What would a reasonable religious freedom law look like?

The Federal RFRA was signed for good reasons. One of the causes was that Native Americans were denied unemployment benefits after being fired for using peyote as part of their religious practices. So, people who believed that freedom of religion does actually mean everybody’s religion worked together to get the RFRA passed.  Back in the 90s, bipartisan efforts were still a thing, and this was supported by everybody from the ACLU to the National Association of Evangelicals and approved near-unanimously in both houses of Congress.

But now, religious freedom means something very different to the religious right.  It means the right to compel others to abide by your beliefs, or to deny them services because you don’t approve of their “lifestyle.”  Not only do you get to go to whatever church you want, you should be able to kick them out of your restaurant or not rent to them because they’re gay.  The interpretation of the Federal RFRA has gone way off the rails, and states are passing laws that are *called* RFRAs but are really much broader than that.  And strangely enough, it’s primarily Christians who are benefiting from the license to discriminate.

First off, I want to acknowledge that there are legitimate situations where a business owner with deeply held beliefs should have the right to refuse service. I can think of two major ones.  The first is being asked to create content that violates your beliefs. If a bakery doesn’t want to write a message they disagree with on a cake or a publisher or an editor doesn’t want to contribute to a book they find distasteful, they shouldn’t be required to.  That’s not just a religious freedom thing, but a free speech one as well.  So, if you’re a baker who believes being gay is a sin, it’s fine for you to refuse to make a glittery rainbow cake that says “Congrats on Your Fabulous Gay Wedding.”  Not fine is refusing to make a white cake with flowers like you’d make for anybody else.

Secondly, I think being required to participate in an event that’s against your religion should be protected against.  If you’re a die-hard Baptist photographer and you feel it would be a sin to photograph a wedding where alcohol is served, even if it’s communion wine, you shouldn’t have to.  But if you’re a die-hard Baptist *florist*, you shouldn’t be able to refuse to make flower arrangements just because you disapprove of the drinking that will happen at the wedding, when you don’t even have to be there.  Nor should you be able to refuse to provide pizzas for a wedding you don’t approve of. (I don’t think dropping off food really constitutes “participating” in an event, though I can see where staying through the reception and serving food could be.)  Likewise, if it’s a location that your beliefs literally forbid you from setting foot in, you shouldn’t have to.  (For example, I think some religions don’t allow their adherents to even go into other religions’ houses of worship.)  *But* if someone says, “Okay, no problem, we’ll pick the food up at your place” or “That’s fine, the bride’s mom lives across the street, we can meet you there,” then I think you need to serve them.

I also think that if you want to enforce a behavior standard in your own private establishment, that’s fine *as long as* the standard is equally applied.  No kicking a gay couple out for PDA when all they did was hold hands when you wouldn’t even speak to a straight couple unless they were swapping spit.

Edit: Snarky comment about pizza for a wedding removed because, as Melissa McEwan pointed out, that’s really classist. And between having grown up solidly blue collar, though not poor, and having panicked about every buck spent on my own wedding, I really should know better.

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One thought on “What would a reasonable religious freedom law look like?

  1. […] What would a reasonable religious freedom law look like? | Kelly Thinks Too Much […]

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