The freedom of religion clause in the first amendment to the constitution was written for two reasons:
1. to guarantee that the government would not force people to worship in a certain way.
2. To guarantee that the government would not interfere with people’s religious practices (i.e. “free exercise”)
The reason this was necessary had to do with the founding of our country by people who were fleeing religious persecution in Europe. The people who became known as the Pilgrims consisted mostly of people from the town of Scrooby, Yorkshire, England. The short version was that the government of England had an established church (the Church of England) and people were expected to worship in a certain way. The group of worshippers in Scrooby were separatists who did not practice as the Church of England demanded. They were persecuted so badly that they began to flee England for Leiden, Holland between 1607-1608. Due to their status as foreigners, they had to take low-paying jobs. Also, their English children were growing up “Dutch.” They wanted to find a place where they could have religious and economic freedom, and rear their children as English, so as a group they decided to emigrate to the Americas.
The idea of religious freedom carried down from their 1620 arrival to the 1789 writing of the United States Constitution. One early draft of the bill of rights written by future President James Madison read thusly:
“The Civil Rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, nor on any pretext infringed. No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.”
I find it interesting (in light of the current debate in Indiana) that the wording Madison suggested included the words “civil rights,” only they referred to the rights of those people as regards their religious belief. Our founding fathers felt that religious freedom in the United States was so important that they made it the very first right to be guaranteed in the bill of rights. Religious freedom comes before freedom of the press, right to bear arms, and all the others.
The term “civil rights” comes from the Latin “ius civis” (“rights of a citizen”) and they refer to the rights that all citizens have to protect them from the government. The main idea behind civil rights is that all citizens have the same rights. The fourteenth amendment to the Constitution guarantees equal protection for all citizens when it says that no State may “…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
And this is the crux of the matter at hand. The Indiana legislature yesterday passed a bill which is meant to guarantee the religious freedom of the citizens of Indiana. One would think this is unnecessary, given that the first amendment to the US Constitution guarantees religious freedom for all citizens, but many Americans feel that the overwhelming social change in the past decade or so have begun to erode the religious freedom that all are supposed to enjoy.
The social change that I am referring to has to do with the topic of “gay rights.” I find it interesting that in the list of most common grounds people need protection from discrimination (race, gender, national origin, color, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, and disability), only two of them deal with areas people have control over, namely sexual orientation and religion.
Homosexuals used to be widely persecuted. They were beaten, fined, arrested, jailed, murdered, and many other forms of persecution because of their sexual orientation. I do not agree with this. I believe that the moral choices that people make are between them and God. I believe that, insofar as they do not harm other people, American adults should be allowed to make their own moral choices. I guess you could say that I believe in a mostly “laissez-faire” doctrine when it comes to the bedroom.
However, the people who (rightly) fought for the rights of homosexuals to freely live have gone too far. They blew right past equal rights and now want to redefine marriage, an institution that has existed for thousands of years. Not satisfied with the ending of the persecution, they are actually now starting to persecute those who used to persecute them. It is almost like if the black people in the south started making white people ride in the back of the bus. The gay lobby could have simply campaigned to change civil unions so that they are de facto marriages, but they didn’t. They aren’t satisfied with simply having the same rights as other people to live and work and all the other rights under the law. They aren’t happy simply being left alone. They want affirmation. They want approval. They want to be told that what they are doing is right and proper, not just “nobody else’s business.”
And so they go to businesses asking the business owners to approve of their lifestyle. They want bakeries to make baked goods celebrating homosexuality. They want wedding chapels to be forced by the government to allow them to get married. They want bakeries to be forced to make wedding cakes for them. They want to use the government to force businesses to do these things, no matter the personal beliefs of the business owners.
And that’s the problem. There are plenty of businesses that have no problem catering to the desires of gay people. There are plenty of bakeries more than willing to make these cakes. But that’s not enough for them. They want everybody to be forced to approve of their lifestyle. And so they encounter people who disagree with their lifestyle, and sue them so that the Christians are forced to make a choice: close their business or operate contrary to their beliefs.
My friends and family are split on this issue. Some take the side of the gay rights lobby, and some take my side. When I discuss this issue with people on the internet, the most frequent response I get is to be called a “bigot.” The word “bigot” is defined as a person who is intolerant of other peoples’ different opinions. These gay rights advocates don’t understand that, since they are intolerant of my opinion that homosexuality is wrong, THEY are the bigots. At best we are both bigots, but they seem to think they hold the moral high ground for some reason.
Enter Indiana. The House and Senate have passed a bill (SB 101) that is meant to protect business owners who don’t want to provide services to same-sex couples based on their religious views. This bill was passed yesterday and will likely be signed by Governor Pence very soon. This would allow those who hold religious views contrary to homosexuality (among other things) to discriminate on that basis. “Aha!” you say. “Discrimination is bad!”
In our country, discrimination has become a dirty word. If you look up the meaning however, you will find that people discriminate legally and rightly all the time. Many businesses discriminate against drug users in their employment practices. People discriminate against movies, restaurants, and newspapers all the time. I discriminate against MSNBC on the basis that their programming raises my blood pressure. You see, discrimination simply means “to make a difference in treatment or favor on a basis other than individual merit.” (Merriam Webster). The question here is this: should people be allowed to discriminate based on their own religious beliefs?
At the heart of the issue is the question of which is more important: religious freedom or gay rights? What say you all?