(RNS) Conservative Christians are claiming that their religious freedom requires free rein for legalized discrimination.

That’s a clever argument. It seems to claim the moral high ground, to align itself with basic constitutional principles, and to put bigots in the victim role.

The argument is utter nonsense, of course. Freedom of belief has nothing to do with compelling other people to bow to that belief. If anything, freedom of belief should lead to a broad umbrella of diversity, not a parched patch of prejudice.

The U.S. Constitution with an american flag.

The U.S. Constitution with an American flag. Photo courtesy of Mark Hayes via Shutterstock

The First Amendment to the Constitution, after all, sought to guarantee freedom — of religion, speech, the press, assembly and petitioning the government — not to grant freedom to some and not others, depending on the whims of the powerful or pious.

What’s next? Disobeying traffic signs because a gay-friendly city government put them up? Drawing down on a policeman because he happens to be gay? Obeying only those laws that no gay person supports or benefits from?

“Religious freedom,” as used by the right wing, is like earlier shouts of “America first” and “states’ rights” and “Christian nation.” It is a bullying slogan to justify dragging others down to their level of fear and loathing.

Faith isn’t about building walls, but opening doors. Faith isn’t about naming and smiting enemies, but loving all, even enemies. Faith isn’t about judging others, but setting aside the instinct to judge and trusting God to be just. Faith isn’t about denying services and rights to people who are different, but setting a table where all are fed.

But even if these conservatives have a firm religion based on discrimination and sexual identity, that is their business, not public policy. They can shout their convictions as much as they want, but they cannot impose them on others.

The only “freedom” at stake here is their desired freedom to bully and badger fellow citizens whom they detest. That isn’t religious freedom. It’s a violation of the Constitution and the laws of this free land.

It is also an offense against a Savior who died for all, not just for the like-minded.

I don’t suggest we shut down anyone’s beliefs or convictions. That’s the nature of a free land: Someone is going to hold a view that I consider heinous, but that is her right.

We have fought hard in this country, however, to clarify that private beliefs and public policies are different and that one’s private beliefs don’t confer any right to take away another’s rights.

Christian conservatives, after all, aren’t speaking the absolute will and word of God any more than I am. Christianity is a broad umbrella, and they are just one cohort beneath it.

America’s wild decision to have open borders and a democratic form of government means we will always be a rainbow nation. We will have people speaking different languages, eating different foods, worshipping and serving God in different ways, making different consumer decisions, working in different fields and celebrating unique identities.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. Photo courtesy Tom Ehrich

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. Photo courtesy Tom Ehrich


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

This works because we have a common currency, common laws, public services open to all and common respect for the rights of others.

I realize that many Christian conservatives feel strongly about homosexuality. But those feelings aren’t the law of the land. Nor should they be.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)

YS/MG END EHRICH

 

 

11 Comments

  1. A business is not a church. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about a bakery or a restaurant, a photo studio or a factory. They aren’t in the business of providing spiritual guidance or enforcing moral doctrines. They are there to turn a profit. As such, they are obligated to abide by prevailing civil rights laws, whether those laws protect people from discrimination based on race, religion, or sexual orientation.

    Conservative columnist Erick Erickson came to the defense of Christian business owners: “Committed Christians believe in a doctrine of vocation. They believe that their work is a form of ministry. Through their work, they can share the gospel and glorify God.”

    Oh, and also rake in as much money as possible. You can wax poetic all you want about “glorifying God,” but at the end of the day these businesses wouldn’t exist were it not for the profit motive.

    Should a restaurant owner be able to refuse service to Blacks because he has “moral objections” to race-mixing? Should an employer be able to fire a Muslim employee because he wants to run “a nice Christian workplace”? And if a Christian florist agrees to provide flower arrangements at a Muslim couple’s wedding, does it mean he is necessarily endorsing Islam?

    If the answer to these questions is NO, what justification is there refusing service to a Gay couple who wish to get a wedding cake or celebrate their anniversary in a restaurant?

  2. Fr. You completely miss the point. First , to try to tar all Conservative Christians as bigots is unfair. And yes, that is what your commentary does whether you intended to or not. Secondly, some religious freedom laws such as the Arizona do NOT allow blatant and wonton discrimination as you would have us to believe. Even a New York Times journalist chastised his journalist colleagues that their reporting on the Arizona law was not objective and professional and did not report the actual details of the law properly. Most conservative Christians do NOT want to discriminate against homosexuals in our business activity. The issue is being forced to participate and thus bear false witness to certain activities that are against our faith. Gay “weddings”, for example violate the Christian sacrament, whether you chose to acknowledge this or not, and my faith cannot permit me to condone that. I am NOT discriminating against homosexuals by refusing to be forced to provide a service at an event I object to. I am objecting to the event itself. If the gay couple came into my bakery, either individually or as a couple, I would be happy to serve them with all the love and respect I would give anyone else.
    To argue that laws such as the Arizona law would NOT allow such discrimination as refusing to obey traffic laws because the arresting officer was gay is simply due to ignorance. That is such an absurd straw-man argument it is beneath you. Read the text of the Arizona law and you will see it would not have allowed such a ridiculous conclusion. To even suggest an outcome is disingenuous. Yes, the Constitution provides due process which makes discrimination illegal. BUT, the 1st Amendment allows us our Free Exercise of religion. The bar required to overcome my religious freedom is VERY high. And furthermore, the discrimination prevented under the Due Process clause applies most directly to the governments relationship to its citizens, not directly to how citizens treat one another! Yes there is a connection but it is NOT as direct as my religious exercise freedoms. So, before you continue to characterize all Conservative Christians as wild eyed bigots hoping to pass laws that allow me to kick out some “fairy” from my bakery, I would suggest you consider a little penance for you sinful denigration of your fellow Christians and consider reading the Arizona law a little more carefully. A Letter from top law professors to Janet Brewer carefully explained that it would NOT allow the ridiculous type of discrimination your try to hype here. I think these law professors and legal experts are little more educated and objective on the matter than you, and many other gay activists have been. Sincerely, Yours in Christ!

    • @ Mickey

      “Most conservative Christians do NOT want to discriminate against homosexuals in our business activity. The issue is being forced to participate and thus bear false witness to certain activities that are against our faith. ”

      They don’t want to discriminate against homosexuals in their business activities. They just want to deny them goods and services in a business context based on personal animus. Which is by definition discrimination in business activities. You are full of it.

      To claim that engaging in business discrimination is an exercise of religious freedom is to lack understanding of what both of those things are. Free Exercise of religion does not entitle you to harm other people on the basis of your religious belief. Engaging in business discrimination is considered by our laws to be an act of intentional harm to those on the receiving end of it. The government is well within its rights to restrict business discrimination.

      The laws were vague enough to justify any form of discrimination in business as long as you made an excuse of “religious belief”. The law as proposed would have directly attacked the Civil Rights Act, the anti-discrimination laws of several AZ cities and been in direct violation of Federal precedent since 1995. [See Romer v. Evans] The support for such measures are a combination of personal animus, historical/legal ignorance and sheer stupidity.

    • @Mickey

      Are you an anarchist? Can you imagine how unworkable society would be if every person or group were able to decide what their civil obligations were based on the dictates of their own conscience? The sort of laws you seem to support cannot form the basis of a civil society where every member has the same inalienable rights. I wonder how you would feel about this if you belonged to a minority group that you now covet the right to discriminate against.

  3. Its telling that the people who are shouting about “religious freedom” are the ones who have no respect for religious freedom, ie the “Establishment Clause” or “Free Exercise of Religion”. That is unless it is their own religion being established and the exercise of their own religion.

    These are the same people who:
    -Attack the monuments and houses of worship for minority faiths
    -Attack secularists and atheists in public discourse and actions
    -Claim Christianity is the only religion recognized by our government
    -Call the separation of church and state a “myth”
    -Appropriate public money and institutions for furthering their sectarian interests.

  4. Earold Gunter

    I have commented on this website many times about the lack of public condemnation from moderates of many religions when the more zealous of their beliefs do something against social norms. So, I have to give you credit Tom. Yours is a loud voice of reason among the yelling voices of the unreasonable, and the deafening silence of the rest.

  5. Justice Scalia (yes, THAT Scalia) writing for the majority in Employment Division v. Smith made it perfectly clear that it is impossible to provide religious exemptions to otherwise valid law.

    Nevertheless, I have a simple solution.

    If someone feels that smearing butter-cream on sponge cake is God’s work. If he further feels that by providing that cake for a gay wedding is somehow and affirmation or approval, they let him post a perfectly legal sign. He can even use scare quotes. It would read:

    “This establishment disapproves of homosexual ‘marriage’”

    I can assure you that he will never have to deal with a gay couple again.

  6. Susan Humphreys

    It really amazes me how short sighted some folks are. Christians are still in the majority, but that won’t last much longer. They can’t seem to grasp that the laws that protect their rights and freedoms also protect (or should) the rights and freedoms of others. I think the country that tolerates intolerancein the public market place and in public spaces will be destroyed by both! In Arizona some businesses started to put up signs saying that they are open to all, they don’t discriminate on any basis. I think more signs like this should be put up so people can see up front whom they are doing business with and when Christian businesses that discriminate start losing business they will change their tune!

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