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 considerthisbyjd.com
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