We are blessed to live in a nation founded upon the notion that individuals enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms.
But no one said it would be easy to protect — and balance — those freedoms.
One of the most precious of our rights, embodied in the very First Amendment to the Constitution, is that of religious freedom. Our right to believe what we believe and to exercise our faiths is, truly, foundational. But as with all individual rights, religious freedom is not a license to do harm to others. Nor do civil rights somehow negate religious freedoms.
The key, as is often the case, is a common sense balance. At times in our history, religion has been invoked to justify discrimination against many groups, including Jews, Catholics, people of color, and yes, members of the LGBT community. Decades ago, Members of Congress stood in the House Chamber and justified laws banning interracial marriage on scriptural grounds.
But as with all individual rights, religious freedom is not a license to do harm to others. Nor do civil rights somehow negate religious freedoms.
Over time, legislatures, Congress, and the Courts have largely eliminated — at least in law — those excesses, those instances when religious freedom was used to discriminate. In short, a balance was achieved.
In state capitals and courtrooms across the nation, the effort to find that balance is again playing out in debates and lawsuits about whether a business is legally required to sell goods or services that may conflict with the business owner’s religious beliefs. Specifically, the question has arisen: Does a bakery or photography service have to serve a same-sex wedding, even if the business owner or employee holds beliefs that do not accept such marriages?
It’s not an easy question.
On one hand, there are literally hundreds of years of precedent and law suggesting that, when a business opens its doors to the public, that business enters into an “implied contract” to serve ALL the public. This notion of public accommodation is firmly established, and is basic to many anti-discrimination laws in states and municipalities across the nation.
Our right to believe what we believe and to exercise our faiths is, truly, foundational.
On the other hand, no law can negate our most basic First Amendment rights, including religious beliefs. Personally, as a gay, married man, I cannot imagine ever wanting to patronize a business whose owner didn’t “approve” of me or my marriage. And I personally wouldn’t want to use the force of government to require anyone to defy his or her religious beliefs.
It is my hope that the Supreme Court will succeed in finding that elusive balance between religious freedom and discrimination.