Wednesday, April 15, 2015
April 14, 2015|4:01 pm| The Christian Post|
A Louisiana bill seeks to balance gay marriage with the religious freedom of those who oppose it.
The "Marriage and Conscience Act," sponsored by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, would prevent the state from punishing people for actions they take regarding marriage due to their religious or moral convictions.
The core section of the law states: "Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, this state shall not take any adverse action against a person, wholly or partially, on the basis that such person acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction about the institution of marriage."
Even though gay marriage supporters are condemning the law as "anti-gay," it would codify a principle put forth by gay marriage supporters when they initially sought public support for gay marriage. That principle was often stated something like this: "Gay marriage will have no effect on gay marriage opponents. Those opposed to gay marriage will be able to go about their daily lives as they always have."
Since becoming legal in a majority of states, however, that principle has not been upheld. For example, Catholic social service agencies have been forced out of finding homes for orphans because they only place children in homes with a married mother and father. Wedding vendors, such as photographers, florists and cake bakers, have been forced out of business for refusing to use their talents for a same-sex wedding. And in Georgia a government employee was fired due to his belief that true marriage can only be between a man and a woman.
Like what gay marriage supporters originally called for, the Louisiana bill is based upon a principle of "live and let live." While gay couples would continue to be able to get a state marriage license, the legislation would let those opposed to gay marriage live according to their beliefs.
But gay marriage supporters are opposing the bill that seeks to codify the principle they once supported.
In an op-ed for The Times-Picayune, for example, Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, described the bill as "bigotry enshrouded in religion" supported by people who wish to "promote intolerance." He also falsely claimed that the bill would allow businesses to deny gays access to public accommodations. Misleadingly, Leger never informed that the bill is specifically about marriage.
Same-sex couples cannot obtain a marriage license in Louisiana due to a state constitutional amendment. In New Mexico, however, a photographer was punished for declining to work at a same-sex wedding even before gay marriage was legal in that state. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide this summer whether the U.S. Constitution requires all states to legalize gay marriage.
The bill has the support of Gov. Bobby Jindal, a possible Republican presidential candidate, who mentioned it in his Monday State of the State address.
"In Louisiana we do not support discrimination and we do support religious liberty, and we believe that we can uphold both of those values simultaneously," he said.
Jindal also sought to clear up misconceptions about the bill.
"All this bill does is provide necessary protections for individuals to prevent adverse treatment from the state based on religious beliefs regarding marriage," he continued. "This legislation does not allow a restaurant or industry to refuse service to a gay or lesbian person. The law merely ensures the state cannot deny a license, certification, accreditation, or contracts, to a person or a business on the basis of their sincerely held religious belief about marriage.
"It does not provide a right for a business owner to discriminate against gays or lesbians. I think we can all agree that the government should never force someone to participate in a marriage ceremony against their will.
"People, charities and family-owned businesses should not be penalized because they believe in the traditional definition of marriage. Regardless of your beliefs about the definition of marriage, we should all respect the right of our neighbors to hold a different view."
Recent religious freedom battles were over state-level religious freedom laws, called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, in Indiana and Arkansas. Those laws, like the federal RFRA, direct courts to balance religious freedom claims against government interests. Government action can infringe upon one's religious freedom under RFRA, but only if there is a compelling state interest to do so and if the least restrictive means are used to advance that interest.
While states have been passing RFRA's since 1997, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal RFRA did not apply to state laws, the recent urgency to pass state RFRA's has been in reaction to the use of government force against wedding vendors opposed to serving same-sex weddings. There is not guarantee, however, that a state RFRA would protect these wedding vendors. So far, no wedding vendor has successfully used RFRA to prevent the government from forcing them to choose between their religious conscience and staying in business.
Louisiana already has a state RFRA. Unlike the efforts in Indiana and Nebraska, the "Marriage and Conscience Act" more specifically spells out what the legislators want — religious freedom for dissenters when gay marriage is legal.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
April 13, 2015|5:15 pm | The Christian Post|
A leader in the field of sexual orientation change efforts therapy has denounced the therapy's negative portrayal following the Obama Administration's support for banning the practice. Obama supports the right to an abortion for minors, but would deny them therapies to help with same-sex attraction if they want it, he pointed out.
Last week, President Barack Obama came out in support of bans on conversion therapy for gay and transgender youths.
David Pruden, executive director of the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity, provided The Christian Post with comments denouncing what he called "misleading" descriptions of conversion therapy.
"We believe that the personal and intimate conversations that take place in the confidential setting of a licensed professional counselor's office cannot become an excuse for politicians or policy organizations to push their way into the private lives of individual Americans," said Pruden.
"Too often, as in this case, politicians exploit these opportunities so they can grandstand or promote their political objectives at the expense of the happiness and mental health of individuals who freely seek therapeutic assistance."
Pruden went on to note the hypocrisy of some politicians who, while attempting to ban conversion therapy for minors, still believe that female minors should have access to abortion.
"Any society that grants the right to an adolescent to decide to terminate a pregnancy cannot rationally suggest that this same adolescent should not have the right to freely participate in conversational counseling to discuss sexuality," said Pruden.
"If an adolescent is experiencing confusion or ambivalence about their sexual attractions they should have the opportunity to talk with a counselor of their choice."
Last week, the Obama Administration voiced their support for banning the practice of conversion therapy for youths.
Also called SOCE therapy or reparative therapy, the practice involves changing the sexual preferences of a patient from homosexual to heterosexual.
In response to a petition calling for a ban that was signed by over 120,000 people, Senior Obama Advisor Valerie Jarrett agreed with a ban either at the federal or state level.
"The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm,"wrote Jarrett.
"As part of our dedication to protecting America's youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors."
At present, California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia have passed bans on conversion therapy for minors. Oregon, Iowa, and Colorado are among states currently considering legislation. However, several states including Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia have voted down proposals to criminalize the practice.
Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, believes the administration's announcement might encourage some Democrat leaders to push bills banning the therapy for minors.
"These bills have been introduced in over a dozen states, but have only succeeded in two plus the District of Columbia," said Sprigg.
"It is possible that this endorsement will put these bills higher on the priority list of some Democratic politicians around the country, but I think most of them have more important things to worry about."
Lourdes Ashley Hunter, chief communications officer for the DC Center for the LGBT Community, told CP that it "is critical that our youth have every opportunity to thrive unapologetically in their truths."
"We are thrilled that President Obama is in support of banning conversion therapy as there is nothing wrong with us," said Hunter.
"…however it is time that the White House and President Obama stand up against the brutal violence and institutionalized structural oppression trans and gender non-conforming people of color are facing everyday."
Hunter, who also serves as national director of the Trans Women of Color Collective, also told CP that states should ban the conversion therapy practice for the benefit of youths.
"States must realize that conversion therapy is not a useful tool that supports the livelihood of our youth. When our youth say who they are, it is our responsibility to honor and support them in their truths," said Hunter.
Monday, April 13, 2015
April 10, 2015|1:13 pm| The Christian Post|
President Barack Obama symbolically demonstrated support for certain transgender political goals this week by announcing his support for bans on conversion therapy for youth and the addition of a gender neutral bathroom in the White House.
In response to a petition posted on a White House website, the Obama administration expressed its support for Sexual Orientation Change Efforts Therapy.
Valerie Jarrett, a senior presidential adviser, wrote in the official response to the petition that President Obama supported such a ban.
"As part of our dedication to protecting America's youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors."
Jarrett cited California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia, which have all passed bans on the practice. Jarrett implied that a federal ban would be a challenge to enact.
"While a national ban would require congressional action, we are hopeful that the clarity of the evidence combined with the actions taken by these states will lead to broader action that this Administration would support," continued Jarrett.
"This Administration believes that young people should be valued for who they are, no matter what they look like, where they're from, the gender with which they identify, or who they love."
Sometimes called "conversion therapy" or "reparative therapy," SOCE therapy seeks to change the sexual preferences of a patient from homosexual to heterosexual.
While rejected by mainstream American psychiatry, several organizations and professionals offer SOCE therapy for minors and adults.
Over the past couple years, several state legislatures have debated banning the practice, with California being the first to do so. Most bills, including those introduced in Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia, have either been voted down or withdrawn.
In January, a petition was posted on the White House website "We the People" calling for the enacting of "Leelah's Law." Named for a transgender youth who committed suicide after her parents had her undergo conversion therapy, the petition garnered over 120,000 signatories.
"Therapists that engage in the attempt to brainwash or reverse any child's gender identity or sexual orientation are seriously unethical and legislation is needed to end such practices that are resulting in LGBTQ+ deaths," read the petition.
"We respectfully seek your help to ban the practice known as 'conversion therapy' and name the bill in honor of Leelah Alcorn."
This is far from the first time that Obama has expressed support for the gay and transgender rights movements.
In 2012, Obama became the first sitting president to express support for gay marriage legalization and in January gave the first State of the Union that included the word "transgender."
Earlier this week Politico reported that the White House recently included a gender neutral bathroom for guests.
The move complimented Obama's executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
"An all-gender restroom is also available in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which provides guests and staff an additional option," said White House spokesman Jeff Tiller, noted Politico.
"The White House allows staff and guests to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity, which is in keeping with the administration's existing legal guidance on this issue and consistent with what is required by the executive order that took effect today for federal contractors."
Ex-gay organizations and their allies have denounced the White House's recent support for SOCE therapy bans, saying that such a move interferes with a youth's freedom of choice.
In a blog entry, Andrew Comiskey of Desert Stream Ministries stated that the White House response to the therapy ban petition was "ill-informed" and based on "propaganda."
"Perhaps Obama thinks he is opening up the future for a gender-confused generation. He is actually closing it," wrote Comiskey.
"In refusing to consider valid options for persons who seek clinical assistance to change their sexual identity, he reduces human freedom, the very freedom he seeks to defend by condemning reparative therapy."
Friday, April 10, 2015
Kate Scanlon / April 09, 2015/ The Daily Signal
A new poll found that Americans are split on whether business owners should be allowed to decline to participate in same-sex marriages due to their religious beliefs.
A poll conducted by NBC News, the University of Pennsylvania’s Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies and SurveyMonkey found that 48 percent of Americans believe businesses and business owners such as florists, bakers and photographers should be allowed to refuse to serve a same-sex wedding if they feel it would violate their conscience. Fifty-two percent say these businesses should be required to serve them.
Thirty-six percent of respondents said they would be “more likely” to vote for a presidential candidate who supports same-sex marriage in 2016, and 24 percent said they would be “less likely.”
The poll was conducted following a national controversy surrounding Indiana’s passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and a family-owned Indiana pizzeria whose owners said they would decline if asked to cater a same-sex wedding.
The O’Connor family, the owners of Memories Pizza, did not refuse service to any gay customers, but said they wouldn’t want to participate in a wedding that went against their Christian beliefs.
The Daily Signal has previously reported that another recent poll showed a majority of Americans believe business owners shouldn’t be forced to provide services that violate their conscience.
Thursday, April 9, 2015
April 6, 2015|12:07 pm| The Christian Post|
A Washington florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding and was subsequently fined by a state court after she cited her Christian belief in traditional marriage as her reason for not participating in a gay marriage ceremony, has garnered over $102,000 in donations from supporters who've contributed to her on a crowd funding page.
As previously reported by The Christian Post, 70-year-old Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, Washington, was found guilty of violating the state's non-discrimination law in February, after referring Rob Ingersoll and Curt Feed to another florist when they asked her to provide the floral arrangements for their wedding.
Although Stutzman sold flowers to Ingersoll for nearly a decade and maintained a positive relationship with him, when he asked her to provide flowers for his same-sex wedding, she felt she could not act against her Christian conviction to serve her friend.
Baronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers, has received donations from people across the nation thanks to agofundme.com page set up in February. Her story received attention when she refused to sell flowers to a same-sex couple for their wedding. Stutzman was fined $1,001 in March for her refusal to serve the couple. She said that she would continue to practice her religious beliefs, as was her right.
"Washington's constitution guarantees us 'freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.' I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do," Stutzman wrote to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Stutzman's story gained even more attention when Indiana passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last week. She was compared to pizzeria owners in Indiana who were forced to close after being threatened when they went public with their decision not to serve gay weddings.
"It's about freedom, not money," Stutzman wrote in her letter. "I certainly don't relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important."
Meanwhile, the couple in Indiana has received over $800,000 in donations from supporters. The gofundme page states that any and all money raised for Stutzman "will be held until the legal challenge has been resolved and the full extent of the need is assessed. Funds may be used to help cover any outstanding legal fees and costs imposed from the opposition. Funds may also be used to help replace the assets taken as a result of the legal challenges brought against Barronelle."
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
April 7, 2015|2:22 pm| The Christian Post|
As over $842,000 have been raised to support the Christian owners of the Indiana Pizza shop that closed down after receiving threats for saying they wouldn't cater a gay wedding, one lesbian woman that donated $20 to the cause has revealed why she felt compelled to help the family and apologize for the threatening actions of the LGBT community.
Upon reading about the violent threats that were directed toward the O'Connor family, the owners of Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana, after they told a local news reporter that they would have to decline catering same-sex weddings if they were asked to do so, Courtney Hoffman, a lesbian small business owner, was inclined to donate to their GoFundMe online fundraising page and also post a heart-warming apology along with the donation.
"As a member of the gay community, I would like to apologize for the mean spirited attacks on you and your business. I know many gay individuals who fully support your right to stand up for your beliefs and run your business to those beliefs," Hoffman's online donation message stated. "We are outraged at the level of hate and intolerance that has been directed at you and I sincerely hope that you are able to rebuild."
Hoffman further explained why she offered her donation and apology to a Christian family that doesn't agree with her lesbian lifestyle in a Monday interview on the "The Jeff Adams Show."
She explained that even though the O'Connors hold a different worldview than she does, she knows that as a small business owner, there are certain events that she does not want her business to take part in and should have the right to refuse offering service in those situations.
"My girlfriend and I are small business owners and we think that there is a difference between operating in a public marketspace and then attaching the name of your business to a private event," Hoffman, who runs a kettle corn stand for various festivals and carnivals, explained. "If we were asked to set up an event at an anti-gay marriage rally, we would have to decline."
She added that forcing businesses to provide services for private events that they don't believe to be morally right, is wrong.
"We just feel like that is our right to decide what events our business associated with and we feel that the right to chose what private events you associate your business with is a right that should be extended to everyone, even people we don't agree with," Hoffman asserted. "That is just kind of how freedom works. That's really what got us talking about the pizzeria was thinking about this from business owner to business owner."
After the O'Connors' interview with the local ABC affiliate was aired last week and showed Crystal O'Connor stating that the restaurant would not serve gay weddings if asked to do so, Memories Pizza was flooded with death threats and even received an arson threat on Twitter from a high school golf coach. Hoffman said she was appalled by how the gay community expressed its outrage.
"Then we started hearing all of these threats of violence … toward this pizzeria. It just seemed so vastly different from the gay community that we know. The gay community that we know, knows full well what it is like to be condemned by living your life according to your beliefs," Hoffman said. "The gay community that we know has fought for decades for us to be able to live our lives out and proud without fear of violence or oppression. We know so many gay individuals that fully support the freedom to live according to your beliefs and feel that extends to everyone."
In the interview, Hoffman also opined that the outrage exhibited by gay advocates was because of the tendency for people to react with their emotions to other people's differences in opinion. She said the world needs to understand that just because people have differences in their beliefs, it doesn't mean that they hold "malicious" intent toward those they disagree with.
"Just because someone has a different belief or a different opinion, that doesn't mean that they are necessarily malicious. They just hold a different worldview, and I think there is a tendency to group people together. They are either one thing or another thing. You are either a Christian or you are a gay, but you can be both," Hoffman argued.
"I just think that there is a lot of room for differences and similarities between all of these businesses and all of these communities. If we can remember that differences don't mean malicious [intent] and try to find what we have in common and try to find the 'ands' instead of the 'ors' maybe we can move beyond the threats of violence and have open discussion on the things that we agree on."
As of Tuesday morning, over $842,442 were raised from over 29,000 individual donations to the the Memories Pizza GoFundMe page in just over six days. After closing down last week, Memories Pizza reopened for business on Tuesday, the Daily Mail reported.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
April 6, 2015|3:04 pm| The Christian Post|
A bakery in Colorado will not be punished for refusing to bake a cake requested by a Christian activist that included quotes from the Bible denouncing homosexuality.
Azucar Bakery in Denver was found not guilty of discrimination by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Regulatory Agencies when it refused to make a cake requested by Christian activist Bill Jack.
In comments sent to The Christian Post on Sunday, Jack denounced the decision by the Civil Rights Division and its use of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.
"Colorado prosecuted Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop for bringing his Christian faith to bear in his decision not to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, yet business owners who decide to refuse service to a Christian wanting Bible verses on cakes are exonerated by the state," stated Jack.
"CADA is being used to censor Christian business owners' free speech and is being used to coerce them to participate in events that violate their consciences."
Jack added that he's "in the process of filing an appeal with the CCRD" over what he calls "hypocrisy and unequal treatment before the law."
Last March, Jack went to Azucar Bakery and made a request for two cakes that had biblical messages, including a statement and image denouncing homosexuality.
In an interview with CP in January, Jack described what he wanted, noting that contrary to initial reports he did not request a cake with the statement "God hates gays."
"I requested two cakes each in the shape of an open Bible. On the first cake I requested on one page, 'God hates sin — Psalm 45:7,' and on the facing page, 'Homosexuality is a detestable sin — Leviticus 18:22'," Jack explained.
"On the second cake I requested on one page, 'God loves sinners,' and on the facing page, 'While we were yet sinners Christ died for us — Romans 5:8.' I also requested a decoration of two groomsmen holding hands with a cross in the background with a ghostbusters symbol over it to illustrate that such a union is unacceptable biblically."
Azucar is not the first business to face legal issues over expression regarding homosexuality, but it might be the first to face legal action for refusing to cater to a message that opposes homosexuality.
In 2012 Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cake, also in Colorado, was sued for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.
Phillips agreed to make the couple other baked items, but he said his Christian beliefs prohibited him from fulfilling the request to make a cake for the gay wedding.
In response the gay couple filed a complaint against Phillips, leading to the Colorado Civil Rights Division ruling that Masterpiece was guilty of discrimination.
"The undisputed facts show that (Phillips) discriminated against complainants because of their sexual orientation by refusing to sell them a wedding cake for their same-sex marriage," wrote Judge Robert N. Spencer in his December 2013 decision.
On their Facebook page, Azucar Bakery posted a couple links to news stories covering the CCRD decision in their favor. Each link put on the page garnered hundreds of likes and scores of shares, as well as mostly positive comments from LGBT advocates and those who support gay marriage.
Friday, April 3, 2015
April 2, 2015|4:31 pm| The Christian Post|
A high school golf coach in Indiana has been suspended after she threatened to burn down a local pizzeria when she heard its Christian owners say earlier this week that they'd refuse to cater gay weddings if asked to do so. The pizza shop has temporarily closed amid safety concerns after its owners received death threats this week.
After Gov. Mike Pence signed into law Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act last Thursday, the O'Connor family, which has owned Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana, for over nine years, told a local ABC television news reporter on Tuesday that they agree with the new law and believe that it doesn't discriminate against homosexauls, as some claim.
Crystal O'Connor added that should a gay couple come in and want the pizzeria to cater their wedding, the restaurant would refuse to provide services for the event.
"If the gay couple was to come in and say that they wanted us to provide pizza for their wedding, we would have to say no," Crystal O'Connor told ABC 57 News reporter Alyssa Marino. "We are a Christian establishment."
"We're not discriminating against anyone — that's just our belief and anyone has the right to believe in anything," O'Connor added. "I do not think it is targeting gays. I don't think it's discrimination. [The law is] supposed to help people that have religious belief."
Kevin O'Connor, Crystal's father, told Marino that he feels that homosexuals "choose" to be gay.
"That lifestyle is something they choose. I choose to be heterosexual. They choose to be homosexual," O'Connor asserted. "Why should I be beat over the head to go along with something they choose?"
The O'Connor's comments drew the ire of many LGBT advocates and even caught the attention of Jess Dooley, a girls' golf coach at Concord High School in Elkhart, Indiana, who took to Twitter to voice her outrage and potentially incite violence upon the pizza shop.
"Who's going to Walkerton, IN to burn down #memoriespizza w me? Agree with #FreedomofReligionBill? 'That's a lifestyle they CHOOSE' Ignorant," Dooley tweeted from her since-deleted Twitter account.
On Wednesday, the school announced that Dooley was suspended indefinitely pending the results of a police investigation. The Walkerton Police Department issued a statement on the investigation and confirmed that Dooley could face charges.
"Questions have arisen based on Jessica Dooley's Twitter comment," the statement reads. "The Walkerton Police Department has finished an investigation into this statement and submitted a case to the St. Joseph County Prosecutors office for possible charging of harassment, intimidation and threats."
After receiving Dooley's threat and death threats, the O'Connors were forced to shut down their restaurant on Wednesday for safety reasons and are uncertain as to whether it will reopen.
"I don't know if we will reopen, or if we can, if it's safe to reopen," Crystal O'Connor told TheBlaze. "We're in hiding basically, staying in the house."
A GoFundMe online fundraising page has been set up for the pizzeria and has already raised over $165,000 in support for the O'Connor family as of Thursday afternoon. The fundraising page was set up by Dana Loesch and Lawrence B. Jones III of The Blaze, The Huffington Post reports.
"Nobody should ever have to suffer or suffer alone for their faith, for standing up for Christian principles," Loesch said.
Although O'Connor explicitly said the pizzeria would not provide services for gay weddings, some liberal media sources have reported on O'Connor's comments with the spin that O'Connor implied that gays were not welcome or would not be served in their restaurant.
But in an interview with the Daily Beast, Kevin O'Connor clarified the statement and the pizzeria's stance on serving gay weddings.
"I don't have a problem with gay people. I do not condone gay marriage and that's what I said," O'Connor explained. "I don't turn anybody away from the store. I don't have a problem with gay people. I just don't condone the marriage."
O'Connor also emphasized that the pizzeria has never been asked to cater any wedding and that the response was not based on an actual denial of service to a gay couple.
"It's hard to speak when things get taken so out of context and this thing goes sky high and just blows everything up," he said. "I've got a family to think about too."
In the wake of Indiana's RFRA law, a number of companies and organizations have voiced their opposition to the law. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has vowed to move its 2017 convention, which is scheduled to be in Indianaplois, as a result of RFRA.
Among the companies in opposition to RFRA is Angie's List, an online listing service. After voicing its opposition to the law, the Family Research Council and the American Familiy Association called on their members to boycott Angie's List.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
March 27, 2015|3:54 pm| The Christian Post|
A religious freedom bill signed into law by Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence Thursday is being characterized by major media outlets as a codification of anti-gay discrimination. They are wrong. Here is why.
Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a state-level version of the federal RFRA. To understand what RFRA does, it helps to first understand how the law came about.
History of RFRA
In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling, Employment Division v. Smith, that was a radical departure from previous interpretations of the religious freedom clauses of the First Amendment. A member of the Native American Church was fired and denied unemployment benefits after he failed a drug test because he had consumed peyote, a hallucinogenic drug, as part of a religious ritual. The Court, in an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, decided that the state did not infringe upon Smith's religious freedom because the law that Smith broke applied to all faiths, the Native American Church was not singled out.
Religious freedom advocates were outraged. They understood that if the state can infringe upon someone's religious freedom simply by passing laws that are generally applicable, religious freedom protections would be severely weakened.
What happened next is rarely seen in American politics. A broad coalition, including liberals, conservatives, civil libertarians, Jewish groups, the Christian Right, and the Christian Left, all came together to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Though there was much debate on the road to passage, by the time the bill made it to the floors of the House and Senate, it passed easily with a unanimous vote in the House and a 97-3 vote in the Senate. The bill was signed with much fanfare by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, who would often cite it as one of the major accomplishments of his administration.
The Indiana law is a state-level version of that law. RFRA does not allow anyone to do whatever they want as long as they claim religious freedom. The law says the government can take away your religious freedom, but only if there is a compelling government interest to do so, and the government uses the least restrictive means to advance that interest.
In layman's terms, RFRA is saying that people should be left alone to live out their religious beliefs, no matter how wacky those beliefs may sound to most of us, as long as they do not interfere with legitimate government interests.
If you were to, for instance, start a "Church of the Running Red Lights," you would not be allowed to ignore traffic signals as part of your religious practice because there is a legitimate government interest in enforcing traffic laws. In sum, the state can still take away your religious freedom under RFRA, it just has to have a good reason for doing so, and saying that the government action does not target a particular religious group is not a good reason.
Yet, major news outlets are suggesting that the bill is not really about religious freedom. They do this, in part, by putting "religious freedom" in quotes, and then describe the bill as anti-gay. RFRA is not a "religious freedom" bill, it is a religious freedom bill.
Gay Rights > Religious Freedom?
Since RFRA had broad support, from Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, and an array of religious groups, how did it become controversial?
At its core, this debate is about whether gay rights trump religious freedom.
Some media outlets are misreporting that the bill would allow businesses to deny services to gays. First, the bill would not allow businesses to deny public accommodations to gays. Courts have long recognized a compelling government interest in making sure that public accommodations are open to the public.
Second, some opponents of the bill are reacting to the fact that some wedding vendors, such as florists, photographers, wedding dress designers and wedding cake bakers, have declined to serve gay weddings due to their belief that doing so would violate their deeply held religious beliefs. But in those cases, they are not declining to serve gays, they are declining to serve gay weddings.
The Case of Barronelle Stutzman
Washington state florist Barronelle Stutzman illustrates this point well. Robert Ingersoll was one of Stutzman's customers for nine years. She knew he was gay but never declined to make his floral arrangements. There was never a "no gays allowed" sign on the door to Stutzman's store. Ingersoll was a valued customer and a friend. Only after Ingersoll asked Stutzman to make the floral arrangements for his same-sex wedding did Stutzman feel conflicted.
"It was a real struggle to decide what to do with that. My husband and I talked it over, and as much as I loved Rob, I just couldn't be a part of that," she recalled.
If Washington state had a RFRA, would Stutzman's religious freedom be protected? Ultimately, that would be for a court to decide. RFRA helps ensure that religious freedom claims have their day in court, but RFRA does not guarantee any particular outcome for those claims.
To win, Stutzman would first have to convince the court that serving the gay wedding would violate her deeply held religious beliefs. To win its side of the case, Washington state would have to convince the court that it has a compelling interest in taking away Stutzman's religious freedom and it used the least restrictive means to advance that interest.
What Gay Rights Groups Really Want
In opposing RFRA, gay activist groups have demonstrated what they really want. While they used to claim a "live and let live" position, arguing that gay marriage would not affect anyone else, that is clearly not the case. Gay activist groups are trying to force those who oppose gay marriage to either go along with their agenda or be forced out of business and out of the public square.
Those who are prosecuting Stutzman are not simply putting her out of business. They are imposing fines on her that could wipe out her life savings and force her to sell her home. Similarly, Aaron and Melissa Klein in Oregon have been fined $150,000 for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, a sum that will not only put them out of business, but will force them to sell their home.
The message these gay rights advocates are sending is clear: "Do as we say or we will not only force you out of business, we will destroy you." And that is why they will not support the religious freedom of gay marriage opponents.
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
The Arkansas legislature on Tuesday approved a religious freedom bill that is similar to the Indiana law that's facing a backlash from business leaders and civil rights groups.
The state House passed the bill by a 67-21 margin, sending it to the governor’s office.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) is expected to sign the bill, which says that “a state action shall not substantially burden a person’s right to exercise of religion,” unless it is “essential to further a compelling government interest” and is the least restrictive action possible.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBT-rights organization, has criticized the bill as “Indiana-style,” a reference to the Hoosier State’s controversial religious freedom bill that reignited the debate over these laws.
The HRC, civil rights organizations and business leaders have denounced those laws as sanctioning discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as long as there is a religious justification.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) has defended his state's law as a necessary way to protect individuals from government overreach but on Tuesday called for an immediate legislative fix to clarify that the bill doesn’t permit discrimination.
“This law dos not give anyone a license to deny services to gay and lesbian couples,” Pence said at a press conference.