Religious Freedom Does Not Include Discrimination
By Olivia Case, NCCJ Volunteer
It was in Colorado Springs on a Monday in June that Charlie Craig and David Mullins were denied their wedding cake. Why? Because they are a same sex couple.
Owner of Masterpiece Cake Shop Jack Phillips declared it contradictory to his Christian beliefs, arguing that serving them would be a restriction of his religious freedom. The case is going to the Supreme Court, where the newest justice, conservative Neil Gorsuch, will help decide on a case originating in his home state. Court analyst and University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias acknowledges the implications of the ruling could limit same sex couples in terms of their ability to receive basic services.
Phillips reached out to the lower court last year, commenting that he would not design anything that conflicts with bible’s teaching, including cakes with racist messages. Amongst what he was boycotting was also Halloween, anti-American themes, atheism, and indecency. However, his actions can be understood not as a symbol of his values, but an excuse to discriminate against members of an already marginalized group.
In the United States, we recognize the separation of church and state, but it’s separation is thinner than its intent and veiled just as thinly. No public business would ever be allowed to reject a couple’s request for a wedding cake based on skin color, even if their religious teachings called for discrimination based on skin color. While any business can have roots in any religion, they cannot deny basic rights and services to others.
Discrimination towards the LGBTQ community is rooted in religious text, and that interpretation of homosexuality and other walks of life has fueled thousands upon thousands of years of hate, persecution and violence. Denying services based on sexual orientation is simply an extension of that. That’s why Phillips’ refusal of service to Craig and Mullins was rejected by the Colorado Court of Appeals and the state’s Civil Rights Commission.
This is unfortunately not an isolated incident. Mississippi passed a law that would allow business and government workers to deny services to same gay and lesbian couples. A Washington State florist will be appealing to the high court after being fined under the state’s anti-discrimination law when she would not provide flowers to a same sex wedding. The chief justice of Alabama has ordered probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses. And of course, we have the infamous Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who refused to do just that that of her own volition in 2015. She claimed it to be a heaven or hell decision, despite same sex couples in the United States not have a constitutional right to marry.
This wedding cake incident and related occurrences are a direct result of the current political climate in the United States. Liberal democrats are divided between the mostly older religious, religious people of color, and often younger secular constituents (who are generally the most socially liberal). They’re attempting to separate the party’s progressive values from its Christian roots. Religion’s historical role, specifically Christianity, in liberal politics cannot be ignored.
The LGBTQ community has also found support within religion and comfort within the community of faith. This also cannot be ignored.
The civil rights movement was routed in the ideals of the black church, and even the new deal took inspiration from protestant and Catholic teachings. Most recently, democrat Bill Clinton is part of the Baptist church, and Hillary Clinton has roots in the Methodist church. Barack Obama, though secular learned to speak in cadences while attending a black church in Chicago during childhood. Many other democratic leaders have been ministers or attended divinity school. Their backgrounds have allowed them to appeal to religious democratic voters.
Bernie Sanders, who ran for the democratic nomination only to be defeated by Hillary Clinton, is a great example of religion as means of shutting out diversity. Sanders is someone within the minority that faced great difficulty getting past the hurdles of not adhering to Christianity. Even his own political party wanted to use the fact that he was Jewish against him. He struggled with religious black voters in the South, but appealed to young people with his promises towards the LGBTQ community and economic reform. The median age of democrats in the house is over 60, and many are Christian or Christian-leaning, making it hard for the most progressive goals, such as full justice for the same sex couples and the LGBTQ community, to be accomplished.
The ebbs and flows of the majority create an ecosystem for oppression. We’ve seen this in the institution of Christianity for the majority of its history. Christianity is so well-established, that it’s been the dominate political force in the United States since its founding, which is why it has footing for utilization as a means for oppression in the first place. To use religious freedom as a form of exclusion is no different than using political belief. There is an undercurrent for Christian beliefs to be prioritized in the United States nonetheless. This allows that dominant religion more rights than others, while also providing the legal wiggling room to impact policy as an act of oppression.
Oppression is exactly what this case represents.
The expression of religious freedom is being used as a tool for discrimination in this case. Phillips is plainly expressing a religious right to discriminate, and it’s no different than discrimination based on any other factor. The existence of same-sex marriage does not infringe upon the rights of the religious, and their “disagreeable” attitude towards it suggests a level of judgement that reaches disgusted. Using religious freedom to cite a right to denying services is scary. That personal belief that Phillips holds should be separate from the way businesses are owned and operated within the public space. If not, it could open up the floodgates for more similar discrimination.
This isn’t an issue of liberty. It’s an issue of status. When a business owner declares that they won’t provide services to a costumer based on their type of love, that's exclusion. Don't be mislead into believing that it isn't.
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