“Sincerely Held Religious Belief” Legislation Proposed for Texas

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.

12 thoughts on ““Sincerely Held Religious Belief” Legislation Proposed for Texas

  1. Businesses businesses that are open to the public are already permitted to discriminate based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” so long as they do not discriminate against groups that are protected by statute. The current anti-discrimination laws only prevent discrimination against protected groups, not everyone. For example, businesses can refuse service to middle aged white men for any reason or no reason at all. A business is free to discriminate on the basis of age by offering a senior discount to patrons above a specific age. A business, such as the Curves Fitness Centers, is free to ban men. Gun stores are free to refuse sales to people whom they believe would pose a threat so long as those people are not in one of the protected groups. Note also that, if the law is like the Arizona law, it does not permit blanket discrimination against protected groups for sincerely held religious beliefs. All that the Arizona law did was require that before the government could burden a person’s religious exercise, the government has to show a compelling justification. That standard makes sense. We should not punish people for practicing their religions unless we have a very good reason. The person invoking the proposed law would still have to prove that he had a sincere religious belief and that state or local government was imposing a substantial burden on his exercise of that religious belief. And the government, or the person on the other side of the lawsuit, could still show that compliance with the law was necessary to serve a compelling government interest. As a business gets bigger and more impersonal, courts would become more skeptical about claims of substantial burden on the owner’s exercise of religion. And as a business gets bigger, the government’s claim of compelling interest would become stronger. So, to be clear the Arizona law did
    not say that businesses can discriminate for religious reasons. It said that business people can assert a claim or defense under the law, in any kind of case (discrimination cases are not even mentioned, although they would be included), that they have the burden of proving a substantial burden on a sincere religious practice, that the government or the person suing them has the burden of proof on compelling government interest, and that the state courts in Arizona would make the final decision. See http://www.azpolicy.org/media-uploads/pdfs/Letter_to_Gov_Brewer_re_Arizona_RFRA.pdf. This seems to me to be a reasonable measure to guard religious liberty against government encroachment.

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    • You forget that allowing a state court to make a determination as to the veracity and acceptability of a person’s “sincere religious beliefs” is, in and of itself, giving “establishment” to a religion that may not be supported by others. That, in and of itself, is a violation of the First Amendment to the federal constitution.

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      • Tom,
        Failing to pass the legislation does not remove that prerogative from the State. Without legal protection, the State has already made the decision that my religious beliefs are not sufficiently “sincere” to merit consideration in comparison to its endorsed system of life and beliefs. This establishes a secular religion (in the sense of a defined philosophy regarding the good in life as opposed to a concept of God and the holy). Laws by their very nature establish biases. We can disguise them, as you propose, or we can be transparent abut them. In either case they exist, It seems to me that religions that are honest enough to call themselves religions deserve equal standing with those such as Marxism, communism, socialism, or utilitarianism systems of life and belief that hide their nature as “religious” systems of life and belief.

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  2. Linda: the difficulty is that United Methodist for Faithful discussion of Difficult of Difficult Topics is a closed group, so those of us who might be interested in joining cannot.

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  3. Back in 2008 when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a certain law was unconstitutional, thus opening the state to Gay Marriage, the Court when out of its way to emphasis that no church and no pastor was obligated to perform a gay wedding. The matter was discrimination and the state could not discriminate. Churches and pastors were still free to do so.

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  4. I concur about needless legislation on free choice. The lgbt community does not want to be a part of the “straight” community. They do want recognition that none of them chose to be lgbt and are entitled to the same civil rights as the straights. Notice the “gay bars”, “gay dance halls” and the “gay communities” where they choose to congregate. I had a confrontation with a nurse last week about the lack of care she was providing a patient. He is HIV positive and she thought it was the same as AIDS. We who are not lgbt need to understand those who are and attempt to see all, regardless of race, gender or religious preference, have the same basic rights.

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  5. Beyond completely agreeing with you on the law and the religious freedom issues, I have to make the additional point about clergy being asked to perform same sex weddings…
    If…
    a) you are a clergy, and
    b) you make clear your opposition to same-sex marriage, or lgbt persons, then
    c) it’s highly UNlikely you’ll ever be asked.

    No lgbt person wants to be married by somebody who doesn’t want to marry them. They’ll just find somebody who will.

    How paranoid do you have to be to believe that hoards of lgbt persons will break down your door, and demand that you marry them?

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  6. Very wise post,my friend. Might there be somewhere nearby a discussion group at which we’d both be welcomed? I would welcome, of course, educated intelligent dissenting opinions.

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    • John, that is such a good question–an honest salon-type atmosphere where people could talk, really talk, and leave the extremes behind. I honestly don’t know . . . but will let you know if I find one.

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      • For those of you who are United Methodist I administer a Facebook page entitled United Methodist for Faithful discussion of Difficult of Difficult Topics. We strive very hard to allow persons of differing views to express those views. One cardinal rule is that we discuss issues without disparaging individuals! I invite all interested persons who are United Methodist to join our closed group,

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