This is a tough one. My first reaction, when our neighbor-state baker refused to serve a gay couple, was that she ought to have the right to decide who takes her cake.
There’s a funambulist in me that still wonders. But the crudely hatched, later revised Indiana law has brought issues into focus, especially as we watched their governor serially refusing to answer whether it provides an excuse for discrimination against people based on sexual orientation. It did, of course, until changed, as a pizza joint subsequently showed us. (And yet they indulge the sin of gluttony!) Which raises the question: Do the revisions make the Indiana law moot? Not really. They gave it a shot. Other states are upping the ante.
When considering whether anti-discrimination laws impinge on religious freedom, it’d be nice to have agreement on what such freedom actually means. It’ll never happen. Is requiring equal treatment for LGBT citizens really an attack on religious practice? Every potential Republican presidential candidate thinks so. Does speaking out against discrimination based on sexual orientation amount to a lynch mob? Newt and Ted say yes. A thoughtful letter here recently asked why a pro-choice sign-maker isn’t forced to make signs against abortion. To that, anyway, the answer is blessedly simple: Anti-discrimination laws are about classes of people, not opinions.
Maybe it depends on the meaning of “religious practice.” The more I think about it, the stranger I find claims of interference, because it suggests that selling a cake is a religious act with religious implications. What it is, is commerce, suggesting nothing about the religion of the actor; nor can religious devotion be deduced by transferring possession of a cake. How does selling cake amount to renunciation of your religion? Isn’t it just following the Golden Rule? If you love the sinners, bake them a cake. If you don’t love their sexual behavior, don’t participate. Religion survives, everyone’s happy.
Well, no, of course not. This is America, land of the highest percentage of evolution deniers, the lowest percentage of climate change believers, and the highest number of houses of worship per capita of any Western country. It’s a nation that rounds off to entirely Christian, nearly all of the elected variety of whom are busy writing and enacting Bible-based laws (while warning about Sharia law); yet who claim it’s they whose beliefs are under attack.
Many individual Christians and churches have no problem with same-sex marriage. In that sense, exercising one’s religious beliefs is a particular, not a universal act. If you believe homosexuality is a sin, you’re hardly alone; but neither are you in possession of religious consensus or immutable truth, especially the sort that generally justifies defiance of civil law. So unless someone is telling you not to believe what you choose to believe, not to attend the church of your choice, not to transfer your creed to your kids, when you conclude your religion requires you to break the law, you’ve made a profound decision. In this case, you will have concluded that your faith obligates treating a group of people as second-class citizens, demands discriminating against them based on their sexual orientation, compels taking upon yourself the judgment of individuals whose legal behavior affects you in no way — judgments that others might comfortably leave to God. That failure to act on that judgment negates your religion. Historically, civil disobedience has been carried out for higher purpose than the right to discriminate. The opposite, usually.
I wish we lived in a world where religion wasn’t used as an excuse for bigotry. I wish there were agreement on where the line is between religious and secular law. I wish laws protecting minorities weren’t necessary. Maybe really small, family-owned businesses should be allowed their prejudices if they post them on a sign. Let the market decide.
The good news is that godly people around the country who share the pizzeria owners’ views of homosexuality, certain, among other misconceptions, that it’s a choice, have donated nearly a million dollars to the shop owners. The Lord works in mysterious ways. I’d have thought He’d prefer to have seen that kind of money given to food banks. But maybe that’s just me.
Sid Schwab is a surgeon and Everett resident. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.