CNN’s KFile team unearthed a number of racist and elitist comments that Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN) has made in the past, such as claiming that African American people receiving government assistance had “substituted one plantation for another.” Also buried in their reporting were comments from Lewis blatantly endorsing discrimination against LGBTQ people.
Lewis made the comments in 2015 as Indiana was considering a bill that would have allowed business owners to use their religious beliefs to justify discrimination against LGBTQ customers. “There’s only one thing wrong with Indiana’s (or anyone else’s) Religious Freedom & Restoration Act (RFRA): it doesn’t go far in enough in allowing discrimination,” he wrote.
The gist of Lewis’ argument — to the extent he even seemed to understand RFRA — was that discrimination against anyone for any reason should be allowed, whether a business owner has a religious justification for it or not.
“I might not want to hire you because your ‘lifestyle’ (gay or straight) violates the tenants of my company’s religious beliefs (the Supreme Court upheld Hobby Lobby’s decision not to offer contraceptives for the same reason), but I also might not want to employ you because your ears are large. The former is protected by RFRA, the latter is not. Why?”
Lewis dismissed concerns that a bill allowing legal discrimination was in way comparable to segregation of the past, simply because the law doesn’t mandate discrimination:
In fact, what made Jim Crow so evil is that the law itself enforced discrimination in the face of companies who wanted to hire blacks. So the slippery slope argument that if states pass RFRA, why the next thing you know we’ll be back to segregated lunch counters is silly. Are we really to believe that if it were legal, the PGA would boot Tiger Woods? That Oprah’s show wouldn’t get aired? That Bill Cosby wouldn’t get hired…okay, forget that last one.
He likewise rejected the notion that “public accommodations” were a real concept, insisting that if someone can choose who they privately associate with, they should also get to choose who they serve or hire at a public storefront. Otherwise, as he framed it, “the government gets to tell you whom to hire.”
After then-Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed Indiana’s RFRA into law — surrounded by the anti-LGBTQ activists who helped draft it — it was met by national backlash. Ultimately, state lawmakers caved to the pressure and passed a follow-up “fix” that neutralized the aspects of the bill that allowed for discrimination.
Lewis’ post about Indiana’s RFRA did not specify whether he likewise believed that discrimination on the basis of race should also be allowed, but his other comments suggest as much. During a 2011 broadcast of his radio show, he argued that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was unconstitutional for banning discrimination in private contracts.
His conclusion that efforts to prevent discrimination would actually lead to forced discrimination was also evident in a 2015 in a podcast when he claimed that desegregation busing would lead the government to “literally enforce forced housing.”
In a 2012 rant against the American with Disabilities Act, he compared the law to Jim Crow, claiming its nondiscrimination protections mean that “the government determines who you shall hire, who you should work next to, and when you’re going to be thrown in jail or fined civilly for refusing to employ or serve or do whatever the government says you ought to do.”
It appears that Lewis opposes any government program designed to reduce discrimination and believes that there should be no limitations on refusing service or employment to any individual because of their race, sexual orientation, or if they have a disability.