First Amendment Right to Discriminate?

It’s not a new phenomenon. It’s probably been going on since the beginning of time. People have used religion to justify their discrimination for time out of mind. Even the Bible seems to support it: the last plague God visited on the Egyptians (according to the Bible but not according to God 😉 ) was the killing of every firstborn child or animal who resided in a home that was not marked with blood on the the doorpost.

The very reason that the Puritans came to the “New World” was to avoid the persecution they were suffering because of their faith. (Of course, once they got here, they turned around and revisited that prosecution on other faiths, but that’s another story….)

So pervasive was discrimination based on faith that the founding fathers of the newly formed United States of America wrote an amendment to the US Constitution that expressly forbids the government from creating laws that are based on faith. This wall of separation between church and state is hotly contested by religious fundamentalists, but it is clear that it was intended to exist and to prevent religious persecution.

It has not always been successful.

  • In many states, beer stores cannot remain open on Sunday because of the Christian faith.
  • Until relatively recently, school prayer was allowed to be led by school officials.
  • We still have “In God We Trust” on our money (how ironic!) and the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance (in direct opposition to the desire of the Pledge’s author, Francis Bellamy, a socialist pastor who was so disgusted with the infighting and discrimination of the Christian faiths that he intentionally left any mention of God out of the Pledge)
  • The only faith to have a holy day as a national holiday (two holy days, actually) is Christianity.
  • Laws banning abortion are based on religious beliefs.
  • Laws banning gay marriage are based on religious beliefs.

But the separation of church and state is an ideal to strive for that will, when we finally reach it, insure that everyone is free to follow their conscience.

The religious fundamentalist movement has seen the writing on the wall: the courts are overturning laws based on religion and are allowing to stand those that protect freedom of religion. So those in the fundamentalist movement have started using a new tactic: conscientious objector, but with a twist.

The basic scenario goes like this: new laws are passed that give everyone equal rights, triggering fundamentlists to declare they are no obliged to follow the new laws because of their faith. The twist is, that in NOT following the law, they are not only following their faith but forcing thousands if not millions of others to also follow their faith.

Let me give you a few examples.

  • Hazelmary and Peter Bull ran the Chymorvah Hotel, Marazion, Cornwall, England. Their Christian faith dictated that only married couples be allowed to rent their rooms. But in 2007, the British Parliament passed the Equalities Act, which prohibited discrimination based on orientation. At the time, it was illegal for gays to marry in England, but they could obtain a civil union, which was supposed to be the “legal equivalent” of a marriage. But this couple refused to acknowledge their civil union as the valid equivalent of a marriage and refused to rent a room to a gay couple.
  • Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, refused to provide a wedding cake to a gay couple, stating he had nothing against gays, but gay marriage violated his religious beliefs.
  • Baronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, refused to provide the floral arrangements for a gay wedding because of her religious beliefs.
  • Recently, the state of Utah began issuing gay marriage licenses after a federal judge overturned the law banning gay marriage. Yet there are still some clerks who refuse to issue the licenses based on their personal religious beliefs.
  • Similarly, the Catholic Church is behind a push for a “religious exclusion” to the required coverage of birth control under the Affordable Care Act. They claim that being forced to provide birth control to the employees of Catholic business owners violates their religious liberty.
  • There are pharmacists who refuse to dispense legal prescriptions for the “morning after pill”, stating religious objection to abortion as their reason.  Now that the morning after pill can be obtained without a prescription, there are still pharmacists who refuse to dispense it based on their personal religious views.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. (Google “refused services for gay wedding” and you get more than 4 million hits alone!) These are the ones that make the news. But this goes on daily on a smaller scale all across the United States.

Where do the religious exemptions end? Can a Muslim employer request that he not have to provide health care coverage for someone who gets food poisoning from eating pork? Can a Quaker employer ask for an exemption for someone who seeks health care from injuries suffered in a war? Can an Amish employer request a religious exemption for any injury obtained by the use of “modern equipment”?

Yes, individuals have the right to live their life according to their religious beliefs. But they do NOT have the right to force even one other person to live according to their religious beliefs. An employer who denies employees coverage for birth control because his religion believes it is wrong is forcing his employees to abide by his religions dictates as well. That is why, time after time, these cases of “religious liberty” are being thrown out of court.

Such cases used to anger me and I’d jump on the bandwagon condemning the business owners. But now,  knowing that all change is for the better and understanding that everything happens in the perfect time-space sequence, I now see that these cases are pushing the cause of social change along faster than any demonstration by pro-change forces could ever hope to have achieved.

These “conscientious objectors” have forced the courts to be very clear about any “loopholes” that some might try to use to avoid following the law. They also bring to light the utter lack of logic in the reasoning that is used by those in fundamentalist organizations as well as they hypocrisy and fear-mongering in which they engage. It brings otherwise “taboo” topics to the forefront for discussion and for open communication. They expose individuals to topics they might otherwise never be exposed to and force them to think about it and to consider where they stand on the issues.

Given that we are all One, that we are all created by Love, from Love and with Love and that Love is the very essence of our being, many (most?) people are coming down on “the right side of history”. Not only in the the push for equality for all human beings but in other areas that concern all creation as well, such as the stewardship of the planet earth, access to clean water, access to decent housing and access to life-saving medication. The groups that have always supported these causes are obtaining new allies at a rate heretofore unheard of.

All because of a bunch of people who want to claim a first amendment right to discriminate.





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  • Christopher Toft

    I think the issue is very complicated and situational. An employer in my view should in no way be able to force their religious beliefs upon others. In the case of the bed and breakfast couple, i believe the compassionate thing to do is respectfully accept that they hold these beliefs and publicly state the facts for all to hear(That a gay couple were turned away from their establishment for homophobic reasons). To insist that the gay couple should have the legal right to force the couple to allow them to stay is simply forcing liberal beliefs about homosexuality upon them. In the case of the UK legalising gay marriage last year a clear argument in favor for me was that the current law implied a religious view that some forms of love are more pure and holy than others. The last time i checked the UK was not a theocracy. This was a country wide law with religious implications. The Christians screamed “Oh but the gays are forcing their “lifestyle”(Reading the paper,eating dinner, going on holiday..) on us if this law is passed”. In my view they were ignoring the fact that their “lifestyle”(Having particular beliefs about life) was already being forced upon the rest of the population. The planned compromise was to legalize same sex marriage and allow religious groups who do not wish to carry out same sex weddings legal exemption. This seems fair to me as i would not wish to see people’s beliefs, however stupid or insane, dismissed and bulldozed out of the way(Unless of course such beliefs involved outright violence or the threat of outright violence). To my mind it’s all about respecting and acknowledging boundaries.

  • Carina Aduddell

    Well said!