Friday, April 3, 2015

Religious Freedom to Discriminate?

There has been a lot of discussion in the news lately about various state and federal laws that purport to "restore" religious liberty but which, in reality, are specifically designed to allow people and businesses to discriminate against other people based on their religious beliefs.    Despite the broad language of the laws, the legislative history shows that they were specifically implemented to prevent people and businesses from being "forced" to provide services to gay couples looking to get married.  So, for example, a cake shop couldn't, under these laws, be sued civilly for refusing to make a cake for a gay wedding and a photographer couldn't be sued for refusing to take wedding pictures for a gay couple.  Because, you see, in many states the existing laws prohibited businesses from refusing to provide services on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin, gender or sexual preference, so these new laws provide a loophole if the discrimination is based on one's religious beliefs (as opposed to garden-variety bigotry, I suppose).

The language used to draft and support these laws is positively Orwellian, of course, as they try to argue that it's not at all about discrimination and solely about religious freedom, despite the fact that the freedom being sought is, in fact, the freedom to discriminate against others.

All of this has been said before by many other people.  One key thing seems to get ignored during discussions of these laws, however.  Since when does Christianity (or any other religion, for that matter) actually teach that it's OK to discriminate against anybody in the first place?  I mean, if the government passed a law saying that, for examples, Mormon churches had to perform temple marriage ceremonies for gay couples, or Catholic churches had to start ordaining women to the priesthood, I would agree 100% that this was an unconstitutional intrusion of the government into religion.  And that's because a core Mormon belief is that temple marriages are reserved for the joining of a man and a woman, and a core Catholic belief is that only men can hold the priesthood.  You may disagree with those beliefs, but they are certainly things actually taught by those religions and accepted by the members.

However, while the Mormon church does teach that gay couples are not "worthy" of being married in the temple, I don't recall any teaching saying faithful members are not allowed to provide services to gay couples who are getting married elsewhere.  Similarly, while the Catholic church does not allow female priests, I'm pretty sure there's no prohibition against providing services to a woman who happens to be a clergy member of another religion.  Heck -- the Catholic church prohibits divorce and I doubt you'd find a single catholic photographer or baker who refused to provide services at a wedding that involved a divorcee remarrying.

The point is that Christianity teaches that you should not sin, true, but it does not teach that you should discriminate against those who believe differently than you.  So, while your "religious freedom" certainly includes the right to practice your religion the way you see fit, it doesn't give you the right to discriminate against those who don't share your beliefs.  And, while you may claim that discrimination against others is how you practice your religion, you're just using your religion as a shield for your own bigotry since that's not what your religion actually teaches.

[As an aside, I can't help wondering why nobody claims to be unable to provide services to people who, say, violate the sabbath by holding their wedding on a Sunday, or who have committed adultery, or who worship some other God, or who have shown disrespect to their parents, etc.  These are all sins specifically prohibited by the Ten Commandments, which is supposed to be the most important thing in the entire Bible.  Maybe it's because the people who want to discriminate against gays commit all those other sins themselves?  Or maybe it really is just the fact that they are prejudiced against gays and are looking for a justification for their prejudice.]

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