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Religious Liberty Means Religious Privilege

July 26, 2013

Cakeinwhitesatin-1So far two bakeries have faced legal challenges to their refusal to make wedding cakes for same-sex weddings.  Opponents of same-sex marriage see these cases as the start of a fast approaching widespread persecution.  Personally, I don’t see how the act of baking a cake for a wedding implies approval of that wedding, but the owners of these bakers believe it would be a violation of conscience to participate in a same-sex wedding, even remotely by way of making the wedding cake, so let’s go with their complaints for the sake of argument.

Let’s say that, if the owners of these bakeries are legally forced to provide same-sex wedding cakes, they would be in a position of having to choose between violating their conscience and closing down their business.  Would this situation qualify as an offense against religious liberty?  I would say yes, but that in and of itself is not necessarily an intolerable state of affairs.   If a bakery refused, the grounds of the owner’s religious beliefs, to make a wedding cake for an interracial couple, no doubt that this owner would be met with a lawsuit.   And well he should, I think.  This lawsuit and its consequences would also be an infringement of religious liberty, but not one most opponents of same-sex marriage would protest.

The fact is not every infringement of religious liberty is morally problematic.  Sometimes religious liberty ought to be curtailed.  Sometimes justice demands it.  Religious liberty can never be absolute, and so those whose religious liberty is culturally and legally recognized benefit from their beliefs being privileged by society.  Christians in the United States (and elsewhere) are discovering what it means that their religious beliefs no longer hold social dominance sufficient to give them legal privilege.  Going forward, they will have to discern which limitations of their freedom are worth fighting and which are tolerable costs of living in a pluralistic society.

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9 Comments
  1. Kurt permalink
    July 26, 2013 9:39 am

    Certainly the Catholic Church does not say that engaging in commerce with gay people is a sin, so there is no issue here for the members of our faith community. If some non-Catholics think that it is a sin to engage in commerce with people who sin (or people who commit selective sins), they need to get out of the retail business.

  2. July 26, 2013 11:00 am

    “Going forward, they will have to discern which limitations of their freedom are worth fighting and which are tolerable costs of living in a pluralistic society.”

    Yes. There is an enormous difference between an OB who is forced by law to provide abortions and a bakery who is forced by law to bake cakes for same-sex marriages. The degree of complicity and participation in the former example would be worth fighting against. In the second example, not so much.

    • July 26, 2013 11:47 am

      I agree. I also can’t help but wonder if these bakeries would have refused to bake a cake for Newt Gingrich for his most recent wedding.

  3. Agellius permalink
    July 26, 2013 11:19 am

    “If some non-Catholics think that it is a sin to engage in commerce with people who sin…”

    Perhaps it’s not so much doing business with sinners, but feeling that they would be contributing to and enabling a particular sin. Like, say, baking a cake to celebrate a guy joining the mafia. I realize a gay wedding is not a sin in itself. But it’s an event which serves to “hallow” the relationship. I can easily see why someone’s consience might be uncomfortable with that.

    Obviously this would not apply in the case of an interracial couple getting married since their being of different races is irrelevant to the moral quality of the wedding.

    However I agree with Kyle in the sense that, supposing there were a religion which believed interracial sex was a sin, and members of that sect refused to bake a cake for fear of participating in that sin, most Christians would rightly judge it to be a crackpot sect. Thus they would privilege a conscience arising from traditional Christian morality over a crackpot morality. Can we expect the government to do the same? If so, I’m not sure on what grounds.

  4. ctd permalink
    July 26, 2013 11:35 am

    These were not cases of a business owner refusing to engage in commerce with a gay couple. They were cases where engaging in a particular act was seen as the owner as violating his or her conscience.

    The situation is more like a printer who, being a pacifist, refuses to print flyers for a militant black separatist group. She is not refusing to print the flyers because of the customer’s race, but because of what it is that is being printed.

    Just because a person has entered into commercial activity does not mean that he or she loses their right to say no when something violates their conscience.

    Yes, religious liberties are not absolute and sometimes need curtailing, but this is not such a case.

  5. July 26, 2013 11:41 am

    “The fact is not every infringement of religious liberty is morally problematic.”

    If anyone disagrees with this, then he should fight the legal prohibition of polygamy. That was (is) a massive infringement on religious liberty in the United States.

  6. Kurt permalink
    July 26, 2013 12:18 pm

    I notice no one is willing to stand up and make the argument that selling a pastry to a gay person is a sin. Its all under the cloud of “someone’s else delicate conscience” might tell them no pastries for homos (or sell gay people a home or a car or health care).

    The fact is that selling someone a commerical product is not a participation in any sin they commit. And since it is not, there is no basis for a religious freedom claim.

  7. July 26, 2013 12:23 pm

    Yes, it IS “such a case.” When you open a business that serves the public, you SERVE THE PUBLIC, unless that public has committed a grievous act against what the CULTURE considers to be either a crime, or a serious infringement of YOUR “religious liberty.”

    In Muslim countries–like the one I’m about to go and live in–certain critical businesses (like banks) are not allowed the option of closing on Sundays, even if their proprietors are Christian, because Islam does not recognise the Christian Sabbath. That’s the price you pay for living in a country that is dominated by a religion or culture that is entirely different from your own.

    And, as for Agellius’s comment, that a sanction against miscegenation is a “crackpot”–or marginal–version of Christianity, he obviously is not from the Fundamentalist Christian “Bible Belt” of the American South, because I was told PLENTY of times during my period of sojourn there that the “curse of Ham” is God’s explicit condemnation of miscegenation, and that its meaning is that, although “those people” may be good Christians and “worthy of love,” their God-ordained destiny is “to serve us all their days.” I was shown the Scriptural text that they interpreted thusly, and also told that their “preacher” had explicated it for them IN CHURCH!

    • July 26, 2013 4:30 pm

      Wow, that’s not surprising, but it is sad. There was a similar phenomenon in the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa. Some congregants were afraid that there would be integration in heaven, and the leaders of the church reassured them with the words of Jesus. “In my Father’s house, there are many mansions.”

      I wonder which race got the best mansions.

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