Protecting Religious Liberty

FairToAllOur country was founded by groups fleeing religious persecution by the state. Many of the men and women involved in the formation of our government were also highly skeptical and suspicious of organized religion. These traditions are what lead to the First Amendment’s protections not just for religious belief, but the ability to be able to freely put those beliefs into action. It also extends those rights to individuals, not merely organized churches. It would be hard to find a nation on the earth more dedicated to preserving that degree of individual liberty.

And yet, there are groups within the United States who seem to be fully dedicated to undoing as much of that progress as possible. They deeply believe that a nebulously defined “social justice” demands subjugation of both individuals and organizations in order to build their perfect society through government force. The First Amendment was meant to protect people from the government, not to employ government to force a private party to accommodate another. These groups, however, strongly believe that all non-discrimination laws must exclude any and all religious exemptions.

There are multiple problems with this.

The biggest of these problems is that religious-based discrimination in commercial transactions is actually quite rare. In Utah cities that have non-discrimination ordinances, complaints have been virtually non-existent. The supposition that allowing a private party the latitude to choose to not do business with someone on religious grounds will lead to widespread discrimination is completely unfounded. Even if someone attempts to claim a religious exemption, the courts would still have to review the case itself to see if it is sincere. Here in Utah, this would provide very little cover for members of the LDS Church as it proclaimed flatly that discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation isn’t acceptable. The courts go back and forth, but they do find a number of cases where religious exemptions are improperly sought. It’s less slam dunk, more Hail Mary.

Almost equally problematic is the assertion that if an individual declines to provide goods or services to another individual that it becomes impossible to get that good or service. In fact, if the number of individuals who assert that right is quite rare (as the data suggests) and there are multiple providers for that good or service, you’re not really being denied, well, anything. You don’t have an inherent right to demand that a particular person do business with you. If there’s another person nearby who is more than happy to take your money, the only reason to try to force the person who declines is to try to make an example of them. (Also, it kind of makes you a jerk.)

Unfortunately, the entire gay “rights” movement has moved well beyond rights and squarely into revenge territory. Instead of being content with repealing unjust criminalization and peaceful tolerance by the greater portion of society, the movement, like many who are oppressed, have now focused on good old-fashioned payback against their oppressors. All the while, we’re given chillingly Orwellian definitions of religious freedom that require government to force private parties to support and endorse the religious practices of others, a purpose that the First Amendment was never designed for.

While I have little doubt that the backers of non-discrimination ordinances are sincere, I also have little doubt that they are sincerely living in an alternate reality. The concern trolling fantasies that allowing religious freedom will result in a ’50s style segregated society are just that: fantasies. Until they can provide more than the creative machinations of their own imaginations, I saw we treat their fictions as such and continue to uphold the American tradition of real freedom, not the imposition of someone’s will upon another.

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