Following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a man was interviewed on TV because he was wearing a red, plastic clown nose. At first, he appeared to be an odd bird, but then his explanation had the power to reduce his audience to tears. The nose was a symbol of comedy and laughter, and he wanted to show that the French people would continue to laugh and not be influenced by whatever evil outliers chose to inflict. In honor of the French comic, out of a sense of respect for traditional standards of decency, and in order not to give activists the light of day for their strategeries, we shall pretend this story is about red clown noses.
Our story begins with the observation that, to most people, a red clown nose means nothing. But to a certain group, it means everything. Not only do they want to wear the red clown noses, they want a proportionate number of people who wear red clown noses represented on government boards and in corporate settings, and they want universal acceptance of their habit. The only catch is, they only wear their red clown noses in private, and so they have to be very vocal about letting people know they are among the wearers.
Even stranger, though, is a small religious minority. They belong to a church that practices very weird things, but they came to America because its Constitution promised they would not be persecuted for the free exercise of their faith, no matter how bizarro, provided they did not impose their faith on others – as in conscripting strangers for Bible study or preaching through a bullhorn into neighbors’ houses. This group is so weird, though, they actually have a ban on any kind of facial mask, red clown noses included. After all, masks are associated with Halloween, Mardi Gras, crime, and other things associated with obscurity and darkness.
The road to the clash all started with an expansion of enumerated protected classes. ‘Twas harmless, they said. Remember? And so it was that, perhaps intentionally in search of standing in a Constitution-challenging Supreme Court case, a couple approached a baker from this strange faith and asked him to decorate a cake with a face wearing a red clown nose. The owner refused, and he was sued for discriminating against the red clown wearers’ orientation, because they were among a group that wore the red clown noses in private for – um, well – Let’s just say some things are better left unsaid.
As things unfolded, the court ordered the baker to pay the couple damages. According to an article by the ACLU, Colorado law forbids discrimination against people on the basis of orientation, identity, and clown nose status, but it does not explicitly protect religious beliefs. Statements following from the that organization ran along the lines of, “While we all agree that religious freedom is important, no one’s religious beliefs make it acceptable to break the law by discriminating against prospective customers.”
So, recently, in what appears to be a reactionary measure, the state of Georgia is working on a bill that would protect people who are members of this very strange religion from participating against their will in a culture that increasingly demands the embracing and celebration of the wearing of red clown noses in private, as a defining expression of identity and orientation. The bill is referred to casually as the religious freedom bill.
With the bill passing both houses of the Georgia legislature and awaiting gubernatorial approval, and with Atlanta running as a strong contender in the contest to host the 2019 or 2020 Super Bowls, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy fired a warning shot. He said the NFL’s policies protected parties against discrimination on the grounds of, among other things, religion and wearing red clown noses in private. At that, the Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank quickly stated his position that protections of the right of some people to demand others to decorate cakes with red clown noses trumped religious protections for faiths so weird as to now be considered coulrophobic.
Georgia’s governor wouldn’t say what he was going to do with the bill so he could keep as many votes as possible, but Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said the governor’s position was appropriate. The compromise bill that passed both houses was so watered-down there was nothing to do about it but waffle.
Reaching for the local angle now, North Carolinians who wear red clown noses wanted to express their habit in what tradition would call the “wrong” restrooms. Charlotte City Council passed a bill allowing the practice, which was reportedly spoon-fed them by lobbyists with erroneous facts attached about its widespread adoption elsewhere. In swift succesion, the legislature responded with an “Expensive!” “Emergency!” session to ban the practice before it could take effect. The result was legislation we shall call, to protect the identity of the situation, HB3.
Correspondingly, Asheville’s Mayor Esther Manheimer released the following statement to show the city’s intent to force practitioners of weird coulrophobic religions to play a supporting role in the wearing of red clown noses: Asheville is a welcoming city that thrives on diversity and equality. We take pride in our unique character and openness to all, without regard to race, color, religion [that isn’t too weird], national origin, age, [wearing of red clown noses], orientation [of red clown noses], identity [of those wearing red clown noses], expression [through red clown noses], familial [relationships of those wearing red clown noses], or disability. As our legal staff works to better understand HB, the effects will not change our commitment to these values. Asheville will continue to be a place where we can be proud to live, work and raise families in a community that celebrates our differences [if they aren’t too weird].”