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Lester Maddox, back from the dead and ready to party - Elf M. Sternberg
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elfs
Lester Maddox, back from the dead and ready to party
Let's set this up correctly: The Ku Klux Klan is, among other things, a legitimate sect of Christianity. It claims that it has honest, Christian beliefs that are wholly compatible with the Bible. This is the same reading that slave owners held and taught their children and their slaves. (In truth, there are two separate and incompatible readings. Curse of Ham readers believe non-whites are descendents of the cursed of Noah's son Ham and are thus fit for enslavement; Sixth-Dayers believe non-whites were created before Adam and Eve and are therefore beasts of the field, suitable to be used for the benefits of true humans.)

This reading of the Bible was believed, to some extent or another, by half of all Americans between 1815 and 1861. We think of America as split on the question of slavery, but it really wasn't. Instead, it was split on the question of having to watch cruelty in real-time. The northern states still had banks, and stock markets, and investors who bought up slave camps (and the slaves that went with them) in tranches that created market bubbles much like the housing bubble of 2007. The American North's money-men were perfectly happy, one way or another, to participate in the cotton trade— at the time, the single largest commodity in the world. Thousands of men, women and children were whipped and beaten daily to pick and haul ever more cotton to feed the economically driven maw of the world's first major industrial product.

The Klan is one of the few surviving Christian sects that still explicitly subscribes to a particular reading of the Bible based on the inherent superiority of one race over others. But we shouldn't think the Klan is particularly aberrant; the Klan today only believes what half of all Americans believed 180 years.

Restaurant owner Lester Maddox believed what the Klan believed. He was a legitimate Christian man whose reading of the Bible was no different from that of half of all Americans a few generations prior. In 1964, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, he refused to grant three black men seats in his restaurant, claiming that being forced to do so was a violation of his sincere Christian beliefs. The judiciary has no legal power to judge the validity of a man's sincere Christian believfs, and given the just a few generations prior, half of all Americans held the same sincere Christian beliefs, the commentariat likewise had no moral argument to make.

The law, however, does have a say in what businesses do. Businesses depend upon the state, not necessarily the other way around. Business cost the state, and are empowered by the state, and are entirely creatures of the state. The state has the authority to put limits on what a business can and cannot do. And one thing the state agrees upon is that if you open a business to serve your community, you serve all of the community, without exception.

Maddox closed his restaurant rather than serve black human beings. He claimed that the Civil Rights Act made him "a slave to bureaucrats," and that his own civil and religious views were being persecuted.

In the coming months, we're about to see a huge wave of anti-LGBT legislation that is modeled on Lester Maddox's losing proposition: that being required to serve gay people deprives business people of a vital civil right: the right that they may conduct their business without their private religious views being compromised. But in 1964, the courts considered that argument, an argument that was more popular then than the anti-LGBT argument is now, and they dismissed it.

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Comments
resonant From: resonant Date: January 18th, 2017 11:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
My neighbors to the south are doomed.
sirfox From: sirfox Date: January 19th, 2017 03:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

icon for the subject matter, not your post.

50 states and 50 experiments on Different Ways To Do Things. It's a system with a lot to recommend it, you get to see what works and what doesn't. This is of course predicated on rationality and not intentionally, spitefully accepting a loss yourself to hurt another group more. It'll be ugly.

Serious question: most establishments have a "we reserve the right to refuse service to anybody" sign posted somewhere, and while "just happening" to refuse everybody of a particular group is blatant discrimination, I'm wondering just where that stands, legally, if you happened to refuse *most* people with headscarves, or rainbow jewlery. I've idly wondered about it for a while, now it might matter.

Less serious question, more brainstorm for Direct Action should this nitwittery go through: Can It Be Made A Thing that right around dessert, you ask to see the management and explain that sometime after the potatoes and gravy THE WHOLE TABLE JUST CAME OVER ALL SUPER GAY. Out come a few rainbow feather boas and hats, pendants, etc. nothing disruptive, just visually notable. "Can we still order dessert, or do you want to throw us out now?" A lot of Gay couples might net a bunch of free dinners before they catch on.

As we get older, greyer, and more bitter, it's crucial to remember that protesting The Great Big Evil Thing... it doesn't have to be stodgy and sober and procedural, it can be a hell of a lot of fun, because the more absurd the position, the easier it is to make it look patently ridiculous to everyone else.
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