Discrimination Cloaked as Freedom of Religion
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This Amendment, passed and adopted in 1791, covers quite a bit of ground. But, as much as it attempts to solve societal problems and direct an orderly way of life, this Amendment today has opened the door to abuse of civility and discrimination of rights that have been clearly defined by the Supreme Court.
I am certain that most of the readers of this column are familiar with several of the more egregious instances of misinterpretation and falsely-claimed “religious persecution.” This so-called assault on faith is masking overt attempts at discrimination against the LGBT community. There are two cases in point for starters.
Charlie Craig and David Mullins, residents of Colorado, were married in Massachusetts in 2012. They ordered a wedding cake from a local bakery back home, in order to celebrate their union with friends following the wedding. Masterpiece Cakeshop turned them away, claiming that making such a cake was in conflict with the religious beliefs of owner Jack Phillips.
Citing the recent Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage, an Appeals Court in Colorado unanimously ruled in favor of the couple. “But for their sexual orientation, Craig and Mullins would not have sought to enter into a same-sex marriage, and but for their intent to do so, Masterpiece would not have denied them its services,” With respect to Phillips’ religious objections to serving gay couples, the judges pointed out that the state’s anti-discrimination law is of “general applicability”—that is, it applies to every business in the state.
“Masterpiece remains free to continue espousing its religious beliefs, including its opposition to same-sex marriage,” the decision said. “However, if it wishes to operate as a public accommodation and conduct business within the State of Colorado, CADA prohibits it from picking and choosing customers based on their sexual orientation.”
In Kentucky, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has refused to process wedding licenses for gay couples. This situation is so blatant that, only hours after she was ordered by a U.S. District Justice to proceed with these applications, she again refused to do so. Five couples have sued her, and will likely win the suit. Davis claims that by filing the marriage license of a gay couple, she is “endorsing” same sex marriage, something that her faith beliefs strongly contradict. But her appeals to the free exercise of her faith have fallen far short of the legal arguments needed to sustain her position.
The federal judge counters her arguments by stating that Davis has violated the constitutional rights of the couples by “openly adopting a policy that promotes her own religious convictions at the expense of others.” Further, “Davis remains free to practice her Apostolic Christian beliefs. She may continue to attend church twice a week, participate in Bible study and minister to female inmates at the Rowan County jail. She is even free to believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, as many Americans do. However, her religious convictions cannot excuse her from performing the duties that she took an oath to perform as Rowan County clerk.”
There is no doubt that many more occurrences of discrimination have and will continue to take place. If every incident got the headlines that these two have, our newspapers would be much thicker. What is the recourse available to stem the tide of pseudo-religious persecution? It seems as though the courts remain the source of resolution. As arduous as the court system can be, it is there to administer “redress of grievances,” as the First Amendment so eloquently notes.
It is interesting to observe that the religious right is convinced that the push for same sex marriage is a campaign to intimidate county clerks across the country into taking actions that are in opposition to their faith. It is as if some LGBT conference took place, at which the crowd of thousands cheered on in exhilaration when goaded into running off to their local county offices and applying for marriage licenses. This, it is believed, is solely for the purpose of intimidating good Bible-believing Christians.
So who is it that is being persecuted? If you type “religious persecution” into a web search, you will find a trove of articles and stories of Christians being killed for their faith—along with Muslims and Jews and other faith communities. All faiths suffer persecution. And I am talking about the real form of persecution in which lives are lost.
So if you have to bake a cake and make some couple with dreamy eyes happy, do it! If you have to deliver flowers or pizza to a same sex wedding, do it! You are not being persecuted. If you serve the public, you have a choice. You can take orders from anyone in the public realm, including gays, or you can find some other line of work. That is the choice that Kim Davis and Jack Phillips have.
It is tempting to have a conversation with some of the religious right and ask, “What would Jesus do?” Something tells me that their answer would be vastly different from my own. My answer? Jesus would not only attend their wedding, but probably do some neat trick with the jars of water! Here’s to love, be it straight or gay!