Pick Wayne's Brain

November 23, 2013

Does Freedom of Religion Equal Freedom to Discriminate?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 12:44 PM

An interesting vote is going to take place next year in Oregon. A group called “Oregon United For Marriage” is close to collecting enough signatures for a ballot initiative making marriage equality the law of the land there. This past week they announced they were about 1,200 signatures short of the number needed, and Nike announced they were donating $280,000 to help them collect more, in case any of the signatures are ruled invalid. They aren’t the only ones collecting signatures. The group Oregon Family Council, conservative Christians (an oxymoron, as there is nothing conservative about Christ’s teachings), filed a ballot initiative to “guarantee the right of people and businesses to refrain from participating in or supporting ceremonies for same-sex civil unions, domestic partnerships or marriages, if those violate their religious beliefs.” Actually, the proposal specifically says “deeply held religious beliefs.” And that leads to an important question. Does the freedom of religion equal the freedom to discriminate?

The First Amendment (the one that comes before the one about guns) begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Fourteenth Amendment includes the words “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” So while it may have been true at one time that a state could deny you the religious freedom the federal government couldn’t, the ratification of the Fourteenth negated that. But how far does “religious freedom” go? Just as your right to free speech has limits, as well as your right to bear arms, your right to freely exercise your religion must also have limits. After all, what if your religious beliefs include human sacrifice? Would you try to argue that the First Amendment protects your right to snag someone off the street and ritually remove his heart, all under the guide of “religious freedom”? (Is that how Dick Cheney got his new heart?) What if you claim you practice a religion that makes it a mortal sin to pay taxes to a governing body? Obviously this claim would not be recognized by any US court, as it would bring about the end of the country. So there are limits. There have to be. Taken to its logical extreme, absolute religious freedom would lead to anarchy.

But does religious freedom include the right to discriminate against others who violate your religious beliefs? Not if you wish to operate a business that accommodates to the public, it can’t. If you wish to make a little money organizing weddings and parties for other members of your church, that’s very legal I’m sure. You’re not claiming your unregistered business is “open to the public,” so if there are people whom you don’t wish to serve, you don’t have to. But if you open a business to the public that specializes in catering weddings and parties, then you cannot discriminate against people based on your religious beliefs, or theirs, or against those who do things your religion does not allow you to do. Your religious freedom does not include imposing your religious beliefs on everyone with whom you have contact. Freedom of religion must also include freedom from religion.

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