Religious freedom or legalized discrimination?

There existed a period of time in the United States of America less than a century ago when human beings who happened to be African American were denied access to the same establishments and amenities as Caucasian Americans.  An owner of a restaurant or a movie theater or a neighborhood bakery could, and did, refuse to serve people based on one factor, skin color, even long after oppressive segregation laws changed.

Thankfully, there was a percentage of the population, both black and white, which shared a different perspective, a growing number of forward-thinking people who chose to courageously commit their lives to creating changes in the way people with diverse backgrounds and appearances interact with and relate to each other.  Activist groups such as the Freedom Riders, with a mere 13 members to begin with, were among the many who were not only determined to end segregation, they were willing to actually die to make it happen.  And that is exactly what they did.

Fast forward to 2014, and here we are again staring in the unforgiving face of discrimination and experiencing the stinging divisiveness of belief systems which are supported by ideas of separatism as the State of Arizona attempted to pass the Religious Freedom Bill recently.  Senate Bill 1062, if passed, would protect businesses, corporations, and people from lawsuits after denying services based on a “sincere religious belief.”  However, opponents of the bill fear that the legislation would lead to businesses discriminating against people, such as those in same-sex unions, based solely on the owner’s religious beliefs.

Over the last several years, Christian photographers, bakers, florists and others in wedding-related occupations have faced lawsuits and criminal penalties all across the country for declining to provide their goods and services for same-sex wedding ceremonies and receptions.  And according to Nate Kellum, Chief Counsel for the Center for Religious Expression, these actions have cost people their livelihoods as they face daunting court costs, fines, negative press and even boycotts for refusing to compromise their faith.

After both chambers of the state legislature approved S.B. 1062, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, claiming it “could divide Arizona in ways we could not even imagine and no one would ever want. The bill was broadly worded and could result in unintended negative consequences.”

What does the passing, or not passing, of a bill like this mean to you?  Do we want to live in a world where business owners are selectively serving people who walk through the doors of their establishments based on sexual orientation or skin color or socioeconomic status or political preference?   Are a conservative Christian’s religious beliefs being compromised if they bake a cake for a same-sex couple?  If a restaurant owner serves a meal to a gay couple, is he or she being deprived of the opportunity to “live out their faith”?   Should a hairdresser be able to turn away someone who has had an abortion or refuse to cut the hair of a person who has given birth to a child outside of marriage?  Do we want to see the day (again) when a realtor won’t sell a house to an interracial couple?

Conversations with God invites us to consider the possibility that some of our greatest gifts and remembrances are provided to us within the context of the exact opposite showing up in our lives.  Just as we declare ourselves to be loving, someone who is perhaps more difficult to love appears.  Just as we declare ourselves to be patient, someone who requires a higher level of patience arrives in our experience.  Just as we declare ourselves to be kind, someone less-easy-to-be-kind-to will be placed before us.  It is one thing to declare ourselves as loving, patient, or kind; it is another thing to be provided the opportunity to actually experience and know ourselves as loving, patient, or kind.

So what might happen if a person were provided the opportunity to express the depths of their faith and love with somebody who stood before them in a different form, perhaps challenging their current viewpoint?  What then might they be allowed to know about who they really are and the capacity of their ability to love?

We may observe some of these laws get pushed through the political system, perhaps by influential groups with deep pockets, and some of these kinds of laws already exist on the books.  But regardless of what words get etched into the voluminous pages of our law books, what is the society we truly desire to experience and live in?  Do we want to exist in a world where a list of “suitable” or “unsuitable” patrons is tacked to the front door of the places we frequent?  Who is truly free in that kind of system?

It only took 13 people back in the 1960s to ignite a social revolution by forming the Freedom Riders.   What will it take now?  And where will you choose to be?

(Lisa McCormack is a Feature Editor at The Global Conversation and lives in Orlando, Florida.  To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)

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  • Terri Lynn

    Wow, Lisa, powerful stuff. In my opinion if you open a door to business you invite in all who come through that door, regardless of religious beliefs. As long as someone has the ability to pay for your product or service they should be entitled to receive.
    The way I see things if a bill like this gets passed we are stepping backwards in human developement and not forward. Everyone has the right to their own religious beliefs but that does not come with the right to judge others. If someone has such strong religious beliefs that they cannot serve certain people then they should not be in business.
    My vision for our world includes freedom for all to express and be who they are without discrimination. Have we not learned from our past? Where will bills like this take us? This really saddens my normally happy heart. Thank you, Lisa, for bringing this to light.

  • Christopher Toft

    It’s funny,there was a now somewhat infamous case involving a couple who owned a bed & breakfast house, who refused entry to a gay couple on religious grounds. At the time I held the view that it was their home and that “natural consequences” would close them down. This American state bill thing has confirmed my change of mind. A bed & breakfast is not just someone’s home, it is a business & this changes the context greatly as the bill would have horrifically demonstrated.

  • Blake

    Heterosexual Privilege Checklist

    Immediate access to your loved one in case of
    accident or emergency.

    Public recognition and support for an intimate
    relationship (e.g., congratulations for an engagement).

    Expressing affection in most social situations and
    not expecting hostile or violent reactions from others.

    Living with your partner and doing so openly.

    Expressing pain when a relationship ends from death
    or separation and receiving support from others.

    Receiving social acceptance by neighbors, colleagues,
    and good friends.

    Learning about romance and relationships from fiction
    movies and television.

    Having role models of your gender and sexual
    orientation.

    Having positive and accurate media images of people
    with whom you can identify.

    Expecting to be around others of your sexuality most
    of the time. Not worrying about being the only one of your sexuality in a
    class, on a job, or in a social situation.

    Talking openly about your relationship, vacations,
    and family planning you and your lover/partner are doing.

    Easily finding a neighborhood in which residents will
    accept how you have constituted your household.

    Raise, adopt, and teach children without people
    believing that you will molest them or force them into your sexuality.

    Working in traditionally male or female dominated job
    and not feeling as though you are a representative of your sexuality.

    Paid leave from employment when grieving the death of
    your spouse.

    Not being asked “how does sex work for you?” or other
    too-personal questions by strangers.

    Sharing health, auto and homeowners’ insurance
    policies at reduced rates.

    Not having to hide or lie about women/men only social
    activities.

    Acting, dressing, or talking as you choose without it
    being a reflection on people of your sexuality.

    The ability to teach about lesbians, gay men, and
    bisexuals without being seen as having a bias because of your sexuality or
    forcing a “homosexual agenda” on students.

    Property laws, filing joint tax returns, inheriting
    from your spouse automatically under probate laws.

    Joint child custody.

    Going wherever you wish and know that you will not be
    harassed, beaten, or killed because of your sexuality.

    Not worrying about being mistreated by the police or
    victimized by the criminal justice system because of your sexuality.

    Legal marriage to the person you love.

    Knowing that your basic civil rights will not be
    denied or outlawed because some people disapprove of your sexuality.

    Expect that your children will be given texts in
    school that support your kind of family unit and they will not be taught
    that your sexuality is a “perversion.”

    Freedom of sexual expression without fear of being
    prosecuted for breaking the law.

    Belonging to the religious denomination of your
    choice and know that your sexuality will not be denounced by its religious
    leaders.

    Knowing that you will not be fired from a job or
    denied a promotion based on your sexuality.

    Not being asked by your child’s school to only send
    one parent to “back to school” night as to not upset the other parents by
    having two same-sex partners in the class together.

    The ability to play a professional sport and not
    worry that your athletic ability will be overshadowed by your sexuality
    and the fact that you share a locker room with the same gender.

    Not having to worry about being evicted if your
    landlord finds out about your sexuality.

    Not having to “come out” (explain to people that
    you’re straight, as you can just assume they will assume it)

    Knowing that people aren’t going to mutter about your
    sexuality if you come out to them.

    Knowing that being open with your sexuality isn’t
    going to change how people view you.

    Straight people can live anywhere in the world and
    find people like themselves, but gay people are limited geographically.
    Even if the people in more rural areas aren’t homophobic, living in a
    low-density population means social isolation, lack of a dating pool, etc.
    for queer folks. Even among urban areas, there’s only a few cities in the
    world, relatively speaking, where gay people can live openly and without
    too much fear.

    Being able to have your partner from a different
    country be able to obtain citizenship in your country through marriage.

    Not having people think your sexuality is a mental
    health issue

    Not having to think about if your kid’s friends
    parents will flip out when they pick their kid up from a play date and are
    greeted by same-sex parents

    Not having to worry that people won’t let their
    children play with your children because of your sexuality.

    Not having to worry where you can move alone or with
    your spouse and have equal job opportunities abroad.

    Being able to move abroad with your children without
    sudden changes of your legal status, possibly even having the chance of
    losing your children this way.

  • Michael L

    As long as you don’t force anyone. Lets evolve so that what ever one person desires to be, within non hurtful boundaries, let them be free to do it. We are love, lets show it, not force it.

    • Blake

      What does “Non Hurtful Boundaries” mean?

      • Michael L

        I guess it means causing pain to others, emotionally and physically.