say, a portrait gig, but she didn’t want to be part of “celebrating” an act her faith tells her is wrong.

The case eventually found itself at the New Mexico Supreme Court, where it was ruled that Ms. Huguenin illegally discriminated against the gay couple.

Ms. Huguenin’s right to free speech (her art in photography) competed against equal treatment of gay couples. The latter trumps the former, the New Mexico Supreme Court decided.

So now comes the Arizona Legislature, trying to craft additional legislation that would make sure that if this kind of thing came up in Arizona (which it has not), the photographer would prevail.

Most people, I think, could agree with me in wondering why common sense didn’t solve the New Mexico problem. Ms. Huguenin may indeed be one gifted photographer, but what couple — gay or otherwise — would want their celebration chronicled by a photographer who tells them up front that she does not share in their joy?

I’d have vetoed the Arizona bill for no other reason than the Legislature can’t cogently explain how it helps more than it hurts. On CNN last week, State Sen. Al Melvin spent some 10 minutes trying to defend the bill. He looked awful, hemming and hawing himself into incoherence. (He violated the Sherman Frederick Rule for legislation: If you can’t explain it compellingly in five minutes, don’t pass it.)

My bias is that even the most conservative of Republican members of the Arizona Legislature, along with the most strident in the gay-rights camp, would agree that in all our interactions we ought to strive to respect each other, giving dignity to every human being.

That includes not only the gay couple of Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth, but also photographer Elaine Huguenin and her art.

Respect the dignity of every human being. Then, even if some of us end up saying grace, while others pledge allegiance to the flag, we can all say “Amen.”

Amen?

Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/sherman-frederick.