When Tolerance Turns to Coerced Celebration

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer last night vetoed what should have been a straightforward religious freedom bill. Minor clarifications to existing law got lost in an avalanche of gross mischaracterization as national pundits predicted the bill would usher in a “homosexual Jim Crow” regime with rampant denial of services by business owners to gays and lesbians.

The development is a stunning sign of increasing intolerance of basic protections for religious liberty. Actually, the Arizona bill would have given legal recourse to religious entities that decline to participate in celebrating same-sex relationships.

128940bThe legal freedom to live and love according to one’s preferences does not imply that government should compel others to celebrate all relationships. The law should uphold the freedom to speak and to act publicly consistent with biblical beliefs about marriage.

A look at the text of the Arizona bill (a grand total of two pages) reveals the modest nature of the language and how national discourse misled the public about it. The bill said nothing about sexuality whatsoever. It consists of a few lines of edits to a state law protecting religious liberty. That law was modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1993.

Purpose of the Amendment

The amendment proposed to Arizona law simply would have explicitly clarified that “person” in the law includes groups of persons—in other words, churches, associations, and businesses. This change would make the law consistent with RFRA.

One reason for the clarification was to protect Arizona citizens from the kind of government action brought against Christian businesses elsewhere when they declined to use their talents to celebrate same-sex weddings or commitment ceremonies. To suggest that such a protection for religious liberty provides a carte blanche to refuse any service to gays and lesbians is not plausible.

The bill merely provided the right for a sincere claim of religious liberty to be heard in court and judged on the basis that government may impose a substantial burden on such beliefs only if it proves that burden furthers a compelling government interest pursued through the least restrictive means possible.

It is a common religious teaching that marriage is the union of a man and woman. It also has become increasingly clear that associations and businesses need religious liberty protections to avoid being compelled to violate that belief. The quintessential case is the wedding photographer, and a wedding I attended last weekend provides a good example.

Like many couples, the bride and groom sought a storyteller to capture photographically the event symbolizing two becoming one. The photographer was practically an extension of the family for the day—in the bride and groom’s respective homes beforehand, rallying the wedding party at the ceremony, mingling with guests at the reception. He alternately cheered and coaxed to capture the moments that told the story of the day in a way that would celebrate the couple’s relationship. On his website afterward, the photographer thanked the bride and groom for making him a part of their wedding.

Coercing Christians to Celebrate

Considering such dynamics, a Christian photographer understandably could decide to decline participating in a same-sex wedding. Elaine Huguenin, who runs the New Mexico-based Elane Photography with her husband, Jon, did just that when a lesbian couple approached her to photograph their ceremony in 2006. The couple found another photographer (at a lower price) but hauled the Huguenins before the state Human Rights Commission, which decided against the business owners. The Huguenins lost an appeal before the New Mexico Supreme Court and have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not decided whether to hear the case.

When same-sex couples ask a baker to furnish a wedding cake (as one did in Colorado) or want their florist to design arrangements for their wedding (in Washington state), it amounts to a similar appeal for expressive, artistic talents to facilitate celebration of a same-sex relationship. For many Christians who believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, that participation poses a conflict. They should be free not to contribute their celebratory talents. Instead, in these and other cases they’ve faced adverse government action.

Tellingly, some supporters of same-sex marriage see a problem with such coercion. It goes both ways, as one analyst writes: “gay photographers and bakers shouldn’t be forced to work religious celebrations.” Whether a given pundit or lawmaker—or even some other religious believers—would make the same choice as the Huguenins, the Washington florist, or the Colorado baker is beside the point. Religious freedom allows just such difference of opinion.

True Tolerance and Religious Freedom

Tolerance means recognizing others’ right to refuse to celebrate what they don’t agree with. Religious liberty protections defending that right take nothing away from anyone. But compelling celebration certainly does.

This caricaturing of religious liberty in Arizona should be a wake-up call that prompts more Americans—particularly religious believers—to seek out the facts and to steward our freedoms more diligently.

Editors’ note: Jennifer Marshall will be speaking at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference, June 27 to 29 in Orlando, on “When the Rubble Seems Too Much: Cultural Stewardship in Our Generation.”

  • http://www.mattproctor.blogspot.com Matt

    How future conversations might need to be conducted in AZ for those being asked to use their artistic skills for particular activities: http://mattproctor.blogspot.com/2014/02/a-tale-of-picture-taking-in-arizona.html

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  • Lori

    The AZ bill was an overreach. It would have allowed whole discrimination on the basis of religious belief.

    That said, we do need to consider whether forcing individuals who are freely contracting for work to participate in events that violate their conscience is a good thing. Should an atheist photographer be forced to attend a church revival because the church wants to hire him or her to take the pictures? Shouldn’t that photographers right to not attend a religious service still stand even if he or she offers their services in the marketplace? Otherwise it sounds like you can bypass somebody’s religious freedom by offering them money.

    • EricP

      How do you see it as an overreach?
      “STATE ACTION may substantially burden a person’s
      11 exercise of religion only if it THE OPPOSING PARTY demonstrates that
      12 application of the burden to the PERSON’S EXERCISE OF RELIGION IN THIS
      13 PARTICULAR INSTANCE is both:
      14 1. In furtherance of a compelling governmental interest.
      15 2. The least restrictive means of furthering that compelling
      16 governmental interest.

      Do you think things like a doctor refusing to treat a gay patient would be covered by that law? Or a restaurant refusing to serve gay guests? I don’t. I could see possibly a landlord being not able to rent to a gay couple.

  • Scott Barber

    So the NFL, MLB and other big businesses take this position: We believe it is wrong to refuse to do business with someone just because you do not agree with their beliefs so if Arizona passes this law that is contrary to our beliefs then we will not do business in the State of Arizona.
    Does anyone see some inconsistency in this situation?

    • Chris

      I think there is a distinction to be made between discriminating against a person because they partake of an immoral action( you would have to leave the world if that were the case) and discriminating against taking part in an immoral activity.

  • Christian Lawyer

    This article has several factual errors:

    1. The link to the bill goes to an old version with different text than what actually passed. The bill as passed and vetoed is here. http://www.azleg.gov/legtext/51leg/2r/bills/sb1062s.pdf

    2. “The amendment proposed to Arizona law simply would have explicitly clarified that “person” in the law includes groups of persons—in other words, churches, associations, and businesses.”

    — No. The original AZ law already defined “person” to include groups of people such as religious institutions and entities. The vetoed bill would have expanded those groups to include other groups such as businesses and partnerships.

    3. “This change would make the law consistent with RFRA.”

    — No. The RFRA doe not have *any* definition of “person” at all, so neither the original AZ law. Or the vetoed bill were consistent with the RFRA. The lack of a definition of the word “person” in the RFRA, and whether that use of the word “person” should or should not include commercial businesses, is one of the key issues in the Hobby Lobby case.

    4. “To suggest that such a protection for religious liberty provides a carte blanche to refuse any service to gays and lesbians is not plausible.”

    — No. The vetoed bill does not even mention “celebrations,” the use of “artistic expression,” or “creative talents” or any other words that would limit the so-called rights to refusing to participate in celebrations that violate a person’s religious beliefs. In contrast, the Kansas bill at attempted to limit it’s reach to objections to wedding celebrations. The AZ bill didn’t even try to limit its scope.

  • Kathryn

    If “Christians” can deny services based on homosexuality in which they consider to be a sin, then I suppose they should also interview all Christians who walk through the door. That way they could decline anyone who has ever committed adultery, lied, cheated, etc. By the way, I’m a Christian.

    • AndyM

      Can you cite examples of people who have refused service to gays for regular services not associated with them living in a sinful lifestyle? There is a world of difference between giving someone a haircut or fixing their car and being part of a gay “wedding service” in direct rebellion against God.

      a christian innkeeper would not necessarily need to interview each couple who checked in to ensure they were not engaging in adultery, but the case could be put that they could refuse service if informed that the couple were at the inn for an affair. Reference the “meat offered to idols” issue for clarification.

      Also, would a christian define themselves by their former sins? To be a liar, you are marked by and continue to lie. If you define yourself as a homosexual you are showing yourself to be unrepentant and in need of being told the law and the gospel.

      • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

        A few years ago I was shopping with gay couple at a well known department store. They were quite obviously a couple (think of the gay couple in Modern Family), and they approached the staff for some assistance. The woman working there kept pretending she didn’t hear them, giving them dirty side glances and trying way too hard to offer to help other customers who arrived after us. We got the message and the three of us just left quietly. That kind of discrimination happens to them all of the time.

        As for your innkeeper, the point is that the innkeeper would not care enough about whether their customers are committing adultery .

        Not sure what you mean by your last point. It sounds like you’re saying that if I commit adultery and choose to identify myself as an adulterer, then I cannot be Christian. But if I commit adultery and refuse to identify myself as an adulterer, then I am a Christian.

        • AndyM

          those people in the department store, if they sold them clothes or whatever, wouldn’t have been endorsing a sinful act in doing so. have you seen anyone on this blog advocating refusal of service in a blanket fashion? even the baker that refused to bake the wedding cake had served that couple before without a problem.

          a christian innkeeper should care that they are not facilitating sin, and as per the case of the meat offered to idols, refuse service if it offends conscience.

          christians do not assume perfection in fellow christians, but to identify yourself with your sin indicates that you don’t see yourself as defined by righteousness, but rather by sin. that seems to mark someone who is unregenerate. If you commit adultery, continue in the sin, and define yourself by that sin, i don’t think you are a christian. If you have in the past committed that sin, have repented and walked away from that lifestyle, it is possible you are a christian.

          • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

            What if you continue in the sin but don’t define yourself by it, like Bill Clinton in the 90’s or Dinesh D’Souza?

            • AndyM

              Vagabond: I don’t know. Arguably Clinton’s life was marked for a long time by his adultery. did you see real signs of repentance or remorse by him? The whole “i did not have sexual relations with that woman” isn’t what i’d expect to hear from someone whose conscience was torn by their sin and having a strong desire to not go there again.

    • JohnM

      You suppose wrong Kathryn. And how do we know you are a Christian? Just because you say so? If the implied doubt offends you then let me suggest you not be so handy with the derisive quotes yourself. Let me also suggest you refer to we, rather than they, when talking about something mere Christianity has always understood to be sin, if you don’t want to raise questions about your claim to be one of us.

  • John

    Suppose I own a sign company. The Westboro Baptist Church orders 25 printed “God Hates Fags” posters on card stock so they can go picket a military funeral. If you think I should be allowed to refuse them service, you can stop your moral grandstanding about how discriminating against potential business clients based on religious beliefs should be against the law.

    • Tom

      Of course you should be able to refuse the order. And as a Christian I would want the right to refuse the order as well.

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  • Frank

    I find it shocking that there are professed Christians who are against this Arizona bill. Evidently they believe that gays getting their feelings hurt and having to drive to a different bakery is a greater evil than a Christian baker being FORCED to act against his conscience and/or getting harassed out of business by the pro-SSM lynch mob, thus losing his very livelihood.

    “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:9-13)

    Even if you believe that these Christian bakers are being overly scrupulous by refusing to bake a gay wedding cake, according to Paul it is ALWAYS sin to participate in an act that offends one’s conscience. Paul goes as far as to call it a peril against one’s very soul to do such a thing. Ye some Christians seem to be more willing to see a baker sin against his own conscience than see a gay person have their feelings hurt by being denied a cake. Of course, I don’t think it’s really a concern over hurt feelings of gays that is driving some Christians to be against this bill. It’s their unwillingness to be counted fools by this world for the sake of Christ. It’s that desire for man’s applause which drives them to seek peace with this decadent culture at all cost.

    If you told me 30 years ago that within 3 decades we’d see evangelical Christians defending laws that would require other Christians to bake cakes to help gay couples celebrate their sodomy, I would have thought you were crazy. Even unbelievers of 30 years ago would have found such predictions ludicrous. Yet here we are.

    This culture is circling the drain fast…and sadly it seems that many in the church are going down with it.

    • Sara Jean

      In light of the fact that 30 LGBT people were murdered in hate crimes in the US in 2011, and the fact that lynch mobs were a real thing used to terrorize black Americans in the not-so-distant past, I find your use of the phrase “lynch mob” to describe people suing or boycotting a business for discrimination callous.

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  • T Howard

    “When same-sex couples ask a baker to furnish a wedding cake (as one did in Colorado) or want their florist to design arrangements for their wedding (in Washington state), it amounts to a similar appeal for expressive, artistic talents to facilitate celebration of a same-sex relationship.”

    What is still not answered (nor yet rightly reasoned) is whether a business that provides goods / services necessarily celebrates, approves, or affirms how their customers use their goods / services.

    I sell a camera to a customer who then uses it to take porn or to take pictures of a so-called same-sex wedding. Am I celebrating, approving, or affirming porn or homosexuality?

    I’m a caterer asked to provide food for the reception of a so-called same-sex wedding… Is my serving food celebrating, approving, or affirming same-sex marriage?

    If Christian bakers / florists want to avoid the present dilemma, they need to have a “no weddings” policy. That will eliminate the problem of gay couples asking them to provide their goods / services at their ceremony.

    • Tom

      Regarding the camera sale, not unless the fellow in question told you that either activity was the purpose of the camera. The situations are non-analogous.
      The catering thing is much more germane, and at a certain level I’d have to say yes.

      • T Howard

        Tom, even if the person told me what they were going to do with the camera, me selling the camera to them is not my endorsement, affirmation, or celebration of what they are going to do with it. I’m selling a camera. The same is true if I rent an apartment or house to an unmarried couple or to a same-sex couple.

        • Philip

          Not sure where I am on your point, T Howard. You seem to be equating the object with its use. My guess is that most camera salespeople would say that cameras are for artistic expression, creating memories, etc. But if I were informed that a camera I was about to sell was to be used for illegal purposes, I would cancel the sale. Just like I would cancel the sale of a baseball bat if I thought the buyer was planning to attack somebody, or a gun if I thought it would be used for illegal purposes. Similarly, I can’t discriminate against you in housing because I don’t like the colour of your skin, but I can refuse to rent if I think you’re going to use the apt. for something illegal. So with most bakers, they have nothing against the cake. But they are concerned with the use of their “artistic expression” in what they consider an immoral (and until what seems like a few weeks ago) illegal activity.

  • joe sloan

    By veto, has government not now breeched the separation of church and state?

    1st – the bill should never have been proposed!!!! By seeking rights, it assumes they were not already in existence! The courts should decide the specific cases that led to this “defeatist’s bill.

    2nd – by vetoing the proposed bill, government has now inserted its authority to redefine an established and inalienable right.

    Government is an unwelcome intruder and should be treated as such!

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  • http://www.thechristianegoist.wordpress.com TheChristianEgoist

    1) Christians: You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Either your respect individual rights (and allow gay people to “get married”), or you reject individual rights (and are forced to participate with “gay marriage”). One or the other.

    2) Individual rights mean: The right to do ANYTHING with your own property (read: business) which does not violate the rights of others. Yes, this includes discrimination. Being pro-individual rights does not mean that you are pro-discrimination — but it does mean that discrimination must be legal. You can express your disgust toward discrimination in any non-forceful way you choose (boycotting, letters to the editor, etc…), but if you care about individual rights, don’t you dare try to make it illegal.

    • AndyM

      In what way are the rights of the individual respected when christians are forced by the state to participate in events that they find morally objectionable? Seems like the rights of the christian individual gets trumped by the vocal priveleged minority.

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  • Martin Harry

    Apple Computer employs 700,000 in China where there is documented religious persecution and where there are no anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT rights yet Apple condemned AZ for passing SB 1062, a bill to amend existing law that limits government’s power to force business owners to violate their religious beliefs. Arguing that AZ should be open for business for all, opponents of SB 1062 threatened to refuse to do business in the State. Another example of the Left doing precisely what they claimed to be against: exercising the right to refuse doing business with those whom they have a profound difference in belief. http://youtu.be/fQueLeeDGRc

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