the lawPlease note: The Concerned Women for America are seeking to float a resolution to enact a bill that would do the same thing as the proposed one in Arizona (just vetoed by Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer) would have done.  It reads in part:

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be burdened unless the government proves there is a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act.

Full copy of the proposed resolution is here:

The wording itself seems so innocuous–it seeks to uphold religious liberty, something I am certainly in favor of.

However, any time I see the words, “sincerely held religious belief” being floated as a reason to “act or refuse to act” in a piece of legislation, my hackles start to rise.

When the legislative language does indeed imply support of statements such as, “I will NOT serve . . . [name your particular group] at my [lunch counter, bakery, hair salon, real estate agency, etc.] because I sincerely think they are [going to hell, sub-human mongrels, not worthy of my attention, etc.] or they [disgust me, horrify my sensibilities, are not part of my religious group], then we put a stamp of approval on discriminatory practices.

I understand the call to protect religious liberties. A pastor of another denomination asked me recently, “What happens if a gay couple insist I perform their wedding ceremony when I personally am in deep disagreement with gay marriage?”

My response: “Could we consider being in conversation as humans together on this complex journey we call life and without the necessity of demonizing the other? Of saying, with honest compassion, ‘Look, I am legally able to perform your ceremony but I know that I’m going to struggle internally with this a lot and would not be the best one to consecrate your union. I would like to give you the name of a clergy person who would be deeply honored to be your celebrant. I wish you the best in your life and union.’”

At that point, we relate to one another as fellow human beings, seeking mutual understanding and the best for all. We don’t need legislation for that. We need personal maturity infused with respect for other human beings and that can’t be legislated.

We live in a multi-religious/multi-cultural society. We must look both to the greater good as well as the individual good. The greater good does not in this nation discriminate based on gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.

Even so, individuals and institutions have the right to state who they are and the bedrock beliefs under which they function. Those bedrock beliefs may indeed be discriminatory, or not in line with current cultural norms.

Many religious groups state strongly that women may not serve in church leadership positions, and that those whose sexuality does not fit the two-distinct gender hypothesis of human sexuality are not acceptable in the eyes of God. That’s their right–and those who wish to be participants in those organizations need to respect those positions, however distasteful others might find them.

Outsiders do not have the right to demand that such voluntary institutions change what they believe. Those with “sincerely held religious beliefs” may say, “no” to actions that compromise the essentials of their faith in the midst of their faith-based operations. The right to say, “no” is as important as the right to say, “yes.” If we cannot give a freely stated “no” we cannot give a freely stated “yes.”

The US was formed on a basis of religious freedom–and we need to fight for that freedom. But religious freedom IN THE MARKETPLACE takes a back seat to the national ethos of non-discrimination.  That’s the price we pay for living in a free, non-state-mandated-religion society.

So within the confines of our various religious groups, people can discriminate any way they wish. When those religious groups provide profit-making services open to the public, then their right to discriminate disappears in the light of the larger mandate.

This does not mean they can’t state who they are and why they do what they do. Hobby Lobby is a good example: they don’t open on Sundays and don’t stock certain items of religious celebrations. That’s their decision. Others can’t force them to open on Sundays or stock certain items. But the days they are open, the items they do sell are available to anyone who walks in the doors and pays for them. Consumers are free to boycott them if they don’t like the fact that certain items are not sold or they are not open on a preferred shopping day. That’s the way the marketplace works.

If non-discrimination laws reach a point where someone can walk into a religious institution and demand, “You have to change your doctrines to fit my particular beliefs,” then we need legislation to protect religious freedom. But as long as participation in a religious institution is voluntary, not coerced, that will not happen.

We do not need legislation to protect religious liberty. We already have it and have it in abundance.

We must not support legislation that protects the rights of businesses that are open to the public to discriminate based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Such legislation destroys the very foundation upon which this country stands, and turns us back in the direction of a deeply discriminatory society.