Idaho Jim Crow Laws Coming Into Vogue


Idaho can sometimes make Alice in Wonderland seem normal.  In Alice’s world, up is down, black is white and…well, you get the idea.  Idaho tends to take standards that exist in many other places in the country and turn them on their head.  If Jay Leno is still looking for jokes before he retires, here’s one for him:  A Mormon Bishop, a U.S. Congressman and a gay truck driver walk into a bar in Idaho.  Who is refused service?

This might sound like the start of a lame joke, but in Idaho it’s a true story and the punchline is no laughing matter.

In a move that brings to mind the “Whites Only” signs in the Jim Crow era in Dixie, several cities in Idaho have passed ordinances that basically say some forms of discrimination are okay, legal and perfectly acceptable.

Hiding behind “religious” principles, city officials are either contemplating the passage of such laws or already have put the laws on the books.  It’s another in a long list of bonehead moves in this Republican-dominated state.

In what some legislators are calling a “preemptive strike,” the latest ordinances are aimed at protecting pious people from participating in activities which they say offend their beliefs.  This is a “pre-emptive strike” as no one in Idaho has been censored for refusing to provide services to anyone because of sexual orientation.   While incidents have popped up with a florist across the state line in Richland, Washington and a baker in Gresham, Oregon, not one single service provider in Idaho has been taken to task.

Idaho, a state thicker with more Mormons than flies on a bumper, has a long history of picking and choosing legislation that supports its “religious” beliefs.  The state capital, Boise, has more Mormons per capita than does Salt Lake City, Utah.  In Salt Lake though, tolerance is a little, no, make that a lot, easier to find.

Idaho, which doesn’t have a state-wide law defending gays, lesbians and transgender people from intolerance, has legislation pending that would further strip members of the LGBT community of their freedom to choose the source of their services.  Coeur d’Alene, Moscow, Boise, and several other cities, do have local rules outlawing discrimination.  The bill before the statehouse would possibly supersede those local statutes.

Monica Hopkins of the ACLU of Idaho says the new bill gives people the go-ahead to discriminate and hide behind religion. The state law, if passed, would suck the power out of city ordinances. Hopkins describe the change as meaning that people can use their religion as a shield of explanation in any legal actions that may arise from bigotry.

Now, what about the joke than began this?

Apparently, if you’re a Senator from Idaho, it’s okay to get behind the wheel drunk.  Senator Michael D. Crapo of Idaho did this in December 2012 and was fined $250.00 and a one-year suspension of his driver’s license. Crapo, who was ordained as a bishop in the Mormon church at age 31, has long claimed he abstained from alcohol.

Who can forget Idaho’s Embarrassment-in-Chief, Larry Craig? In case you just landed, Larry was Idaho’s representative in Congress.  Then one day in the Minneapolis Airport, Larry was picked up by police after he tried to pick up an undercover cop in an airport restroom. Saying he was totally innocent, Larry blamed it as a misunderstanding because he has an “…extra wide stance.”

Adrienne Evans, Executive Director for United Vision for Idaho says this about the new policies, “This hearkens to the dark ages! It’s about time that Idahoans began embracing the reality that human rights are afforded all people. It is time to stop codifying discrimination, cherry picking our justice, and advancing the immoral and radical agenda put forth by a few who would reserve rights for some and deny them to others.”

Since some city councils in Idaho want to point to the Bible as justification for their part in returning cities to the age of Jim Crow laws, they might do well to remember another verse in the Bible.  Romans 2:11 says, “For God shows no partiality.”  Except in Idaho.

Editorial by Jerry Nelson


CT Post
ACLU Idaho

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