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DAVID ROSMAN: Beware of threats to individual rights, religious liberty and the First Amendment

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:33 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I came upon two interesting stories last week. The first is about the freedom to discriminate through religion and the second concerns this quiz on the Huffington Post religion blog — “How to Determine If Your Religious Liberty Is Being Threatened In Just 10 Quick Questions .”

Most of you are aware of Arizona passing SB 1062  only to be vetoed by the governor.

SB1062 would have allowed business owners to deny service to gay and lesbian customers so long as proprietors were acting solely on their religious beliefs.

Of course, Gov. Jan Brewer only acted this way because the state’s tourism business was being threatened. What you may not know is that the same or similar laws have been passed in Kansas and are on the table in Missouri.

The Missouri proposal, SB 916, states “that a governmental authority shall not substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion, unless the governmental authority demonstrates that it has a compelling governmental interest, and the burden is the least restrictive means to further such interest.”

Here is the problem with this language. Because it is not illegal to discriminate against a person because of his or her sexual orientation, there would be no “compelling government interest” in refusing services based on sexual orientation — more specifically, to refuse to provide services to a gay person or couple.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen.Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, used the example of a baker refusing to provide services to a gay couple based on the baker’s religious beliefs. There is the possibility that the baker could be sued, and this bill seeks to avoid that situation.

But it is not just the LGBT community that needs to be afraid; it is all religious minorities, regardless of sexual orientation. The way the proposed law is written, a Christian may refuse to deal with a Muslim or Jew because of religious beliefs.

A couple questions arise:

  • Which is the more grievous discrimination, the religious beliefs of the individual or class discrimination, what one report called the Jim Crow laws concerning the rights of the LGBT community?
  • Are the religious’ rights being demoted or threatened by the LGBT community and the new secular morality of the nation?

This is where the article reference above comes into play.

Rev. Emily Heath of the United Church of Christ posted her “How to Determine if Your Religious Liberty Is Being Threatened in Just 10 Quick Questions,” in September 2012 on the Huffington Post’s religion blog.

Hers is a simple test; it asks the reader to make a decision about 10 questions under the heading, “My religious liberty is at risk because…” The reader chooses answer A or B to each of the questions. I tried to answer the questions as a “devout Christian” (a role I found interesting to play).

The “A” responses indicate a threat, and if one were honest, an “A” response would not likely be chosen as an answer to the queries. Those responses would look like these: I am not allowed to choose my own religion. I am not allowed to pray privately. I am being forced to use birth control (as a female).

The “B” responses are really what the First Amendment is all about: I cannot use my faith to bully others to pray or discriminate because of sexual orientation. Any religion can build their house of worship where they please, as long it complies with local zoning ordinances. Science classes teach science and religion can be taught at home.

So are the baker’s religious freedoms being threatened because a gay couple wants a wedding cake? Heath does not pose this question, but it is an interesting one to ponder.

Forcing one’s beliefs upon another is a threat to the religious freedoms of all. At the same time, if religion is used to discriminate against a class of persons, in this case members of the LGBT community, then the situation changes.

Can an atheist baker refuse to bake a wedding cake for a Christian couple because of the couple’s religious affiliation and beliefs? The answer to both using Humanist and secular morality is simply “no.”

The First Amendment prevents the state from forcing any religious beliefs on others. SB 916 would permit such a situation to occur with government’s sanction.

If SB 916 makes it through both housed of the Missouri legislature, I am sure Gov. Jay Nixon would veto the bill without hesitation and without the lobbying efforts of the tourism industry.

Such a discriminatory bill is simply wrong and its consideration should go by way of the Dodo bird. Into extinction.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of his commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.com.


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Comments

Ellis Smith March 5, 2014 | 7:21 a.m.

"The public good is in nothing more essentially interested in the protection of every individual's private rights." -Sir William Blackstone (1783)

"You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and you can't change human nature from self-interest into pure idealism - not in this life, and if you could, what would be left for paradise?" - U. S. Representative Jospeh G. Cannon, Missouri (1923). The Cannon Dam at Mark Twain Lake is named for Joe Cannon.

(Cannon's remark about Paradise may obviously be ignored by those who don't believe in Paradise. We don't want to bruise anyone's sensibilities.)

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 5, 2014 | 8:47 a.m.

Correction: Joseph G. Cannon, (R) Illinois, was a long-serving U. S. Representative who was also an influential House Speaker; Clarence Cannon, (D) Missouri, was also a long-serving U. S. Representative, for whom Connon Dam in Missouri is named. Joseph G. Cannon was also known as "Uncle Joe" Cannon.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 5, 2014 | 9:10 a.m.

Time is short this morning, so I'll just comment upon this part of Dave's missive:

"A couple questions arise:

(1) Which is the more grievous discrimination, the religious beliefs of the individual or class discrimination, what one report called the Jim Crow laws concerning the rights of the LGBT community?

(2) Are the religious’ rights being demoted or threatened by the LGBT community and the new secular morality of the nation?
___________________

Taking them in turn:

(1) This is the kind of question you find in a push poll. If Dave really wanted to leave the answer up to the reader, he would have written: "Which is the more grievous discrimination, the religious beliefs of the individual or class discrimination?" You see, there's no reason to put in the "Jim Crow" business if you're really interested in starting a conversation on the topic. The question isn't a question; it's a good nudge towards the answer Dave wishes to hear...just like a push poll. It's poor writing and a really poor way to argue.

(2) Threatened by the LGBT community? No, not so much, except as it relates to the second part of this question. Threatened by the new secular morality? Absolutely. You see, when the state either assumes (by parental default) or takes over (by law) the routine education and upbringing of our children and teenagers, we've seen quite clearly how secular morality threatens religion.

The really interesting thing to me is that Muslims see this more clearly than Christians.
__________________

I will answer Dave's first question, as de-pushed and modified by me: "Which is the more grievous discrimination, the religious beliefs of the individual or class discrimination."

My answer? Discrimination of the religious beliefs of the individual is the more grievous. As individual belief is the ultimate expression of absolute human freedom. If you lose your ability to believe ANYTHING, you have lost a part of your freedom. If you are untrue to who you believe you are, then who are you?

PS: My last sentence expresses what Dave does not understand: The difference between "ethics" and "morality". Your ethic is your determination whether something is right or wrong. Your morality is determined by whether you follow your ethic.

Dave wants you to choose class discrimination as the more grievous sin. That is a clear belief, where "group" is more important than "individual".

What do you, the reader, think about that?

Remember your answer the next time Dave starts carping about individual freedoms.....

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 5, 2014 | 10:43 a.m.

Michael:

Well put. I'd add that one of the most ambiguous terms known to modern society is the word "freedom." Clearly, this word does not have the same meaning to us all - not even close.

I have one other quote, inspired by your post:

"Give to us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for - because unless we stand for something we shall fall for anything." - Peter Marshall, U. S. Senate Chaplin (1949)

{Awful! Smith is quoting an ordained Protestant clergyman. Next he'll be attempting to indoctrinate everyone. All that hellfire and damnation business. :)]

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 5, 2014 | 1:25 p.m.

Ellis: "I'd add that one of the most ambiguous terms known to modern society is the word "freedom."

I agree. I'm well aware that when human beings decided to live in groups, the purity of true "freedom" became more tenuous and unclear. Rules are required when in close contact, else groups will be at one another's throats. We call those rules "laws", agreed upon up-front by all the groups. Laws are the result of group-think, the antithesis of individual freedom unless the law directly addresses or preserves it. So far, I've argued the complete opposite of Dave's group-think philosophy, but the truth is that so long as we live in groups, group-think is in constant tension with absolute freedom, and vice versa.

This tension is the source of all our arguments.

The body of Dave's work illustrates his tension against religion. He's an avowed atheist who resents any intrusion of religion into either group-think OR individual freedoms, as his brain sees fit. He desires that only secular brain decisions may participate in determinations of group-think and/or individual freedoms; any other source of individual thought based upon religion should just shut up...or at least not be considered or taken seriously when making rules.

Dave's secularism is actually individual anarchy, where individual brains make the ethics....the decisions of group-think right and wrong.

Of course, brains can change their minds on a moment's notice. For religious folks discussing basic rules of human behavior, the brain isn't supposed to even be in the equation.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote March 5, 2014 | 2:00 p.m.

This conversation omits atheists. Are atheist morals not privy to the same perceived constitutional protection vis a vis religious freedom as Christian morals? Note that in the US these conflicts invariably involve Christians, and the proponents of religious discrimination are quite animated against religious freedoms when the religion in question is muslim or some other less popular, non-white variety (see the histrionics of self-professed Christians in response to the construction of a community center to serve Muslims in downtown Manhattan circa 2010).

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 5, 2014 | 3:31 p.m.

Chris: Well, I don't know any Christian secularists. I guess I made an assumption.

Nonetheless, ALL citizens of the United States have 1st Amendment protection which says, of course, that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Doesn't say anything about the states, tho. I figure the Supremacy Clause doesn't really apply because that clause would simply prohibit the states' federal representatives/senators from making federal laws abridging the 1st amendment. I figure if the states want something similar, they have to put it in their own constitutions.

I posted the other day that I do not understand what it is about my unlocking a door to engage in commerce that forces me to give up some of MY freedoms. Today, commerce is one-sided and in favor of the buyer. I think this is wrong. If you force me to engage in commerce with you, I am the one being forced to act. Not you. IMO, you have no right to be happy in your attempted commerce with me. Of course, I'd be rather stupid to treat you in that way.

To me, it DOES NOT MATTER why I want...or don't want...to engage in commerce with you. As a buyer, you may have your own reasons to NOT do commerce with me. Why do I not have the same right towards you? It is ethical for me to try to force you into commerce with me (think "monopoly")? Can I haul you into my store with threats if you don't buy. Can I sue you for not buying my widgit?

But, you can sue me for not selling.

The problem here is that those who wish to force commerce on a seller are not only asking for the right to commerce; they are asking for acceptance of who they are or what they are. To my mind, it does not matter WHY the seller does not wish to engage in commerce with me. It could be religious, it could be color, it could be because of sloppy dress, it could be because I'm ugly or forgot deodorant.

By the way, atheists DO NOT have morals. Neither do I. BOTH of us have ethics. What we do next (our behavior) determines if we are moral...or immoral.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 5, 2014 | 3:31 p.m.

Well there's actual freedom, and the perception that one is free. I'm certain that had we interviewed a cross-section of (non-Jewish) young Germans in 1935 they would have told us they felt very free - and they would absolutely have believed it. Wasn't it patently obvious how much freedom their Leader was granting them? Freiheit? Ja, Freiheit!

As for religion - or not - here's one of my favorites:

"I believe with all my heart that standing up for America means standing up for the God who has blessed our land. We need God's hand to guide our nation through stormy seas. But we can't expect Him to protect America in a crisis if we just leave Him over on the shelf in our day-to-day living." - President Ronald Reagan (1982)

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 5, 2014 | 3:44 p.m.

Ellis: "We need God's hand to guide..."
_____________

Civilization demands a higher rule maker. Civilizations fail without one.

Always.

That's why you can argue the virtues of secularism until the cows come home, but still can't survive without creating a religion that defines societal behaviors and removes "brain decisions" from the big-time questions.

Unfortunately for secularists, the "state" does not suffice for a higher rule maker. History shows that, too. Thinking "We'll get it right this time because we're smarter!" is called "hubris".

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote March 5, 2014 | 4:33 p.m.

My point was that specific classes of people should not get preferential treatment under the law. Your responses appear to argue that they should, because they (you) are morally superior. I strongly disagree with that notion broadly and specifically.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 5, 2014 | 4:43 p.m.

Chris: Where did I point out or infer that specific classes of people should get preferential treatment under the law?

In fact, I think I stated quite clearly that I as a seller wish the same freedoms as buyers.

I did say that I value individual freedoms more than secular group-think. If that's what you mean, then I have to agree with your conclusion. Otherwise, you'll have to be more specific.

Unsure what specifically created the "morally superior" comment. You not like my writing or sumpin'?

PS: You catch my t-analysis of your chart?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 5, 2014 | 5:10 p.m.

Michael:

I agree, but the "higher authority" has in the 20th century sometimes been temporal.

How about the Third Reich, where the "religion" was race-based and centered around a tinhorn messiah?

Then there was the late Union of Soviet SOCIALIST Republics, where the high priests were supposed to represent the proletariat.

I have a third candidte in mind, but we must be aware of sensibilities. :)

Maybe we sould copy the Mayans, who were very religious and had a civilization lasting at least 1200 years. Maybe not: in one of their annual ceremonies they threw a virgin down a well. That's somewhat cruel to virgins.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 5, 2014 | 5:24 p.m.

Ellis: Yes, as I said in my 3:44 post, the "state" never suffices as the higher authority for very long. We have many secularists that think otherwise (in each generation), but history says....nope.

We can't do the Mayan religion again. None to be found to throw down the well.

PS: You ever been in a cenote? Wow. Impressive geology!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 5, 2014 | 8:16 p.m.

Michael:

Yes, Ive been in a cenote; the Mexican Yucatan is dotted with them, in various depths and sizes.

Which brings us back to that Mayan ceremony. They've discovered a cenote believed to be the (natural) well used. It is quite deep and goes down at a slant while at the same time narrowing as it does. Divers found human bones at the bottom. The bones were those of children, not teens or adults. So thowing the "virgin" down the well takes on a somewhat differemt meaning.

I've seen Mayan temples in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, but not Honduras, with a guide who is a professional archaeologist and lived in Belize for years. My favorite is a lesser-known ruin in Belize called "Xunantunich" [shoo-nan-too-nich], containing a citadel (fortress). Until recently it was considered the tallest man-made structure in Belize, which is sadly lacking in skyscrapers. Fascinating, but I wouldn't want to make a career of it. Give me a factory.

(Report Comment)
Joanne Schrader March 6, 2014 | 1:21 a.m.

Enlightening discussion here. To me there is a difference between discrimination based on who a person is and what the person is doing. In the Arizona case, the refusal is not based on the person's orientation but for the fact that the cake was for a same sex ceremony.

Personally, I can respect you as a person, but I do not have to agree with your lifestyle, behavior, choices, etc. I certainly do not feel I should be compelled under threat of penalty to participate in something contrary to my conscience. Where is the toleration for my religious beliefs? Is this backlash against the Christian bakers coming from the same people who drive around with coexist bumper stickers?

Besides, I don't go around asking people what their sexual orientation or lifestyle is. If I had a business or worked behind the counter, I am not going to automatically know or ask what your sexual preference is before making a transaction. So why make it an issue?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 6, 2014 | 4:29 a.m.

Joanne Schrader:

If a certain group of people - and they know very well who they are - are allowed to have their way you WILL have to agree, or you will be legally and/or economically punished for not agreeing. That's their sorry end game.

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates March 6, 2014 | 8:35 p.m.

Not to get into much of this; but I am amused that our gay football player, who says he just wants to be known as a football player, has just had his sixth televised interview about his sexual interests. Like, DUH! As a younger person said to me, why then doesn't he just STFU?

(Report Comment)

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