Religious freedom or intolerance? I got it wrong

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A month ago, I criticized Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act for permitting discrimination against gays. I saw the law as promoting intolerance. After much thought, I think my take on the issue was wrong.

My analysis of the law and how it affects basic concepts like justice and fairness were influenced by my own bias. When I see people proclaiming to be acting on religious principles, I recoil. Almost immediately, I find fault with what they say. (Repeated disclosure: I’m a cradle, practicing Catholic. Some might say I’m old school; I go to confession.)

I suppose I’m intolerant of those who don’t practice tolerance. (Yes, I know; this calls for a trip to the confessional.) When I encounter situations like the Indiana law and people who feel that even baking a cake is akin to condoning a gay marriage and, therefore, something they can’t do for religious reasons, I write reflexively. That’s what I did a month ago.

Here’s the problem with what I wrote. While I still believe the religious objectors are wrong about their religious perspective, do we really want the government telling people how to frame their religious views?

You might question what’s so unusual about putting limits on how people act. We’ve done it in the past with racial discrimination and gender discrimination. True, but those were much larger societal issues, and the faulty thinking behind those types of discrimination more readily apparent. Whether or not a person is condoning or participating in a gay wedding by baking a case is more subtle, more nuanced and more closely aligned by with personal religious perspectives. There are more shades of gray here.

Yet, we do draw the line on religious freedom. Time magazine (April 13, 2015) reminds us that “Freedom of religion protects the Jehovah’s Witness who sits through the Pledge of Allegiance and the Muslim prisoner who refuses to shave his beard. But it doesn’t protect … the biblical literalist who believes that God ordained slavery and racial segregation. On which side of the line is the conservative Christian or Orthodox Jew who believes that homosexual behavior is a sin and sin is to be shunned?”

Finding that line is difficult work. Maybe on this issue we allow people to find their own line and leave them alone. While I don’t like intolerance, government mandates cause me concern. Rod Dreher, senior editor at the American Conservative, said it well: “We may be wrong. But the Constitution gives us the right to be wrong. It is a right so precious it was guaranteed in the First Amendment alongside free speech.”

Let me be clear. I think our challenge as humans is to be as inclusive as possible, to remember that other people, no matter how different they may be on a superficial level, are no different. We are all one in our humanity. To overlook that common element of humanity is error, but people have the right to be wrong, at least on some issues.

It would seem that gays lose out with my approach, but only to a small extent, which makes me feel better. I don’t get the sense that all the bakers, florists and photographers are objecting. In fact, I sense that those who object are a small percentage, and if I’m right, there will be plenty of vendors for gays to hire.

Is this a perfect solution? No, but trying to find a position that makes sense in terms of the competing interests and the Constitution is tough work. This is the best I can do, and maybe I’ll change my mind again.


Jack D’Aurora writes for


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  1. Matt Schaeffer  April 28, 2015

    Great article, Jack. First, thanks for showing how someone might reconsider his or her position gracefully. Second, as a vegan, practicing Catholic who goes to confession, I feel your pain. Religious belief is not always a “left or right” issue, but our society encourages us to look at everything through a secular, political lens. I can’t understand any religious basis for a Christian baker to refuse to sell a cake to an LGBT couple. What kind of rule is that? And if you can’t sell a cake to a sinner, won’t that put a serious damper on your business . . . who the hell is left to buy a cake? Regardless, I agree with your point that we don’t want the government telling people how to frame their religious views, even if (or, perhaps, especially if) those views are incoherent.

  2. b.a.c.  April 28, 2015

    Query (only tangentially related to Jack’s piece above): If confession is good for the soul when done in a booth with a screen between you and your confessor, is confession by writing your sin on a banner and having it flown over the Horseshoe during the Michigan game more or less cleansing?

  3. Brent Rosenthal  April 28, 2015

    First I have to applaud Jack for his amazing – and in today’s world – rare humility for even bothering to reconsider his opinion. And I agree this issue is so deeply nuanced that the knee jerk reactions on both sides of the issue are detracting from what could be a unique opportunity to have a meaningful dialogue on how constitutional interests are to be balanced. I hope most of us can agree that there is no place in American society for someone who refuses to serve a customer simply because he or she is LGBT, or of color, Hispanic, Jewish, Catholic, whatever. The question of refusing to cater or serve an event, however is more difficult. If, for example, the American Nazi Party were holding a gathering and went to a Jewish baker to provide desserts, would anyone not understand why that baker would not want to serve that event? Or, could anyone blame an LGBT caterer who refused to cater a right wing group meeting to discuss lobbying for a one man- one woman marriage amendment. I couldn’t. I understand how both would find doing so deeply offensive.
    I think we can promote both equal opportunity and allow people to exercise their sincerely felt consciences without having an “either or” situation where one has to feel his/her rights are being trampled on.

    • miriam rafferty  April 29, 2015

      You turned left to quick. I appreciate you rethinking your position on the subject. I don’t believe that anyone saw my response to all of this because I was late in responding. I thought a lot about it before I wrote. But, I will add that I do not believe that the government is telling us how to frame our religious views. These laws are being created to help all individuals reserve the right not to be forced to act or make a decision that one is not comfortable with based on their moral and religious ideals. If we are claiming inclusiveness is necessary, then all groups have rights including Christians. It seems of late, that some minority groups get more publicity about their rights more than Christians do. I would like to think that we could all live together in harmony and peace but unfortunately, Sociology 101 begs to differ.

  4. John C. Calhoun  April 29, 2015

    I think some of the above comments are a rehash of what I commented on the first time around.
    We are STILL missing the point. The point is: “The government shall make NO Law” that discriminates.
    I believe the framers and even the SCOTUS today never believed that the GOVERNMENT could reach down into the hearts and minds of individuals and force them into complying with something that is not in their soul. That the government thru laws can influence its citizens is iffy when you believe that democracy can never be the determiner of morals. That is best left to individuals and their own God/conscience if they have one.

  5. C .VITELLI  May 16, 2015

    I feel that all the comments on Jack’s article are fair. For a lawyer to change is position is very different refreashing to hear. I have always been a practicing Catholic, but I do not feel I can condeem who can be in church. If a person is gay does it take their right away to believe in God,I would hope not. To be or not to is very easy just look in your mirror,. were not suppose to judge others for Christ said he with out sin throw the first stone.Tolerance is trying to not put your values on another indiviuable for we all have to live in the same society.


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