Liberty, Equality, Discrimination

Last week a bill went through the Arizona legislature (later vetoed by the governor) that received quite a bit of national criticism.  The bill (SB1062, that’s a link to the actual bill text) was, depending on who you listened to either going to:

  1. Cause widespread, awful discrimination against gays
  2. [or] protect religious people from being forced to perform acts that violate their consciences

The impetus for the bill, according to some legislators and proponents, is to keep what happened to a photographer in New Mexico and a baker in Oregon from happening in Arizona.  This is a knotty issue, to be sure, because discrimination is a difficult nut to crack.  Here’s something a pro-gay marriage libertarian over at the Cato Institute wrote last week:

The prototypical scenario that SB 1062 is meant to prevent is the case of the New Mexico wedding photographer who was fined for declining to work a same-sex commitment ceremony. This photographer doesn’t refuse to provide services to gay clients, but felt that she couldn’t participate in the celebration of a gay wedding. There’s also the Oregon bakery that closed rather than having to provide wedding cakes for same-sex ceremonies. Why should these people be forced to engage in activity that violates their religious beliefs?

For that matter, gay photographers and bakers shouldn’t be forced to work religious celebrations, Jews shouldn’t be forced to work Nazi rallies, and environmentalists shouldn’t be forced to work job fairs in logging communities. This isn’t the Jim Crow South; there are plenty of wedding photographers – over 100 in Albuquerque – and bakeries who would be willing to do business regardless of sexual orientation, and no state is enforcing segregation laws. I bet plenty of Arizona businesses would and do see more customers if they advertised that they welcomed the LGBT community.

via For Marriage Equality, Religious Liberty, and the Freedom of Association | Cato @ Liberty.

The big issue here, from a liberty standpoint, is where does it stop?  Certainly I have a lot of sympathy for the two business owners who share my religious views, but I would be just as opposed to a gay photographer being forced to photograph a ceremony at Westboro Baptist Church.  The bill in question was a minor amendment to the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) for Arizona, which many states and the federal government have passed.  The federal law was signed by President Clinton.  The words “refuse service” and “gay” did not appear in the bill, but that did not change the national media’s characterization of the bill.

Even many people who support allowing the word marriage to be applied to same-sex relationships understand that there are lines that should not be crossed for personal liberties.  Sadly, there is another agenda at play here, and there are those who will suffer for conscience’s sake in a land that once protected religious freedom.  Freedom protects many things that you or I may disagree with, and in some sense freedom even protects someone’s right to do something foolish or outright stupid.

An issue where strong Christians and true libertarians agree:  No one should be compelled to serve against their personal convictions.

2 thoughts on “Liberty, Equality, Discrimination

  1. I agree that this is a tricky situation. I’m not a libertarian, but as a Christian I absolutely feel compelled to serve. We are called to be known by our service, not our opinions or liberty.

    • And that is good for you. And in the scenario where some of my brothers are backing out for conscience’s sake (or anyone, for that matter) in a particular opportunity to serve I think it is important for us to support that decision. It may be that either of these situations were handled poorly by the brothers in question (the photographer and the baker) or it may be that the vendors were targeted so that a court case could follow. I don’t know, and it is unimportant to me at this point since I don’t know any of the people involved personally.

      What matters is that, as long as we expect to call ourselves a free country, that we are free to speak and act in accordance with our own personal convictions, not those of a majority of people. Laws that attack the freedom of a minority are tyrannical in every case.

      How each individual Christian ought to act in a similar scenario is a different issue. This is about whether you, as an individual can say “I disagree with your lifestyle but I’m going to serve you anyway because I believe that’s what Jesus wants me to do.” and another say “I’m sorry, but I believe that baking this cake makes me a party to this ceremony that I religiously object to. I think you’ll be happier with this baker over there.” and that we respect each other’s convictions on that. There are clear cut issues and others that are less clear cut, but on those less clear we ought to respect the consciences (and the Lord of the conscience) with allowing what we disagree with in each other.

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