Debate continues over discrimination vs. religious rights


In the national debate over gay rights, religious freedom and discrimination, attention shifted last week to Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to decline service to gays, lesbians and other people if they felt that service would violate their religious beliefs. A similar measure came close becoming law a few weeks ago in Kansas, where it was passed by the House but died in the Senate. Strong feelings have been stirred on the matter, as these bills emerged and moved forward in both states, and today we share some of what’s been written on these proposed laws.

From the Kansas City Star, on the Kansas proposal.

The Kansas House caused a great deal of damage this week with its approval of a bill sanctioning discrimination against same-sex couples.

House Bill 2453, which the House passed by a 72-49 vote, would make it possible for Kansans to cite religious belief as an excuse to deny services to gay and lesbian persons. So much for America as a nation where all citizens are treated equally under the law. Kansas House members seek to use religion as a vehicle for bigotry.

The consenting representatives misread the nation’s temperament, however. News of their “aye” vote on Wednesday sparked a cyber wildfire, bringing contempt from near and far. By Thursday, more astute leaders were in damage control mode. Senate President Susan Wagle announced that the majority of Republicans in the Senate won’t support the bill as written. That amounts to a death knell for the bill in its current form.

As events unfolded, it became clear the poorly drafted House Bill 2453 lends itself to a myriad of interpretations.

Its main sponsor, Republican Charles Macheers, said it applied only to marriage-related functions, like providing cakes, venues and flowers. Wagle read the language as possibly allowing state workers to refuse any service, including public safety, to a same-sex couple.

Clearly, this is defective legislation that does nothing to boost confidence in the House’s ability to draft laws.

Conservative lawmakers in the Senate and House are now trying to figure out whether there is a way to salvage any part of the bill, which was prompted by the prospect that courts may overturn Kansas’ ban on gay marriage, as they have in other states.

Talk about putting lipstick on a pig. This bill was conceived in malice, and no amount of dress-up will change that reality.

House Bill 2453 underestimates Kansans’ pragmatism. Even in its most conservative reaches, people understand that the sky won’t fall if a bakery is asked to supply a cake for a same-sex wedding. In fact, it might be good for business.

From columnist Kirsten Powers, in USA Today.

What’s the matter with Kansas? A bill protecting the religious freedom of businesses and individuals to refuse services to same-sex couples passed the state House of Representatives last week. It was blessedly killed in the state Senate on Tuesday.

Similar bills have cropped up in a half-dozen states in an effort to protect anti-gay religious believers against lawsuits. A florist in Washington state, a Colorado baker and a New Mexico photographer have been sued for refusing to serve gay couples getting married. They say to do so would be to “celebrate” nuptials at odds with their Christian faith.

It’s probably news to most married people that their florist and caterer were celebrating their wedding union. Most people think they just hired a vendor to provide a service. It’s not clear why some Christian vendors are so confused about their role here.

Adam Hamilton, pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, the largest church in Kansas, pointed out to me what all Christians should know: “Jesus routinely healed, fed and ministered to people whose personal lifestyle he likely disagreed with.” This put Jesus at odds with religious leaders, who believed they were sullied by associating with the “wrong” people.

Hamilton suggested that “if this legislation were to pass … those who wish to refuse service to gay and lesbian people (should be required) to publicly post (their policy). This would allow gay and lesbian people and all other patrons to know before entering a business.”

He’s right. Christians backing this bill are essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws.

Evangelical pastor Andy Stanley leads North Point Ministries, the second largest church in the U.S. He told me he finds it “offensive that Christians would leverage faith to support the Kansas law.” He said, “Serving people we don’t see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity. Jesus died for a world with which he didn’t see eye to eye. If a bakery doesn’t want to sell its products to a gay couple, it’s their business. Literally. But leave Jesus out of it.”

Christians serve unrepentant murderers through prison ministry. So why can’t they provide a service for a same-sex marriage?

Some claim it’s because marriage is so sacred. But double standards abound. Christian bakers don’t interrogate wedding clients to make sure their behavior comports with the Bible. If they did, they’d be out of business. Stanley said, “Jesus taught that if a person is divorced and gets remarried, it’s adultery. So if (Christians) don’t have a problem doing business with people getting remarried, why refuse to do business with gays and lesbians.”

Maybe they should just ask themselves, “What would Jesus do?” I think he’d bake the cake.

From Andrew T. Walker, in The Christian Post.

I don’t think this debate is or should be about denying gay persons public services available to the general public. That’s deplorable.

Were a national fast-food chain to begin prohibiting homosexuals from dining in their facilities, I would no longer dine there myself. Even the Washington state florist, for example, is well documented to have provided flowers for gay customers. What’s at stake in this context is when individuals who provide material and artistic craft for weddings are then forced to take their talents and their creative abilities and use them for purposes that go against their consciences.

The mistake is this: The idea that forcing persons to participate in activities they consider sinful is the equivalent of Good Samaritan mercy ministries.

Jesus was a friend of sinners, the argument goes, so Christians should sacrifice their “rights” for the sake of loving and serving their neighbor, the dispossessed, the marginalized.

Jesus was a friend of sinners, indeed, but Jesus wasn’t a friend of sin. His infectious holiness led him to love and befriend sinners, but all of this was aimed toward a particular end.

And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:30-32)

Jesus has in mind, notice here, repentance unto salvation.

There’s no place in the Scriptures where Jesus mandates his followers to forsake their consciences or either celebrate or be complicit in sin. Jesus says to love all and serve all. He doesn’t say to love and serve by ignoring sin. As a matter of fact, the Scriptures expressly forbid this.

According to Andy Stanley, who she quotes in the article, “Serving people we don’t see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity. Jesus died for a world with which he didn’t see eye to eye. If a bakery doesn’t want to sell its products to a gay couple, it’s their business. Literally. But leave Jesus out of it.” This is a distortion. Again, the debate here is not about denying gay persons access to public goods or services. It’s about weddings.

The problem Stanley and Powers overlook, though, is that objections to lending one’s creative talents for practices the Bible condemns is about obedience to Jesus. We “can’t leave Jesus out of it” in how we live out the fullness of our Christian faith. Moreover, because Jesus affirms the creational structure of marriage (Matthew 19:4-6), for Christians, weddings aren’t just a service, but a profoundly significant symbol for the Christ-Church union (Ephesians 5). Getting marriage right means also getting wedding ceremonies right.

Religious liberty exists in the first place to allow someone to discharge what he or she perceives as a duty. As Cardinal Newman famously said, “conscience has rights because it has duties.”

The instances of cake bakers, florists and wedding photographers being asked to lend their services to same-sex unions seems harmless enough. But they have a duty to obey what their conscience tells them is true. But also consider: If Christians can be compelled to lend a craft to something their conscience objects to, what can’t they be compelled to participate in? We’re talking about precedent; and the cases before us are bellwether test cases about whether private actors can be forcibly mandated to go against their conscience.

It’s truly a disappointment when religious liberty is reduced to bigotry. The looming conflict over sexual freedom and religious liberty is an uncertain future, one that tends to look more foreboding for the future of Evangelical public engagement. …

The issue before us isn’t unlike what the church has faced in times past. In times past, entry into the civil sphere and marketplace were contingent on Christians paying homage to idols or pinching incense before the imperial cult.

The question now is whether the state should use its police powers to be able to force people to do what they believe is a denial of their deepest convictions. That’s not just a question for Christians by Christians, but of the common good for everyone else.

From Noah Millman, in The American Conservative.

The principle of non-discrimination is plainly in conflict with the principle that people should be free to deal with whomever they damn well please, and not with anybody else. Both principles are weighty and valuable. If the law required you to provide flowers for your ex-wife’s wedding to the guy who used to be your best friend, you would obviously suffer an injury. Well, somebody morally appalled by gay marriage who is coerced, by the law, into providing flowers for a gay wedding (or else exit the florist business) has also suffered a real injury. But so has somebody who is disgusted by black people eating alongside white people when he is prohibited by law from running his restaurant according to the rules of racial purity to which he ascribes. The question is whether there is any remedy for that injury that doesn’t cause a much greater injury to others.

There is nothing wrong with adjusting the balance of equality-versus-freedom. Of course, as the Arizona law suggests, doing so may get you a lot more than you bargained for. But adjusting the balance only to permit discrimination against married gay couples transparently singles out those couples as uniquely unprotected. It’s practically a textbook example of invidious discrimination in law. If you want to adjust the balance, you have to adjust the balance generally. You don’t just make an exception for people you don’t like.

An editorial from the Daily Wildcat, the student newspaper at the University of Arizona.

At some point, it seems our state decided that opinions, including religious ones, are more important than the protection of citizens, that the government’s role is to preserve the will of the majority and not to amplify the quieter cries of the marginalized.

Our government officials should probably enroll in an entry level constitutional law class. Then, perhaps, they would know that the function of the Bill of Rights, home of the mighty First Amendment, has always been to protect citizens from the abuses of their rulers.

With S.B. 1062, politicians are simply protecting the way of life they’ve become accustomed to by trying to “expand” freedoms they’re already happily benefiting from. And they aren’t really doing it for all religions; they’re doing it for Christians. The language used in the bill even specifies that churches — not mosques, synagogues or temples — receive the benefits of expanded rights.

But it isn’t only churches and individuals that are mentioned. The bill also make a point of stating that corporations and business organizations are covered.

Despite what the Senate may have predicted, this bill will only hurt businesses. Those that choose to discriminate will literally be turning away money, while Arizona as a whole also loses out because people will boycott the entire state instead of just the pigheaded businesses. And that hurts everyone, even the businesses who are calling out the bill.

And it isn’t just businesspeople who are against the bill. Even three Republicans state senators who voted for the bill are urging Gov. Jan Brewer to veto it. Granted, they still think the bill is a good idea and that commentaries like this one have “mischaracterized” it, but at least they regret their vote. They aren’t the only ones telling her to veto it. So is Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona). So are some of the gubernatorial candidates. So are we.

Let’s not let an ill-defined set of bills ripe for justifying discrimination become Arizona law, a law that will certainly have negative repercussions and will probably drag the state into a huge lawsuit. Let’s work on making laws that actually protect people, not ones that just claim they do.

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