The Fatal Flaw in Using Faith as Permission to Discriminate
Here are two things I hear a lot these days a lot from liberals, even more from libertarians, and pretty much from everyone on the right: That you can be anti-same-sex marriage or gay rights without that belief being either bigoted or discriminatory, and that someone’s religious beliefs somehow need to be taken into consideration when we consider the question of whether or not business owners, employees, or government workers should be allowed to restrict goods and services to LGBTs.
As anyone who has been here for very long knows, I strongly disagree with both of these positions. Indeed, this might be the sole issue where I eagerly side with the far left and disagree with pretty much everyone else here.
Foolishly, I’m going to try once again in vain to try to convince everyone else they are wrong. To do so, let’s travel East…
On Tuesday morning a new skirmish in the battle over same-sex marriage and religious freedom surfaced in North Carolina. Two former county magistrates, Swain County’s Gilbert Breedlove and Graham County’s Thomas Holland, have filed suit against the government for infringing upon their religious freedoms.
Breedlove and Holland had each already stepped down from their posts in protest over court rulings that allow same-sex marriages in the state. Part of each plaintiff’s job description was performing marriage ceremonies; each says that performing a same-sex marriage would be a spiritual hardship. In addition to being a county magistrate, the aptly named Breedlove is a minister and has been performing traditional marriages for almost a quarter century. If ever there were a better example of the challenges inherent in finding ways to appease both champions of LGBT rights and religious liberties, I’m not aware of it.
To understand the basic religious conflicts involved for some Christians, it is illustrative to look at an amicus brief immediately filed on the Plaintiff’s behalf by the American Christian Liberty Council, which details the nature of their member’s faith, and why the first amendment should protect them from having to perform business services to people they find offense based upon their reading of scripture:
The Bible makes some things plain. All orthodox, Bible-believing Christians agree on one thing; and that is, that whatever the Bible says is so. In recent years, there has been a subtle effort by [the State] to undermine people’s faith in the Bible.
God almighty did not make the human race one sex… There is an effort today to disturb that natural order… God does not want [LGBTs] to marry and if [Christians] should marry them it would be … outside the will of God.
It’s pretty hard to deny that these convictions are sincere, or that they are religious in nature, or that telling either Gilbert Breedlove or Thomas Holland that forcing a choice between abandoning their their long-held jobs and abandoning the beliefs described above does not trespass against their religious liberty. And because of that, it is normally right about here where most of us begin to ask: How might we best placate both sides? How might we get to a place where it’s not necessarily illegal for people who are gay to be married, but where those who feel that catering (no pun intended) to something they find religiously offensive and immoral can still legally refuse to do so in their careers, private businesses, and the public square? If we could find a way to do that, wouldn’t it be the best solution?
Unfortunately, the answer is no, it would not be best. It would actually be quite terrible.
And the best way to illustrate why is the amicus brief I quoted above. Because — and here I am chagrined to make a confession of dishonesty — it’s not really from an amicus brief filed for Breedlove and Holland. It’s never even been quoted by the American Christian Liberty Council, which I know because I made that organization up.
The quote is actually from a speech and position paper by Bob Jones, founder of Bob Jones University; it was published in 1960. Also, there is this: Although the paper’s intention was to state a clear religious-freedom argument for why people should be legally allowed to refuse to cater, sell to, rent to, or in any way do business with certain types of other people when their interpretation of the Bible said it would sinful to do so, those people weren’t gays and lesbians. They were blacks.
If you want, you can read the entire argument — entitled Is Segregation Scriptural? — here. You may disagree with Jones’s theology, but what you can’t argue with his sincerity of faith. In fact, I really do urge you to read all 32 pages, because all of the elements we speak about when we have our current gay rights v. religious liberties kerfuffles are there: The appeal to the recognition of sincere religious belief; the insistence that Christians don’t discriminate against blacks, provided that legally making them lesser is based on a sincere religious belief; the blaming of militant factions and liberals for making this country less free for people of Faith; the plea that not being allowed to refuse to serve a minority is a most egregious affront on their own civil rights.
And therein lies the problem with allowing businesses, employees, and people in the public square to refuse to serve, do business, or offer governmental services to other people based on their religious beliefs about them. If a pizza parlor in Indiana’s argument to refuse to serve gays and lesbians — in any capacity in which they would apply serve straight people — is right and just because of religious liberty, then so too is Bob Jone’s argument from 1960. For that matter, so too are businesses that might put up signs saying they don’t serve Jews or Muslims.
You also can’t hide between originalist arguments about the Constitution, because neither our founders nor the men who passed the Reconstruction Amendments were particularly interested in equal rights and equal access. The latter would never have passed the amendments if they thought it meant they couldn’t segregate blacks, and the former allowed states to treat blacks as chattel. If your argument is, “but a strict reading of the Constitution says..,” then you are — again — forced to argue that Jones was right, and that denying commercial or government services to blacks should be legal if a person is willing to say — as so many were a century ago — that their primary motivator was religious conviction.
Because here is the dirty secret no one wants to admit when we talk about gay rights and same-sex marriage: You can’t reasonably be against them without thinking that gays are somehow lesser and/or deserving of fewer rights and privileges than the rest of us. You can tell yourself you can, but you can’t. You can have religious reasons for your beliefs, but you still can’t. You can even be a good and decent person overall, and you still can’t — in the same way you can’t be perfectly fine with blacks while being OK with legally allowing the restriction of government and private services for them based solely on the color of their skin — even if your reasons are religiously based. You just can’t. Anything you say that says otherwise is just story you tell yourself feel better about you or people in general.
And if you don’t believe me, try this experiment: The next time you hear someone saying you can be anti-SSM without being discriminatory, try telling them you just read that liberal politicians in the city of Portland were passing an ordinance saying they were no longer recognizing Christian marriage licenses and see how well they take it.
[Picture: Expulsion of the Russian Envoy, via Wikipedia.]