When Did Religious Freedom Become the Singular Most Important Freedom Guaranteed in the United States Constitution?

 

Current Trends by Natasha Sapp

Yes we all know, that is anyone who passed history class, the pilgrims sailed here in roughly 1620 seeking to begin their own colony in which to practice their religion the way they saw fit without the interference of the corrupt Church of England. We also know, as students of basic history, freedom of religion was important enough to make it into the first ten amendments to the original constitution known as the bill of rights; not only being included there but comprising the first ever amendment to be added. However seemingly forgotten through time is they were fleeing a faction of Christianity, the revolutionary war was fought, not over a differing interpretation of god, rather a little thing called taxation without representation, the impetus behind the actual Boston tea party before it was an acronym for an ultra-conservative subset of the modern day republican party. Further the first amendment includes several other rights apart from freedom of religion also incorporating freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peacefully assemble finally to petition the government for redress of grievances. And while there remain more amendments to the U.S. constitution, more laws on the books across governmental sections nationwide counteracting the effects of slavery, addressing civil rights for women, adjusting the voting age, ensuring the ability to vote, clearing up procedural issues in electing officials, the freedom of religion amendment, freedom from religion amendment interpretation, statues surrounding religion existing outside the constitution in other governmental areas have somehow, in present day, superseded all the others combined. Be that repeated, relentless opposition to abortion based on biblical projection of when life begins over the scientific definition, opposition to standard birth control, more advanced variations, either because they are viewed as immoral by the Catholic Church, another faction of Christianity, or because they are believed to cause an abortion equal to murder in their eyes covered by insurance, the religious gripe freedom of religion has been used to fold in every other faith while excluding Jesus, Christianity bolstering legal argument to disallow prayer in school, under god added to the pledge of allegiance in the 1950’s currently attempting to be subtracted under separation of church and state, as is in god we trust from our printed money. The droves of decency laws enacted locally to attempt to ban otherwise benign activities/choices in the name of connecting it to low moral fiber popular ones, dancing, thong underwear and see-through clothing worn in public despite being either unseen or with see- through a solid shirt, shorts underneath therefore not violating indecent exposure laws/ordinances, flip flops donned by Whitehouse tourists, baggy pants, pajama pants worn in public. Or the renewed contention over gay rights, whether it was the passage of DOMA (the defense of marriage act) or it’s dissolution by supreme court ruling, legalizing gay marriage state by state or the resurgence of so called “religious restoration, religious freedom” laws supporters say aimed at not putting an undue burden on businesses to serve people, groups, provide commissioned items conflicting with their faith, infringing on the exercise of it; often cited this has been federal law for 20 years, states just following suit ratifying their own version. Laws like the one signed by governor Mike Pence in Indiana that has since gotten the state in hot water with business francizes, Apple CEO Tim Cook weighing in, the NCAA considering withdrawing itself from the state as are multiple large corporations Eli Lilly and Angie’s List making headlines. Is this just a state finally getting around to aligning itself with the federal, national government, truly interested in protecting the religious freedom of business owners, or is there something more suspicious about not only its passage into law but its timing, is this a push back against the growing acceptance of gays, gay marriage?

The LGBT community would unequivocally say yes on all counts to the latter questions, and no matter what proponents want the American people to believe, regardless of their individual sexual orientation, their personal beliefs on homosexuals, their right to marry, this law is fundamentally different. Fundamentally different in that it extends the protections given to individuals not to have their faith impeded, not to follow old, outdated laws violating their beliefs beyond religious institutions, churches, charities, not for profits, YMCA, the boy scouts, to for profit businesses. Whereas the 1993 religious freedom restoration act signed by President Clinton was aimed at the federal government disallowing discrimination on religious grounds through congress’ broad sweeping powers, ability to craft exemptions to laws, regulations that it itself has authorized.  Secondly it leaves gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people virtually at the mercy of individual businesses because, unlike the 19 other states who have similar laws on the books from the 1990’s, early 2000’s, Indiana’s anti- discrimination statutes include no language regarding gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. What wasn’t clearly thought through, independent of governor Pence’s  repeated refusal to answer the question should discrimination be legal, should businesses be allowed to discriminate against gay/lesbian persons on the ABC show This Week, insisting the bill was not about discrimination rather about protecting religious freedom, even accusing host George Stephanopoulos of jumping on the misinformation campaign going around all week, being distilled to only about one issue, the potential discrimination of LGBT persons, nevertheless this could impact gay people when it comes to more than just who does the flowers, cake and photography at their wedding, chief business owners in favor of the act. Today it’s wedding affiliated establishments refusing to do weddings of gays/lesbians; tomorrow it’s, are there going to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons in attendance, then I can’t do it. After that it’s every business from restaurant to barber, realtor to accountant, loan officer to landscaper refusing to allow you so much as in their store never mind sculpting your lawn, doing your taxes, cutting your hair, actions that should be morally neutral, faith shouldn’t enter into it. Expanding further still, think public accommodation laws, housing, renting an apartment from a turns out to be Christian renter, either as a gay person or as a gay couple, getting/keeping a job should your religious employer find out you are gay; not working for a charity, non-profit, even faith-based college or hospital, but say the known to be Christian fast food chain Chick- fil-A. Remember here is a state with no inclusion of gender under their anti-discrimination laws locally. Gays in Indiana already have a new concern thanks to the law, growing backlash; if their employer pulls out of the state because of the wildly unpopular legislation, will they still have a job?  Adding insult to injury for the LGBT community and common sense is, that’s exactly how the law is being interpreted not just by ordinary citizens on the street, excited they now have a leg to stand on in openly being bigots, but by Indiana’s own GOP leaders answering local press’ hypothetical question would a ‘no gays allowed’ sign no be legal in the state; his response: yes providing said municipality had no anti-discrimination statute.  Yet it’s not about discrimination; someone should tell that to the owner of Memories Pizza who gave news reporters the following scenario, if they came in she would serve them, reasonable assumed if they called for a delivery they would deliver; however, if they were notified ahead of time the pizza(s) were for a wedding: “then I would have to say no.” Moving ahead from theory to practical practice, even taking the republican advocate speaking at a panel discussion on MSNBC’s Hardball at face value saying the pizza owner’s statement is not what the law is intended for, only as a defense in court should she be sued, which is almost guaranteed, fact remains her words, her willingness to appear on television proves she would discriminate and use the law to do it. So at the very least state courts are now going to be inundated with discrimination lawsuits from gay, lesbian, transgender persons denied service and the law will eventually have be revised  to keep judicial order and prevent ridiculous court backlog; go Hoosier state. Forgoing what self-respecting gay couple would order pizzas for a wedding, you can conceive of it being used in a bachelor, bachelorette party situation; imagine the delivery person shows up with your order, comes to the site of your event, sees something that indicates this is for gay/lesbian people, then suddenly says they can’t sell you the pizzas, the embarrassment, the shame, humiliation? Another plausible scene, two lesbian/gay parents book an event space for their child’s birthday party, not only do they have to worry about the space’s owner frowning on their lifestyle, refusing to host the party; they have to worry about their child’s favorite pizza place refusing to deliver, give them the order when they see the “obvious” sexual orientation of the parents. Along those same lines, does the owner’s stated assertion to serve gay persons physically present in her restaurant extend to gay parents and their children, or would they instead find nasty comments and no pizza, all said and done in full view of their young child? Thankfully Memories Pizza has since shut down after justice on social media was swift in spreading her discriminatory words for anyone to hear.

Arizona lawmakers tried identical legislation there called a solution in search of a problem; fortunately Governor Jan Brewer didn’t take the bait, refusing to sign it into law. Worse here than the timing, Mr. Pence’s sole justification for legislators drafting the law is the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling as opposed to a parade of businesses beseeching the Indiana legislature to come up with such a law, detailing instance after instance where they feel their faith has been compromised in the course of operating their business. To the contrary local news could find a measly 2 businesses, at least willing to go on camera remotely effected, one a leather goods maker and the other our now infamous and closed pizzeria; while the leather goods store owner supported the act citing his right to live his life, run his business the way he sees fit as gays orchestrate their lives, he mentioned no instance where he had been asked to make, print something onto leather material that violated his faith. The pizza owner is even more typical of people who support these laws with such fervor, immediately jumping to the one, easily only scenario that could possibly come about; forget the likelihood of them being asked to ever do a wedding period, let alone for a gay couple is, educated guess, in the decimal point of a percentile, less because of gay taste stereotypes and more aptly because pizza is not a popular wedding item, food. And the citizenry is hardly alone in their religious zealotry. Nor are lawmakers mentioned here necessarily unique; since the tea party came on the scene in 2008 we have seen a whole host of elected officials seemingly doing a twisted, backwards remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington playing out in real life, whose entire mission, reason behind becoming an elected member of government is to rid the world of their pet peeves, a surprising number encompassing some facet of religion. We can’t get solid environmental polices passed on things like emission standards, because it’s based on global warming, which is based on science; science that can’t be trusted because it’s chief cornerstone is evolution, clashing with the bible thumping creationist views on how man, animals were created, how old the earth is. And if science was wrong about that, how can we trust it on global warming; here is their argument instead of focusing on we have one planet, one earth, let’s be sure we can live on it, let’s take steps today to make sure our grandchildren’s grandchildren have a planet to live on too. What’s wrong with cleaner air, cleaner water, conserving limited natural resources cultivating viable natural resource alternatives, uncontaminated soil, a solid, stable ecosystem, less extinct and endangered species? Things you get enacting environmental protections, being concerned about global warming, whatever its actual origins.  Education debates nationally are being marred by more than common core, vouchers vs. public school funding, disintegrating into science curriculum debates between creationism and evolution even after intelligent design was offered, taught as a compromise; locally it’s even more abysmal instead of schools teaching all 3 leaving the student to believe whatever they wish while simultaneously apprising them, should they go into a scientific field, evolution is the accepted doctrine, making them aware of the conflict within the scientific community. Congressional members voting to defund the National Science Foundation not on hot-button research involving cloning, stem cells, but supposed political science, devising a new international approach to climate change, economics, economic dynamics, voting trends, voting populations, incidentally  things congress men and women have cited in their campaigns they now want to trash. Voters are well aware of the state, micro-local level battles over sex ed. taught in schools, the effect, lack thereof, of abstinence only, morality based teaching, student backlash to religion based speakers like Pam Stenzel, who in addition to slut shamming students if they had ever had sex, no caveat for abuse, rape victims, telling them their parents hate them if they allowed them to take birth control, didn’t have any of her facts straight on STD’s, infertility. Battles going so far as to restrict biology and physiology taught in reference to reproductive organs circa Ohio. Americans already seeing the results of no, little, skewed sex ed., Todd Akin’s comments on rape, the mythical way women can prevent pregnancy during rape; who could forget republican primary hopeful 2012 Rick Santorum proclaiming the medical procedure amniocentesis lead to more abortions, when it actually diagnoses major genetic disorders, significant birth defects, some treatable, correctable in-utero. But at least those are the party’s, the faith’s core issues; you wouldn’t believe what lawmakers have managed to inject religion into this time, choosing a state fossil or amphibian perhaps. Exactly what happened to a North Carolina student; NC lawmakers demanding sections of the book of genius detailing creations of animals according to the bible be included in the law. Kentucky congressional members were insidious about how they derailed student attempts their to change laws preventing a student from participating in the search committee to select superintendents, be active in decisions that directly affect them, waylaying it with a bill mandating transgender students use a bathroom exclusively for them due to seeing the expediency with which it sailed through the state house. Concerned about bathrooms because transgender is a category of people, students “not living right” according to the bible and something has to be done to distinguish them from the regular population, student body. The assumed thought process behind Missouri doing the same thing on one of its biggest university campuses including blocking gender neutral housing; independent of the reality gender neutral is now a way parents actively raise their kids gay or straight.  Key California representatives are calling for changes to how initiatives are put on the ballot for public vote after the sodomite suppression act, demanding the killing of gay people who engage in sodomy, debuted this  last week owing to the process being pay $250, fill out some forms and you have your ballot measure.

http://www.newstribune.com/news/2015/mar/29/bills-would-ban-gender-neutral-housing-unisex-bath/

 

True, returning specifically poised religious freedom restoration laws and the republican advocate Hardball guest, there is another side to this, maybe one people are hearing less of; there is the case embroiling Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington florist who refused to do a gay couple’s wedding, was taken to court and could now lose her home to legal fees and damages awarded to the couple. Many remember the story of the Kline’s and their now famous/infamous bakery forced to shut down after refusing to provide cake for a gay wedding, being taken to court and fined thousands eventually bankrupting their business. Yet just because the religious right, conservative republicans, conservative advocates would like us to believe their battle is over religious freedom, the free exercise thereof; the devil is in the details. Ms. Stutzman’s original judgment was to pay a fine $ 1,001 and render the services the couple asked for; only because she is fighting the judgment saying she can’t betray Jesus i.e. by furnishing flowers for a same sex wedding, wishes to keep her business open, wants the right to continue discriminating in such a way is she subject to increased legal fees. A stance that doesn’t track because she said in her court defense had she known they simply wanted flowers for their wedding, not the full service of a florist to coordinate onsite arrangement and so forth she would have sold to them; proving maybe if she had asked, better ascertained details pertaining to what it was they wanted before immediately jumping to what her religious faith dictates she can’t do, she wouldn’t be in her current predicament. It’s also business 101 to ensure you have enough staff, supplies, expertise to fulfill your clients order; too her obstinance garnered the attention of the state’s attorney general who is the source threatening continued legal action. Still to clarify, no final judgment has been rendered, dollar amount been set Stutzman is obligated to pay; her home, for the time being, remains hers. The Kline’s voluntarily closed their business to avoid civil rights charges, the latest pizza owner closed up shop, again of their own volition, “until the dust settles,” the former Christian couple simply moving their products to an online venue; meaning they are not without livelihood. Facts that didn’t stop Melissa Kline appearing last year at the values voters’ summit bawling about her lost cake business. Surely Ms. Stutzman could have readily sold her business to someone willing to provide them service, used the profit thereof to pay legal fees and retired, gone on social security since she is 70 years old. Christian flower shops nationwide will doubtlessly be lining up to hire her, if hers actually does go underwater, meaning she will not starve, will not be destitute.  Advocates are also hard pressed to explain how this is any different than prior arguments leveled against black people, several minorities, against interracial marriages, interfaith marriages, even certain instances where a future spouse has converted to marry someone of a given faith. Not to mention biblical scripture has been used to uphold everything including segregation to subjugating women, keeping them in the home, limiting work outside the home to cleaning, cooking, child care, sewing, even wife spanking (beating)  slowly coming back under the sanitized term domestic discipline. Digging themselves into a deeper hole at odds with majority, popular opinion, making things infinitely worse for themselves, their argument isn’t just their beliefs so polar opposite to everyone else’s, instead how they express those views, their jaw-dropping ability to make every subject somehow about religion over slices of pizza, rather than selling gay person or otherwise the slices of pizza they are willing to pay for. Subsequently staunch unwillingness to own their blatant discrimination; our pizza owner saying she wasn’t trying to discriminate but… Except there is no but, you either discriminate or you don’t, especially when you own a business, open to the public. Many saying you don’t like the rules, don’t open a business.  Moving away from homosexuals, same sex weddings, what about Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist weddings; would any of the above people consent to do those?  Would we tolerate a Jehovah’s Witness event planner, catering service that didn’t supply to birthdays because it was against their religion, no, would we tolerate a Mormon owned coffee bar that only served decaf coffees and teas because they don’t believe in consuming caffeine, a Mormon bar owner who refused to sell alcohol, no. Taking it a step further, would we allow the other faiths mentioned florists, photographers, bakers businesses to refuse to serve Christians, Catholics to refuse to serve Protestants, evangelicals? If you can’t punish someone for being something, a race, creed, religion, ethnicity; you can’t punish someone for not being something, particularly in a business sense.

Equally important to be asked, who is in need of more protection business people of all faiths, Christians asked to violate their religion whether on gay marriage, other issues, Christians  who though they may now comprise a statistical minority continue to hold an influential majority,    or the LGBT community, members of which have literally died for the simple fact they were gay, because religious minded person X, persons X thought being bisexual, or travesty of all travesties, being transgender, feeling like you were born in the wrong body, was against god, against nature deciding to kill them for it?  LGBT persons packed off to reparative therapy virtual brainwashing programs inducing psychological trauma, physical, sometimes sexual abuse, increased risk of suicide for an already high risk group; LGBT members subject to violence and harassment for their sexual orientation, sexual identity, or the Christian community under no tangible threat on American soil? Ordinary citizens supporting the law often chide gays/lesbians for choosing the one business in town, in their suburb, in a specific area run by Christians, other religious people who might not agree with their lifestyle usually with prior knowledge they believe this way. However part of the evidence bolstering the Stutzman case favoring discrimination is she served him for years knowing he was gay, cultivated a business relationship with him, he came to her because she had done other things for him, he knew the quality of her work, not to draw ire, make a defiant statement, then baldly refused to do his wedding before even fully understanding what he wanted. Putting the shoe on the other foot, why do Christian, faith-based business owners seem to repeatedly go into businesses where they will encounter things incongruent with their faith; for that matter, why was Stutzman’s flower shop still doing weddings after Washington State legalized same-sex marriage, another way she could have avoided her “plight.” Never mind sometimes you don’t know and that not knowing can be unnecessarily dangerous; like the 2 Chicago gay men earlier this year engaging in first base PDA in the back if a cab when suddenly, their diver pulls over on the side of the busy Kennedy expressway and tells them to get out. Eerily reminiscent of an Oregon case 2 years ago where 2 lesbians were ejected from a cab on Portland’s I-84 near woods and bushes, driver not only tossing them from his cab but attempting to prevent another cab picking up the stranded women; they didn’t even have to use discrimination as a reason for his subsequent dismissal as they had ample grounds to remove his medallion for failure to execute his job, failure to ensure passenger safety. Christians, Catholics along with the Supreme Court would have everyone believe the Hobby Lobby ruling, similar judgments favoring faith are singularly about the contentious issues of contraception, abortion, the new buzz phrase religious freedom; beyond what’s next Christian scientist employers refusing to pay for antibiotics, Jehovah’s witnesses refusing to pay for blood transfusions, scientologists rejecting mental health treatment in insurance coverage, our once held consensus belief organ transplant was against nature, god, the above institutions, organizations are now proven wrong. A Catholic hospital in New Jersey is accused of denying an HIV positive homosexual man his medication saying it was against god to do so; forget men, never mind homosexual men, aren’t the only ones who get HIV/AIDS, that concept went out with the 80’s, unprotected sex doesn’t mean consensual sex no matter your gender, age, so we should treat men who were raped this way too, we should treat sexually abused boys who got it from abuse by an infected person this way? Further we should go on to create a public health threat by denying this man medication that can reduce his viral load to undetectable, which not only protects his uninfected sexual partners from contracting the disease, but protects doctors, nurses, EMS workers, family members should they ever come in contact with his body fluids, infectious disease protocols or no; how is that not more against god, to say nothing of common sense?  Commenters on this story have wondered at its validity all information coming from a 2012 lawsuit filed by the man; what is not in question is what happened late last year, reported early this year to a lesbian couple and their daughter when choosing a pediatrician, upon the infant’s first appointment. Expecting a child, these 2 moms went in search of a pediatrician, found one providing a range of care they thought would serve their daughter well, even met with her, were told to make an appointment once their bouncing daughter arrived. 6 days after her home delivery they went to her wellness check appointment only to find another doctor proceeding with the appointment; initially thinking it was their doctor’s schedule until the present doctor informed the couple their chosen physician had prayed on it and come to the conclusion she could not serve the couple’s child because of their obvious lifestyle. Situations repeating themselves, like Stutzman she cultivated the beginning of a doctor patient relationship with them regarding their daughter, gave them no indication she had a problem with who they were, then couldn’t be bothered to show her face in the office that morning, couldn’t tell the women to their faces her decision, the parents forced to out themselves as lesbians over a phone when searching for another doctor to treat their daughter, understandably wanting no part of that particular practice. Luckily this was a simple wellness check appointment not one of a handful of doctors nation, worldwide specializing in the treatment of a rare disease, specific disorder. Worse this doctor’s treatment of the couple and their child is technically legal, not subject to lawsuit because Michigan has no protections for LGBT persons in their antidiscrimination statutes.

Again it comes down to who is in more need of protection, Christians already enjoying the basic human, civil rights afforded everyone born in America or LGBT persons, who thanks to laws like this, are faced with the reality not only are they potentially  barred from some jobs, apartments, ability to purchase flowers, cakes, photography services, go to some restaurants, show affection for a date, a partner in a cab, or just being mistaken for gay in any of the aforementioned places, who undeniably do find extra hurdles in access to medical care for them and their family? LGBT persons, usually young men molested, sexually assaulted even raped, forced using objects by a gang of heterosexual youth the same age mocking their sexuality, sexual choices, taunting them they like it because of their sexual orientation, but rape, nonconsensual fondling, assault and humiliation are less of an abomination? LGBT people   encountering the same obstacles, dismissive attitudes when dealing with law enforcement, who are not believed regarding sexual assault, rape when admit they are homosexual, presented with comments like what do you mean rape your gay, well you must have liked it. Reports of domestic violence, domestic assault not taken seriously because officers do not agree with their lifestyle, blaming their lifestyle for their abuse. Effecting heterosexual persons too when/if they say they were sexually assaulted, raped by someone of the same gender, assumed gay if that is the case; therefore somehow unworthy of police protection under the law, the federal definitions of rape, sexual assault and related crimes not changing to include homosexuals, unique forms of penetration until 2012. Funny how the sheer math of economics, sheer numbers, be it of protesters taking to the streets or of businesses, events threatening to boycott, vacate your state can change minds in a hurry. Governor Pence calling for a fix signing it into the law late Friday, Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas refusing to sign the congressionally passed law there, until it was revised to protect LGBT persons after receiving a petition full of resident signatures, including his own son. Too bad the former didn’t do that to begin with when Indiana democrats proposed legislation to protect such people, clearly signal to businesses it wasn’t a license to discriminate. And the “fix” isn’t to fine tune what the law means, make sure it isn’t used to discriminate, it is to repeal it because it’s redundant, repugnant, already been used ridiculously in the week it was law in its original form, above all else unnecessary, causing unneeded upheaval and uproar over a nearly non-existent issue with other more viable solutions. The personal choice, personal conviction personal responsibility crowd should be able to get their head around the idea not to go in to business so conflicting with their faith, should understand they aren’t going to be able to do specific facets of some businesses i.e. weddings accounting for their beliefs and tailor that business accordingly saving us all the drama; until then laws like this won’t stand without a fight from good people who believe in god and a better approach.

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About Natasha Sapp

Proclaiming an edgy voice of reason to America,while bringing back the common sense to social issues.

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