Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance: Kansas & Homosexuality

Cognitive Dissonance is often described as the discomfort that arises when we try to hold two conflicting views in our head at the same time.  For example, most people believe firmly in the First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech and agree that every citizen should have a right to say whatever they want in our country.  When people are saying things we agree with, then all is well.  However, the moment people start saying things that we disagree with, especially when we vehemently disagree with what they're saying with every fiber of our being, discomfort arises.  The theory of cognitive dissonance posits that those of us with sophisticated minds tend to posses the ability to allow two conflicting ideas to continue to exist, despite how much discomfort this may cause us personally.  The sophisticated mind will recognize that, even though I personally disagree with what you're saying, you still have a right to say it.  With less sophisticated minds...not so much.

Speaking of less sophisticated minds, enter my home state of Kansas:

Kansas lawmakers voted overwhelmingly today to pass a bill that opponents say legalizes discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Members of both parties joined together in the House on the 89-27 vote, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. If the Senate follows suit and Governor Sam Brownback signs the bill, as he has indicted, then anyone could opt out of anti-discrimination laws that protect gays and lesbians by claiming they violate their "religious freedom."

For example, an employer could fire someone if they discovered the employee was gay. Or a landlord could kick a renter out of their home. The religious exemption extends past places of business to universities, where students or instructors could opt out of a school's anti-discrimination policy.

The idea for the bill, called the "Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act," came in reaction to the college town of Lawrence passing an anti-discrimination ordinance that included sexual orientation. The new state law would nullify that and any other local anti-discrimination ordinance that included sexual orientation by granting citizens the right to opt out if they felt it conflicted with their religious beliefs. 

Legally, there's a lot going on here, but before we jump in I just want to give a quick shout out to Lawrence, Kansas, home of the University of Kansas Jayhawks, which passed the city ordinance recognizing that discrimination against sexual orientation is a bad thing.   Now getting back to our discussion, let's start with the basic premise that discrimination against fellow American citizens who are different from us is a bad thing.  Laws that ban this type of thing are generally viewed as a good thing.  Let's also recognize the basic premise that people's religious convictions must be respected and that in this country the First Amendment makes clear that government must not make any law infringing upon, or advocating, religion.  Given these seemingly conflicting positions, how can we resolve this situation in Kansas?

The more intellectually advanced approach is to recognize that simply because we have two conflicting ideas here does not mean that they are mutually exclusive.  In other words, we don't have to choose between religion and discrimination.  They can both exist and be respected "at the same damn time."  A less sophisticated approach is to seek to resolve the dissonance between the two conflicting ideas and choose one idea over the other.  That is what the Kansas legislature has done here.  They (1) saw the two ideas as mutually exclusive and then (2) choose religion over discrimination.

Which brings me to the questions of the day:

1. Are religion and discrimination mutually exclusive?
2. If you had to choose only one, which would you choose?
3. How should Kansas have resolved this situation?
4. Is it ever a good idea to make a law that promotes discrimination?
5. Even if you completely disagree with something somebody is saying, do they still have the right to say it?
6. Even if you completely disagree with somebody's sexual orientation, do they still have the right to be who they are?

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