Religious Freedom: Freedom to Force Your Values on Others

After Indiana’s ‘religious freedom’ bill which would allow private business owners to discriminate who they serve based upon their religious beliefs, people on both sides have been clamoring to argue why it should or shouldn’t be supported. The issue, however, is really quite simple as this is one of the most cowardly acts the Right has ever undertaken in an attempt to justifiably alienate a group they’ve been quickly losing legal ground to. I want to bring particular attention to the blogger Matt Walsh who believes it is everyone’s right to discriminate in this fashion. I want to deal with some of his claims which are as follows:

This law allows people the freedom to choose who they do and don’t associate with.

This law is supported wholly by the first amendment of the United States.

Discrimination (on the basis of identity) is not a bad thing.

This law doesn’t target gays.

I’m not really sure what country Matt thinks he is living in nor am I sure he realizes what it would mean for America to take this law seriously. Maybe he should spend a little time in Saudi Arabia or Iran to get a feel for what fascist theocracy is really like. After all, those are both countries in which one’s religion has become justification for all manner of ‘God given rights’ ranging from stoning someone you disagree with to depriving women of the vote. According to Matt it would be disrespectful to deprive the religious people of Afghanistan the right to murder adulterous women or homosexuals.

Maybe Matt is one of these people who have mistaken secularism for a concept that means all religions in the public sphere as opposed to what it really means which is NO religion in the public sphere. Here, however, he would argue this is where the ‘private’ in privately owned business comes in but he would still be wrong. Any business offering its services to the public is no longer private in the sense that Matt imagines, that being like a home owner preventing some lesbians from joining his croquet party.

Discrimination on the basis of identity like this IS actually a bad thing, especially when it cannot be justified. Being gay does not prevent someone from practicing their religion. Where, exactly, in the Bible does it say that in order to practice your faith effectively you must not render services to sexual minorities? Even if we were to take this law seriously how could they biblically substantiate it?

The assumption that the First Amendment supports Indiana’s measure is also fallacious for the simple reason that it prohibits any law respecting an establishment of a religion. This law clearly protects invidious and sinister social behavior under the guise of ‘freedom’, allowing religious social policy into the market place. Matt would desperately argue that the First Amendment also protects against the impediment of one’s exercise of their religion but what impediment existed that necessitated this law? We’ve already established that simply being gay does not impede a person from practicing any particular faith. Nor does any holy book specifically mention that rendering services to any member of the LGBT community is tantamount to blasphemy or apostasy.

If we reexamine these claims we can see how all of them are unjustified. People already have the right to associate with whom they choose, selling a cake to a person does not bond you to them. The First Amendment prevents religious practices from either being legally promoted or prohibited, and this law unfairly promotes so-called religious values without remedying any legitimate impediment to their practice. Further, discrimination based upon identity is a bad thing for society. It alienates, disenfranchises and stigmatizes the targeted minority for something utterly beyond their control. And while it is true that this particular law does not specifically target LGBT people it is pretty clear that is who it is meant for, after all Walsh himself cites numerous instances of such discrimination to justify the bill in his other article.

Additionally, this privileges the values of religious people over non-religious people by legitimizing nonsensical claims so long as they are supported in a major religious institution. What if you are part of a small cult that believes in refusing food to babies? What if you are a racist agnostic or atheist who supports their ideology with junk science? Why is it, exactly, that the magical thinking of major religions should be prioritized over other forms of magical thinking?

Lastly, a private business still operates in service of the public and there are federal laws in place to protect people from needless discrimination, it is called the Federal Civil Rights Act and it allows that ‘full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.’ Title VII of which is being extended to include discrimination on the basis of orientation or gender identity. Note that it says ‘public accommodation’, making no reference to whether the business is publicly or privately owned.

It should also be noted that Constitutional arguments are not absolute since laws and cultures change, even our founding fathers acknowledged this. After all, there was a time when the Constitution sanctioned slavery and reduced black Americans and women to subhuman status.

Jefferson’s memorial famously states,

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

And just to remind people that America WAS NOT (despite popular opinion) founded on any religion, especially not Christianity, the Treaty of Tripoli submitted by John Adams and ratified unanimously by the Senate states:

‘…the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.’

Tirades like those from Matt’s blog are as boring as they confused. Christians in America need to stop forcing their religious values into the public sphere and onto their neighbors. No one is limiting the rights of Christians to practice their faith, only who they can force their faith’s values upon. I wish I could say these events are surprising but the religious in America commonly assert themselves in ways that are both unjustified and cloaked in victimhood. It seems that for Christian Indiana the mere act of engaging a potentially gay person is a violation of their rights.

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