Thinking Christian

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Three Reasons Freedom of Religion Matters

Posted on Jul 1, 2013 by Tom Gilson

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Freedom of Religion

Posts In This Series:

Freedom of religion matters. It is unique from other freedoms. It wasn’t chosen ad hoc for inclusion in the Bill of Rights. Freedom of religion is not freedom-of-something-or-other.

I needed to say that when I saw urbanus’s comment today, in response to the statement that at least two people in the UK had lost their jobs for opposing gay marriage,

Okay, but that’s not the issue. If they lost their jobs for discriminating against people who are black, or disabled, or something, who would be crying about “freedom” then? (I wish I could refuse to do my job and not get sacked, on the basis of my freedom-of-something-or-other!)

Let me mention briefly — so we can set it aside and concentrate on the main point — that freedom of religion doesn’t mean always being able to claim one’s faith as a reason not to do one’s job. We need not explore all the ins and outs of that here. What I want to say instead as that freedom of religion differs from other freedoms in at least three fundamental aspects.

1. Dethroning the state

Freedom of religion signifies the state’s recognition that it is not the highest power. That was the point of this freedom’s inception, as I understand American history. Even Benjamin Franklin, noted non-believer, assured the Continental Congress that “God rules in the affairs of men.”

This recognition is basic to all other human liberties. The state is (if I may state the obvious) the highest visible power; and as such, it is subject to all the temptations of power. Governments expand to fill the space available. There are only two effective checks upon their growth and ultimately their intrusion upon all subjects and citizens. The first such check is another competing human power: another state or their own citizenry. The second is the sober awareness that they are not the highest power after all; they answer to another, higher Power.

Totalitarianism tends to run shoulder-to-shoulder with institutionalized unbelief. The twentieth century is rife with examples. Squashing religion serves the authoritarian state’s interest: it’s called “eliminating competition for the throne.” The best defense against this illiberal outcome is freedom of religion.

2. Freedom of conscience

The state has a certain stake in individuals’ consciences: this is part of the point of legislation, which should be both a reflection and a guide for public conscience. So then, for example, to the extent that the state approves gay “marriage,” it is telling its people that men and women of good conscience will approve it as well.

To this, however, there must be a limit. It’s one thing for the state to encourage good conscience with respect to murder, theft, kidnapping, and so on. It’s another thing for the state to enforce (read: to “force”) actions in conflict with long-established matters of conscience like marriage and morality.

It’s important to bear in mind that we’re not talking about mere whims here. We’re not talking about the First Church of Smack, where heroin is embedded in the liturgy. This is not about inventing new “religions” to circumvent laws. This is about individuals’ freedom to live according to beliefs and principles with a heritage going back thousands of years.

3. Religion as conscience to the state

These first two points intersect in religion’s vital role of speaking truth to power.

Religion should not hold temporal power; that’s a relationship that always goes to seed. Religion does its best public policy work by standing in tension with the state, and likewise, the state does its best work in tension with religion. The state needs a contrary voice to keep it in good conscience. Of all possible such voices, religion has the greatest potential to stand in an independent position, not beholden to government, and not dependent on government for its ethics, principles, and values.

The state will not always appreciate a contrary voice. Conscience can be quite a bother to individuals; why not also to the government? And so the state will often be tempted to still that voice by limiting religious expression, mandating that it remain private, dismissing it as “belief,” and otherwise sweeping it aside. To allow the state to succeed in that, however, would be to promote the state’s governing with a seared conscience. It would be disastrous to more freedoms than just religion.

Religious freedom among other freedoms

Other freedoms work hand-in-hand with religious liberty, including freedom of speech, assembly, voting, and others. These all work together together to help ensure limits on the state’s power. Still there is no other liberty, no freedom-of-something-or-other, that can accomplish the same public good that freedom of religion can.

Thus if current trends continue, and the state mandates that individuals cooperate with gay “marriage” against their religious beliefs, the state will be harming more than just those who are directly affected. It will be encroaching on the very institutions and principles that help ensure liberty for all.

Therefore to the extent that gay-rights advocates look to the state to force “freedoms” down other persons’ throats, they’re undermining liberty in general. In the end this will prove counterproductive even to their own cause.

Religious freedom is unique.There is nothing else like it to limit the state’s bent toward authoritarianism. For the good of all the people — unbelievers included — it must stand.

 

Series Navigation (Freedom of Religion):The Fourth — or First — Reason for Religious Freedom >>>

95 Responses to “ Three Reasons Freedom of Religion Matters ”

  1. urbanus says:

    Freedom of belief is important for you and me, because it allows both of us to live according to conscience without interference from the State or from some larger religious group with more powerful lobbyists.

    Totalitarianism tends to run shoulder-to-shoulder with institutionalized unbelief. The twentieth century is rife with examples.

    Have a look at some theocratic governments for counter-examples. Adding religion to totalitarianism only gives the autocrats justification: a divine right to power. No, this is a human problem. Humans have to fix it.

    Paradoxically, freedom from religion in the public sphere is the best way of ensuring freedom of religion for people.

  2. ordinaryseeker says:

    #2 in urbanus’ link seems especially relevant here.

  3. SteveK says:

    Paradoxically, freedom from religion in the public sphere is the best way of ensuring freedom of religion for people.

    Who are you kidding? You cannot expect people to confine their faith to private areas when their faith requires that they live it out in the public sphere – and then say this move ensures freedom of religion.

  4. bigbird says:

    @urbanus

    Paradoxically, freedom from religion in the public sphere is the best way of ensuring freedom of religion for people.

    I think you should keep that belief private.

  5. SteveK says:

    I agree, bigbird. It does nothing to protect the rights and freedoms of others, which is a requirement stated in the link he provided.

  6. d says:

    Who are you kidding? You cannot expect people to confine their faith to private areas when their faith requires that they live it out in the public sphere – and then say this move ensures freedom of religion.

    And what happens when this “living it out in the public square” infringes on the rights of others? Your rights win automatically, because they are religious?

    Please don’t pass this little secret on to the Muslims..

  7. bigbird says:

    @d

    And what happens when this “living it out in the public square” infringes on the rights of others? Your rights win automatically, because they are religious?

    No-one said religious views trump anyone else’s views. But we all have a right to express our views in the public sphere, while being conscious that we must co-exist.

    What we oppose is people who hypocritically wish their views to be freely expressed in the public sphere, while wishing views of religiously inclined people to be confined to the private sphere.

  8. urbanus says:

    By “public” I mean the public sector — governance and administration.

    I can see that some religious people in the majority position might have difficulty appreciating an argument for secular governance. It requires them to imagine a context where they are not the majority religious group, and where the actual majority wishes to impose unconscionable conditions on them.

    Consider an example: the view of some evangelical Christians that interracial marriage is sinful (based on Deuteronomy 7) — a position that continues to this day. How should we as a society (including religious people) handle issues like this — including respecting people’s right to their own beliefs?

    Is it simply a case of “majority rules”? If one group has the numbers, and if their principles are based on their understanding of the Bible, is it OK for them to impose their views on the rest of society? Or is it better for all concerned — including religious people — if the government exercises forbearance where possible, allowing different groups to hold their positions and to not take sides?

  9. Tom Gilson says:

    I think you’re confusing “ruling” with acting as conscience, speaking truth to power, and so forth.

  10. d says:

    I think you’re confusing “ruling” with acting as conscience, speaking truth to power, and so forth.

    If only Christians would stop at “speaking”, when it comes to gay marriage.

  11. urbanus says:

    I think you’re confusing “ruling” with acting as conscience, speaking truth to power, and so forth.

    The issues would be a lot simpler if they only involved advocacy of moral principles. In practice the situation involves religious lobby groups pressing for specific legal changes. Governance is definitely the issue.

  12. SteveK says:

    And what happens when this “living it out in the public square” infringes on the rights of others? Your rights win automatically, because they are religious?

    Not at all. If I infringe on the rights of others then I pay the price for doing that. I don’t think I am infringing on anyone’s rights by voting my conscience, speaking truth to those in power and to those in my community, refusing to participate in activities that are contrary to the tenants of my faith, etc.

  13. Gavin says:

    I agree with much of what you say about religious liberty. However, in the specific case of marriage equality, you are not actually facing a loss of religious liberty. You are facing a loss of Christian Privilege. While I understand how frustrating it is to lose special privilege, that loss actually increases religious freedom overall. You are losing the ability to impose your religious views on others, while losing none of your ability to live those values yourself. That is part of living community that protects religious liberty for all, not just a privileged group.

    Consider the many inconveniences and obstacles that face an observant Jew in our country. Many jobs involve at least occasional work on Saturdays or Jewish holidays. Most restaurants and food markets are not kosher. Marriages between Jews and gentiles are recognized by the state. Bacon is everywhere.

    Imagine how much easier it would be for them if the businesses were not allowed to operate on the Sabbath or on Jewish holy days. If the FDA required foods to be kosher. If unions between Jews and gentiles were not recognized as authentic marriages. If no tax dollars could go to (actual) pork, either through direct subsidies or indirectly through food stamps.

    Observant Jews don’t get to impose their views of right and wrong on everybody else. A rabbi can refuse to marry a jew to a gentile, but a baker who refuses to bake a cake for an inter-faith marriage, or a landlord who refuses to rent a room to an inter-faith couple is likely to get some blow-back. They have no obligation to buy pork directly, but they can’t prevent some of their tax dollars going to pork, nor can they demand that the insurance that they provide to their employees exclude non-kosher medicines.

    If you are a guy who thinks same-sex marriage is wrong, then marry a woman or stay celibate. Nobody is stopping you. When you try to go a step farther by preventing other peoples marriages from being recognized then you are stomping on their religious liberty. There are plenty of faith communities that believe that same-sex marriages deserve the same respect as heterosexual marriages (e.g. United Church of Christ). Their religious freedom was unfairly limited by DOMA and Proposition 8. Now that is fixed, with no direct harm to you. Merely being exposed to people you disagree with and having to treat them fairly is not harm, that’s pluralism, which is how these United States function.

  14. bigbird says:

    @urbanus

    Consider an example: the view of some evangelical Christians that interracial marriage is sinful (based on Deuteronomy 7) — a position that continues to this day. How should we as a society (including religious people) handle issues like this — including respecting people’s right to their own beliefs?

    You neglected to mention that this is not a specifically religious issue – there are people from all sides of politics and religious or irreligious views who still oppose interracial marriage. The survey cited is not about whether people think it is sinful.

    In any case, isn’t how this issue will be handled already settled? Is anyone proposing that the legal status of interracial marriage be altered?

    @urbanus

    The issues would be a lot simpler if they only involved advocacy of moral principles. In practice the situation involves religious lobby groups pressing for specific legal changes. Governance is definitely the issue.

    Really? Is it the religious lobby pressing for specific legal changes to the definition of marriage?

  15. urbanus says:

    @bigbird

    I asked:

    How should we as a society … handle issues like this?

    You said:

    In any case, isn’t how this issue will be handled already settled?

    I see what you did there.

    @Gavin:

    Thanks, couldn’t have said it better myself.

  16. Mr. X says:

    Gavin @ 14:

    “I agree with much of what you say about religious liberty. However, in the specific case of marriage equality, you are not actually facing a loss of religious liberty. You are facing a loss of Christian Privilege. While I understand how frustrating it is to lose special privilege, that loss actually increases religious freedom overall. You are losing the ability to impose your religious views on others, while losing none of your ability to live those values yourself. That is part of living community that protects religious liberty for all, not just a privileged group.”

    First of all, “marriage = a man and a woman” isn’t a specifically Christian definition, it’s the definition adhered to by the vast, vast majority of societies in history, including those (like Revolutionary France or Soviet Russia) that were actively hostile to Christianity. If anybody’s imposing a narrow definition of marriage on society, it’s the SSM proponents, who are attempting to overthrow the near-unanimous view of humanity on ideological grounds.

    Secondly, as I pointed out on another thread, the idea that gay marriage will only affect those who actually get married has already been proved false. People have been sued because (e.g.) they didn’t provide flowers for a gay wedding, and at least two people in the UK have lost their jobs for disagreeing (in a private capacity) with same-sex marriage.

    Thirdly, please don’t try and pretend that your side doesn’t also want to impose its definition of marriage on society. In fact, *any* definition of marriage will exclude some relationships, otherwise the term becomes meaningless and unworkable as a legal category. So just saying “You’re trying to impose your views on society!” as if it’s some kind of knock-down argument doesn’t work.

    Fourthly, you seem to be presupposing a false image of man as some kind of atomised individual essentially independent of his surroundings. In reality, SSM will affect culture and society as a whole, which in turn will affect those who live in this society, whether or not they agree with SSM.

    “Consider the many inconveniences and obstacles that face an observant Jew in our country.”

    This analogy shows a fundamental lack of awareness of Jewish or Christian teaching or both. Jewish law was only ever meant to apply to Jews; nobody ever claimed that gentiles ought to be forced to obey it too. When the Church says, OTOH, that marriage is between a man and a women, they don’t mean “Christians (but only Christians) are only allowed to marry someone of the opposite sex”; they mean that marriage *just is* a union of a man and a woman, and that remains the case whether you’re a Christian or a Muslim or an atheist. The two cases are fundamentally disanalogous.

  17. bigbird says:

    @urbanus

    I see what you did there.

    Yes, I declined to let you bring in interracial marriage as a stick to beat Christians with in a thread about SSM.

  18. Gavin says:

    Mr. X,

    If anybody’s imposing a narrow definition of marriage on society, it’s the SSM proponents, who are attempting to overthrow the near-unanimous view of humanity on ideological grounds.

    Support for marriage equality is held by a majority in some states and by a significant minority across the country. Religious liberties are for everyone, not just those who hold majority views.

    Secondly, as I pointed out on another thread, the idea that gay marriage will only affect those who actually get married has already been proved false.

    Yes, living in a community with diverse viewpoints is challenging, especially if you are accustomed to privileged status. Christians have marginalized non-christians without repercussions for a long time. That privilege is waning. Welcome to a religiously diverse world.

    In fact, *any* definition of marriage will exclude some relationships

    Yes, we want the broader definition that increases religious liberty.

    Fourthly, you seem to be presupposing a false image of man as some kind of atomised individual essentially independent of his surroundings. In reality, SSM will affect culture and society as a whole, which in turn will affect those who live in this society, whether or not they agree with SSM.

    Protecting religious liberties in a community with diverse views does indeed affect the culture and others living in it. Christian privilege has largely insulated you from this fact, but we are glad you have finally noticed. Everyone else has been dealing with this for a long time.

    Jewish law was only ever meant to apply to Jews; nobody ever claimed that gentiles ought to be forced to obey it too.

    Perhaps I should have used Muslim law instead.

    When the Church says, OTOH, that marriage is between a man and a women, they don’t mean “Christians (but only Christians) are only allowed to marry someone of the opposite sex”; they mean that marriage *just is* a union of a man and a woman, and that remains the case whether you’re a Christian or a Muslim or an atheist.

    This one of the purest expressions of Christian privilege that I have ever seen. Thank you.

  19. Ray Ingles says:

    Mr. X –

    Jewish law was only ever meant to apply to Jews; nobody ever claimed that gentiles ought to be forced to obey it too.

    A case relevant to this discussion. “A Jewish couple are suing their neighbours in a block of flats because they say an automatic security light breaks a religious prohibition.”

    When the Church says, OTOH, that marriage is between a man and a women, they don’t mean “Christians (but only Christians) are only allowed to marry someone of the opposite sex”; they mean that marriage *just is* a union of a man and a woman, and that remains the case whether you’re a Christian or a Muslim or an atheist.

    How do the Catholics handle people who are legally divorced again?

  20. Ben says:

    Free speech is dying. The current White House administration promotes what it views as America’s values and when individuals oppose that view the media attacks them. A good example is those who have stated plainly that they support biblical marriage between a man and a woman. It is every individual’s right to say something like that and yet they often get blasted for discriminating even when there was no malicious intent behind it. If a person believes something, they have the right to say it. They don’t have to be politically correct.

  21. Sault says:

    So when someone says that entering into a same-sex marriage is an expression of their religious freedom, we shouldn’t infringe upon it.

    Sounds really straightforward, actually.

    Oh, wait, there’s a catch -

    “This is about individuals’ freedom to live according to beliefs and principles with a heritage going back thousands of years.”

    And since SSM doesn’t have a thousand-plus year old tradition, it *can’t* be as authentic as yours, right?

    You’ve stated your opposition to divorce, contraception, and abortion before. I wonder – if you had the ability to keep other Christians from doing things like practicing reliable contraception, having abortions, or divorcing (the way you would deny them the ability to practice same-sex marriage), would you?

    Just how willing are you to let other people practice “religious freedoms” when you don’t agree with them?

  22. Gavin says:

    Hi Ben,

    You are not losing your free speech. You are losing Christian privilege. You have always been able to speak plainly about other people’s choices. However, because of Christians’ privileged status, the response was very muted and deferential. With Christian privilege waning, suddenly it is a two-way street. You can still speak plainly, and those who disagree speak plainly as well.

    Welcome to a religiously diverse world. We’re glad you have the confidence to join the conversation.

  23. CLB says:

    I think you’re on to something, Gavin. Yes, I’d have to agree that there does seem to be a bit of “waning Christian privilege” going on in the US over the last several decades. I’m not sure I agree that it’s a good thing. You act as if it is.

    Did the US have a problem with guns in schools and public education before public prayer time ended in public schools? Did the US have a problem with marriages before the state enacted no-fault divorce laws? Did the US have a problem with infanticide before the state decided it needed to grant the right to murder the unborn to all mothers?

    You claim as glorious the things that erode culture and society. Good luck with that.

  24. SteveK says:

    Gavin,

    Christians have marginalized non-christians without repercussions for a long time. That privilege is waning. Welcome to a religiously diverse world.

    Christian’s are told to love others, not treat them as unimportant. To the extent that Christian’s have done this in the past, I’m glad that “privilege” is waning. Of course, just because I don’t vote to give everyone the same legal status doesn’t mean I think they are unimportant or less valuable.

  25. SteveK says:

    I do wonder how a religiously diverse world factors into this waning you are talking about, Gavin. It’s not like it took other religions to help Christian’s see that marginalizing others isn’t a good thing. Christian’s don’t get their theology from other religions.

  26. Gavin says:

    SteveK, I did not say that the waning of Christian privilege is a glorious thing. I clarified the difference between losing religious freedom and losing Christian privilege, a distinction that is missed in the original post.

    Sault, In Privilege BINGO, “Tradition” takes the place of the center “Free” square.

  27. Tom Gilson says:

    Gavin, I’m rather confused by this, since the OP didn’t specify Christianity in particular.

    Earlier ou said,

    You are losing the ability to impose your religious views on others, while losing none of your ability to live those values yourself. That is part of living community that protects religious liberty for all, not just a privileged group.

    I think that you have confused “religious views” with ethical principles, for one thing. I’d like to see whether you think there is a distinction there or not.

    It’s also unclear to me how our participating in the democratic process stomps on other religious freedoms, or how the so-called right to gay marriage is a matter of religious freedom.

    (Are you aware of the extensive historical, philosophical, and cultural non-religious work done on the defense of marriage?)

    I’m especially curious how being denied the freedom to speak our beliefs freely is not, as you have called it, a loss of free speech.

    I openly admit, I fear that I am being dense for not getting it the first time, but I’d sure like to hear you explain these things for me.

  28. SteveK says:

    SteveK, I did not say that the waning of Christian privilege is a glorious thing.

    I didn’t say that you did – at least I don’t think I did.

  29. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Sault:

    Just how willing are you to let other people practice “religious freedoms” when you don’t agree with them?

    The issue is not about curtailing any alleged freedoms that SS couples allegedly have. I can accept that you are deluded enough to believe that SS couples indeed have a “natural” right to “marry”, while at the same time drumming our ears about how marriage is just a social, conventional contract drawn up by Society and redesignable at will, but by the same token, if you try to convince anyone your bluff will be called out.

  30. Gavin says:

    SteveK, Sorry. CLB said that.

    CLB, See #28

  31. d says:

    @Mr. X

    Secondly, as I pointed out on another thread, the idea that gay marriage will only affect those who actually get married has already been proved false. People have been sued because (e.g.) they didn’t provide flowers for a gay wedding, and at least two people in the UK have lost their jobs for disagreeing (in a private capacity) with same-sex marriage.

    I submit that your gripes should really be aimed at public accommodation laws, rather than same-sex marriage itself. FYI, those same laws also apply to you and your religious affiliation as well. They protect you, as much as they protect homosexuals.

    I’ll agree, I think its a stretch to label a baker as a public accommodation, but that’s a problem with how the law categorizes bakers (and photographers, etc), and not with gay marriage.

  32. d says:

    @Tom 29,

    (Are you aware of the extensive historical, philosophical, and cultural non-religious work done on the defense of marriage?)

    And you want to call the other side the “rhetorically powerful”?

    The constant rhetoric that suggests all those who support same-sex marriage are just “attacking” marriage, while your side, such stalwart defenders of all that is true and good, are its noble “defenders”, is given a pass?

    The reverse is actually true.

  33. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    Sorry if I haven’t been clear. I am responding specifically to the example of marriage in the original post — these three sentences specifically:

    It’s another thing for the state to enforce (read: to “force”) actions in conflict with long-established matters of conscience like marriage and morality.

    Thus if current trends continue, and the state mandates that individuals cooperate with gay “marriage” against their religious beliefs, the state will be harming more than just those who are directly affected.

    Therefore to the extent that gay-rights advocates look to the state to force “freedoms” down other persons’ throats, they’re undermining liberty in general.

    These sentences do not state exactly what actions the the state is enforcing in conflict with conscience, what cooperation is being mandated, or what “freedoms” are being forced down throats. Perhaps you could give a specific example so we could discus whether it represents a loss of religious liberty, or a loss of Christian privilege.

    It’s also unclear to me how our participating in the democratic process stomps on other religious freedoms, or how the so-called right to gay marriage is a matter of religious freedom.

    Participating in the democratic process does not stomp on others’ religious freedoms. Laws that deny marriage to same-sex couples stomp on religious freedoms.

    There are religious communities, like the United Church of Christ, which believe that same-sex marriages are every bit as sacred as opposite-sex marriages. When the state refuses to recognize those marriages, the state is giving preferential treatment to certain religious views over others, which is unconstitutional.

    Religious freedom also means the freedom to adopt an ethical framework free of traditional religious beliefs, as humanists do. The humanist community is generally supportive of the marriage equality. When the state refuses to recognize their marriages, the state is giving preferential treatment to certain religious views over humanist views, which is unconstitutional.

    If the state could show a sufficient, non-religious, rational basis for marriage discrimination, that would be different. The courts have not been convinced that marriage discrimination passes this test.

    (Are you aware of the extensive historical, philosophical, and cultural non-religious work done on the defense of marriage?)

    It appears the courts were not impressed by this work. I will defer to them on this point.

    I’m especially curious how being denied the freedom to speak our beliefs freely is not, as you have called it, a loss of free speech.

    You have not been denied the freedom to speak your beliefs freely. You lost the privilege of having your views treated with great respect. You lost the privilege of using government institutions as a platform from which to speak. You lost the privilege of marginalizing those with different views. You are not denied the freedom to speak.

  34. bigbird says:

    @Gavin

    You are not denied the freedom to speak.

    What about California’s SB 1234 hate speech laws then?

    These types of laws are becoming more common worldwide. and they are denying people the freedom to speak.

  35. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    I’m especially curious how being denied the freedom to speak our beliefs freely is not, as you have called it, a loss of free speech.

    In what way – specifically – are you being denied the freedom to speak your beliefs? As I’ve pointed out before, the Westboro ‘Baptist’ Church has beliefs and practices that are far more offensive and odious than anything I’ve seen on your site (from you or your commenters). And yet, the WBC has gotten full legal protection to promote their beliefs, even at funerals, ratified all the way up to the Supreme Court.

    In what way are you restricted more forcefully than the WBC?

  36. Ray Ingles says:

    bigbird –

    What about California’s SB 1234 hate speech laws then?

    Passed in 2004, covers incitement to violence, right? Can you point to a prosecution under that law that you consider to be unjust, or even merely problematic?

  37. bigbird says:

    Passed in 2004, covers incitement to violence, right? Can you point to a prosecution under that law that you consider to be unjust, or even merely problematic?

    Not yet – but prosecutions are not required for a law to have a chilling effect on free speech are they? There are obviously many people concerned about it. Saying homosexuality is a sin could be regarded as inciting violence. These types of laws are moving in the direction of making it illegal to offend anyone.

    Similar laws in other countries have resulted in pastors being charged for reading part of the Bible in a sermon. Here in Australia, we had a notorious case where a Muslim claimed they were offended by what was said in a Christian conference about Islam.

  38. Gavin says:

    bigbird, I’m going to join Ray in asking what specific beliefs cannot be freely shared under California SB 1234.

  39. Ray Ingles says:

    bigbird –

    Not yet – but prosecutions are not required for a law to have a chilling effect on free speech are they?

    Not necessarily, true. But worries are not necessarily rational, either. Tom Gilson dismisses atheists who worry about a theocracy being put in place in the U.S. At some point the rubber has to meet the road, y’know?

    Saying homosexuality is a sin could be regarded as inciting violence.

    Can you quote a United States lawyer as saying that?

    These types of laws are moving in the direction of making it illegal to offend anyone.

    I don’t see that. As I noted the hate crimes bill SB 1234 (passed about nine years ago in 2004) covers incitement to violence. And it’s moderated by federal law, which explicitly protects even the WBC saying “God Hates Fags”. A whole lot of people – Christians included – find that offensive, but it’s legal (police-protected, in fact) nonetheless.

  40. Tom Gilson says:

    Gavin (@#35), does the United Church of Christ say that its reasons for supporting SSM are religious in nature? Does it say that denial of SSM would limit its religious freedom? This is not a religious freedom issue for them. And SSM itself is not one for me. You make a basic error by suggesting that it might be. The religious freedom issue for us is the ability to speak our conscience.

    You say the courts have not found that there are sufficient secular reasons to oppose SSM, and that this seems somehow to justify your opinion that conjugal marriage is a “religious” view. I disagree — there are both religious and secular bases for opposing SSM — but I also ask, “so what?”

    Suppose our position appeared to be entirely “religious.” Would that give the state the right to threaten us with hate speech laws? It seems to me that religious freedom requires the state to allow churches and persons of faith to speak freely based on their faith, and that this kind of freedom is essential to virtually all other freedoms (see the OP). Only in the most obvious and egregious cases should free speech be inhibited.

    There is no such thing in Christian theology, by the way, as an entirely “religious” position. Christianity is a belief system about the way the entire world is, not just the Sunday-in-church world.

    You also ask incredulously, where is there evidence of speech being limited? You’ve seen some examples. I have a friend who lost a job contract because of this — even though it was off-the-job speech that caused the supposed offense. If you think there are no more examples coming in the future, then I think that you are being either disingenuous or naive.

    Your last paragraph in #35 is almost incomprehensible, it is so far off the point, and so distant from reality. I’ll just say that and leave it there, offering you the chance to try to say it again in a manner that actually makes sense if you wish.

  41. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, if you’re going to speak about theocracy, do us the favor of defining what you mean by it, please. It’s a slippery word.

  42. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, the lesson we can draw from what you said about hate crimes in #41 is that the U.S. has not yet reached the stage of criminalizing certain kinds of hate speech. It would be false, however, to use that fact to deny that we are moving in that direction. We are now closer to it than we were before, right? And there are people in the U.S. who would like hate speech laws to include that, right?

    And there are (whether you know it or not) speech codes on many university campuses that have already reached that stage. Some of them have been rescinded after legal pressure was applied against them, and we can be thankful for the current state of the law. Still, this is all strong evidence that what bigbird said is right: we’re moving toward criminalization of anti-homosexual language.

  43. Tom Gilson says:

    d @#34: all I can say is that you’re simply wrong.

  44. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom – We can talk about the definition of ‘theocracy’ after you answer my clear, repeated, and direct question from comment #37.

    Walk me through a typical day, and point out where you will be limited/compelled. That sort of thing. I really just want something concrete.

  45. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    You also ask incredulously, where is there evidence of speech being limited? You’ve seen some examples.

    I actually have not seen examples. I’m new here. Could you point me to an example. It would be nice to have some detail about what speech was prevented, what actions were compelled, and what the consequences were.

  46. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    I have a friend who lost a job contract because of this — even though it was off-the-job speech that caused the supposed offense.

    So, people should have the right to refuse to sell to people based on what they do or profess – say, a cake shop refusing to sell a cake for a gay wedding. But they shouldn’t have the right refuse to hire someone based on what they do or profess – say, a business refusing to hire someone based on their opposition to gay marriage? (Guessing from context.)

    I guess I don’t understand the principles that are guiding your judgments. It seems like you want different standards to apply to (at least some) Christians than to others.

  47. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, if you don’t want to talk about theocracy, that’s fine with me. You brought it up. I’m glad to take it off the table.

    My answer to #37 is in #42 and #44. As I explained there already, this is something I see coming, and not to see it coming is naivete.

  48. Ray Ingles says:

    So the examples are… hate speech laws, university speech codes, and potentially not getting hired? Those are the examples I see in 42 and 44.

    I’ve already talked about hate speech laws. The one bigbird complained about specifically requires incitement to violence, and I see no evidence presented that it has been used any other way. And no more than a vague presentiment that it might be used any other way. I’m not a fan of hate speech laws particularly, but I just don’t see them as the existential threat you apparently do.

    To the extent that a university is a private organization, then it can set the rules it likes. Plenty of Christian universities have doctrinal statements and behavioral codes along those lines. If you want to preserve the rights of florists to refuse service to people they don’t like or approve of, how can you turn around and refuse that right to universities? (Whether it’s wise for them to do so is different from whether it’s their right to do so, note.)

    And, finally, as I specifically noted in #48, I don’t grasp why a florist would have the right to refuse service to, or hire, a homosexual but not to refuse service to, or hire, a traditional Christian. If businesses and employers have rights to reject the one, why can’t they reject the other? What’s the principled distinction?

  49. Mr. X says:

    “And, finally, as I specifically noted in #48, I don’t grasp why a florist would have the right to refuse service to, or hire, a homosexual but not to refuse service to, or hire, a traditional Christian. If businesses and employers have rights to reject the one, why can’t they reject the other? What’s the principled distinction?”

    Actually the florist case (assuming we’re thinking of the same one) wasn’t about refusing to serve homosexuals (i.e., people with a certain characteristics), it was about refusing to sell flowers for a gay wedding (i.e., a particular activity). The woman had in fact served the gay customers in the past without any difficulties.

  50. Ray Ingles says:

    Mr. X, that kind of bypasses the question. So a florist could refuse to sell flowers for a Christian funeral, or a heterosexual wedding? What about a business that refused to provide benefits to the spouses of employees of heterosexual marriages?

    Should the specific florist you’re referring to be within her rights to refuse to employ someone who was homosexual? Or just refuse to employ someone who was in a same-sex marriage? Or perhaps just refuse to provide benefits to the same-sex spouse of an employee?

    Do the answers change if it’s a florist refusing to employ a Christian? Refusing to employ someone who was married in a Christian church? Or refuse to provide benefits to the spouse of a Christian employee?

    I’m trying to understand the principles, here. Tom said “I have a friend who lost a job contract because of this — even though it was off-the-job speech that caused the supposed offense.” This is apparently bad – indeed, apparently bad enough that refusing to hire him should be illegal? Or something?

  51. Tom Gilson says:

    His job performance was in no way affected by his religious beliefs, but he was fired for them.

  52. Tom Gilson says:

    I think the principle that’s ruling this is a business owner’s right to live according to conscience. To contribute materially to the celebration of a gay “wedding” would violate my conscience, for it would be the celebration of clearly immoral and wrong actions. The other issues you raised here would not be the same. To hire a homosexual is not to endorse or celebrate what he or she does off the job.

    To provide benefits is something I could probably approve of in certain circumstances. It would never be on the basis of their being “married” but rather if they had entered into something like a formal (where sanctioned by the state) or informal civil union with specifically economic provisions involved. It would depend also on whether it were also possible for my company to do the same for partnerships like unmarried siblings, same-sex best friends who were heterosexual, etc. In other words, it would be the partnership and economic union that I would support in that case, not the sexual relationship.

  53. Tom Gilson says:

    And yes, if it violated conscience (especially for religious reasons), a florist could refuse to sell flowers to a Christian wedding or funeral. Why on earth not? How does that decision become a matter of state coercion???

  54. urbanus says:

    @Tom:

    And yes, if it violated conscience (especially for religious reasons), a florist could refuse to sell flowers to a Christian wedding or funeral. Why on earth not? How does that decision become a matter of state coercion???

    Outrageous! What next — sending Christians to the back of the bus, for “religious reasons”?

    Equally, I think it’s outrageous for people to lose their jobs for political speech outside of work (#42). So I’m with you there.

    Are you really sure that you would be happy for Christians to be harassed and intimidated in the manner that you describe in #55? I don’t understand what you’re trying to justify. Are we saying that it’s OK to lack compassion for discriminated minorities, as long as we hold that position consistently?

  55. Tom Gilson says:

    Back of the bus? No, that analogy fails. I don’t have time to explicate, but I hadn’t ought to need to do so

  56. bigbird says:

    I don’t see that. As I noted the hate crimes bill SB 1234 (passed about nine years ago in 2004) covers incitement to violence.

    Possibly, you haven’t actually read the legislation. It actually says:

    “by force or threat of force, willfully injure, intimidate,
    interfere with, oppress, or threaten any other person in the free
    exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him or her
    by the Constitution or laws of this state or by the Constitution or
    laws of the United States in whole or in part because of one or more
    of the actual or perceived characteristics of the victim listed in
    subdivision (a) of Section 422.55″

    Now IANAL, but I’m very wary of laws that 1) criminalize speech, no matter how hateful, and 2) that restrict offences to those against specific groups of people.

  57. Gavin says:

    bigbird,

    First, I want to thank you for brining this specific law into the discussion. It is very helpful to be talking about something real.

    Now, I haven’t read the law, but I’ve read some of it and looked over some criticisms. Now, IANAL, but based on what I read, including your excerpt, speech must include a “threat of force” to be criminal. Do you think that a “threat of force” should be protected speech? Or do you think that the law criminalizes non-threatening speech? I don’t quite understand your concern.

    Tom, urbanus or Mr. X,

    Could someone give me a link to the florist case? I’d like to join that conversation, but I don’t want to just guess what it is about. Thanks, Mr. X for brining this specific example into the discussion.

    Tom,

    I would still love to hear a specific example from you. I understand why you may not wish to go into specifics about your friend’s case, but without specifics no useful discussion can happen. Have you got anything else? Perhaps an actual University Speech Code example.

  58. Tom Gilson says:

    Plenty of speech codes at http://thefire.org/

    The friend I was speaking of is Frank Turek. See http://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2011/06/hatred-leading-to-a-firing/ and http://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2011/06/what-do-diversity-and-inclusion-mean-at-cisco-systems/. Sorry I didn’t list this sooner, I’m not in the best working environment right now.

  59. bigbird says:

    Do you think that a “threat of force” should be protected speech? Or do you think that the law criminalizes non-threatening speech? I don’t quite understand your concern.

    I think that we need to be extremely careful when we put limits on free speech.

    Look at Watts v. United States, where the courts ruled (on appeal) there was a difference between true threats and hyperbole. One person’s hyperbole might be another person’s threat. Someone may not intend a threat, but another person take it that way.

    Furthermore, I think we need to careful when we think we need laws like this that name specific groups as the targets of the supposed crime. If we think threats of force should be illegal, shouldn’t this law protect everyone rather than certain groups?

  60. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    I asked, incredulously, for examples of speech being limited. You replied,

    I have a friend who lost a job contract because of this — even though it was off-the-job speech that caused the supposed offense.

    His job performance was in no way affected by his religious beliefs, but he was fired for them.

    That friend, your example of person who’s speech is being limited, is Frank Turek. Frank Turek isn’t just some guy with a “Jesus Saves” bumper sticker. From the website of his non-profit ministry, “CrossExamined.org”:

    Dr. Frank Turek is a dynamic speaker and award-winning author or coauthor of three books: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, Correct, Not Politically Correct and Legislating Morality. As the President of CrossExamined.org, Frank impacts young and old alike at colleges, high schools and churches with hard yet entertaining evidence for Christianity. He hosts a hour long TV program each week called I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist that is broadcast Wednesday nights at 9pm and 1am Eastern on DirecTV Channel 378 (the NRB Network). His radio program called CrossExamined with Frank Turek airs on 144 stations every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. eastern. Frank also writes a column for Townhall.com and has appeared on many TV and radio programs including: The O’Reilly Factor, Hannity and Colmes, Faith under Fire, Politically Incorrect, The Bible Answerman, and Focus on the Family. He has debated atheist Christopher Hitchens twice….

    To help reverse the exodus of young people from the Christian faith, Frank conducts dynamic I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist outreach events on campus. At these events, Frank presents the evidence for Christianity, cross-examines arguments against it, and answers student questions.

    Frank takes strong positions against atheism, abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia. His books are available not only at CrossExamined.org and at religious book stores, but also at most major book sellers and even at my public library.

    If I wanted to show the world what completely unfettered free speech looks like, I could hardly hope to find a better example than Frank Turek.

    It is worth noting that the job contract that Frank Turek lost was to “design and conduct a leadership and team building program.” Frank Turek took strong positions on numerous highly divisive issues in about the most public manner imaginable. It seems reasonable that this could create problems when it comes to building teams of diverse people. It’s like asking Richard Dawkins to lead a team building exercise. Christians might feel a bit alienated, don’t you think?

    Frank Turek could not possibly get more religious liberty, he is already as free as the wind. What he could get, and what many Christians are demanding, is more Christian privilege. The privilege to say things that many people find offensive, to argue forcefully and publicly for the marginalization of large communities and then to expect everybody to just forget all of that and pay for some team building. Free speech plus no consequences. Wow! The Privilege is strong with you people

  61. urbanus says:

    @Gavin#59:

    Could someone give me a link to the florist case? I’d like to join that conversation, but I don’t want to just guess what it is about.

    It’s not a real case: it was a hypothetical example raised by Clay the Atheist on this thread.

  62. bigbird says:

    What he could get, and what many Christians are demanding, is more Christian privilege. The privilege to say things that many people find offensive, to argue forcefully and publicly for the marginalization of large communities and then to expect everybody to just forget all of that and pay for some team building.

    Actually, what you are calling “Christian privilege” (a term you seem curiously attached to), is more commonly known as “free speech”.

    Societies that allow “free speech” allow people to say things that many people find offensive, and to argue forcefully and publicly for their views – because whatever your views, it isn’t hard to find someone who finds them offensive.

    Societies that support “free speech” generally don’t expect people to lose their jobs for their religious or political views.

  63. urbanus says:

    @Tom: Despite what you say I don’t believe you would be happy if Christians were treated that way (i.e. denied service for being Christian). I wouldn’t support anyone being treated that way — Christians or equally any other group.

    You say, “…especially for religious reasons…”, but I don’t see why religious reasons are privileged when it comes to that sort of behaviour.

    I dunno, Tom. I think that’s about it. Thanks for answering all my questions — you’ve been more than patient. All the best!

  64. Tom Gilson says:

    Happy? That’s not the operative question. I would consider it right and just for them to have that freedom, and I would be satisfied with that, whether I was happy or not.

    Thanks for your patient discussion, urbanus. I don’t know what more to say about religious freedoms, other than what I wrote in the OP. I have more to come today but it’s specifically directed to a Christian audience.

  65. Tom Gilson says:

    Gavin, Frank Turek was discharged from his position for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with his performance, and everything to do with his beliefs, which he did not express on the job. He had been working with this company for some time, he had received very high evaluations, and it was clear that his job performance was excellent.

    That’s what it looks like when religious freedoms begin to erode. I can’t imagine how you could fail to recognize that.

    Your analogy to Richard Dawkins fails. I wouldn’t want Dawkins leading Christians in team-building because I know he is hostile and wants us to fail. I really doubt he would have any team-building skills anyway; it’s not his style, as far as anyone could see. Frank was known at Cisco Systems as being effective with people. His training was helping them succeed. His performance was known to be excellent. There is enough disanalogy there to rule out the whole thing.

  66. Tom Gilson says:

    Further on religious freedoms under assault: the U.S. Department of Justice has apparently endorsed (or has not disallowed, at least) public disapproval of managers keeping silent concerning homosexuality:

    One particular bit of advice, offered under the heading, “Know How to Respond If an Employee Comes Out to You,” seems to summarize the thrust of the whole brochure: “DON’T judge or remain silent. Silence will be interpreted as disapproval.”

    So a manager who privately considers homosexual practice to be a sin must publicly contradict conscience, to meet DOJ standards.

    Religious freedom is being eroded, in some cases quite intentionally.

  67. Tom Gilson says:

    Also from the same source:

    DO talk in staff meetings about why diversity is important to you as a manager, and make it clear you define diversity to include both sexual orientation and gender identity.

    The instruction here is that managers should consider sexual and gender-identity diversity to be important to them, and must say so.

    Note that this is at the Department of Justice.

  68. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    I think the principle that’s ruling this is a business owner’s right to live according to conscience… To hire a homosexual is not to endorse or celebrate what he or she does off the job.

    So businesses should have less freedom to pick employees than to pick customers? I mean, what if the employee officiates at same-sex weddings off the job?

    From the first link about Frank Turek:

    …the absolute logical impossibility of including all diversity of all kinds, for who would say that diversity should welcome a neo-Nazi alongside a Hasidic Jew?

    So if a company already employs a neo-Nazi (whose job performance is fine – the company doesn’t endorse or celebrate what they do off the job) then the company can legitimately choose not to hire a Hasidic Jew to work alongside them?

    How about a company with a lot of atheists, homosexuals, Muslims, or whatever that decides not to hire a traditional Christian? Justifiable?

  69. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, you’re wandering as usual, you’re displaying a fundamental misunderstanding of what you’re challenging, and as far as I’m concerned your questions are uninteresting and not worth wasting time on.

  70. Ray Ingles says:

    bigbird –

    I think that we need to be extremely careful when we put limits on free speech.

    True, but there is kind of an important difference between ‘offensive’ speech and threatening speech. That was Gavin’s point.

    Furthermore, I think we need to careful when we think we need laws like this that name specific groups as the targets of the supposed crime. If we think threats of force should be illegal, shouldn’t this law protect everyone rather than certain groups?

    When a guy threatens his brother outside a bar, it’s not often the case that he’s upset with brothers in general. Someone screaming racial or sexual epithets at strangers outside a bar, though, can reasonably be considered likely to have problems with an entire class of people.

    The Ku Klux Klan committed a lot of violent acts, and deserved punishment for them. But they chose their targets and actions specifically to attack and intimidate an entire class of people. In a very real sense, their crimes were directed at the entire class of non-white Americans.

    I’m not sure if hate speech laws are the best way to deal with that kind of problem, but that problem is, in fact, real, and neither am I sure of a better alternative.

  71. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson – Sorry if I’m not talking about what you want to talk about. In any case, I have a question that I hope is relevant about #68: Does “DOJ Pride, the department’s in-house LGBT association” have any authority in the DOJ? Or can they only offer suggestions of how they’d like things to be?

  72. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    I do appreciate your use of specific examples, like Frank and the advice for managers from DOJ Pride. The document, LGBT Inclusion at Work: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Managers, is distributed by DOJ Pride, which is an independent advocacy group (much like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at a public high school). The pamphlet offers advice to managers who would like to create an environment that is welcoming of LGBQT employees. It does not represent DOJ standards for managers.

    After quoting from this document, you say,

    So a manager who privately considers homosexual practice to be a sin must publicly contradict conscience, to meet DOJ standards.

    This is simply a lie. The document does not represent DOJ standards, it is produced by an independent group.

    Let’s check the score. For examples of infringement of religious free speech we have:

    1) SB 1234, which only criminalizes speech that includes a threat of force. Bigbird says, “we need to be extremely careful.” I’m always a fan of being extremely careful. So far it looks like we are being extremely carful and no one has been unable to freely express their beliefs.

    2) Frank Turek, one of the freest speaking people of all time. He did lose a contract in the private sector where companies also have rights of association. The company has back-tracked, and Turek’s speech continues, un-infringed.

    For compulsion to violate conscience we have:

    1) A florist who could have been in a tough spot, had she actually existed.

    2) A pamphlet from an independent advocacy group offering suggestions to DOJ managers who would like to create a welcoming environment for their LGBQT employees.

    On top of that we have a general fear about the direction we are heading.

    The total is zero examples of infringement of free speech, zero examples of compelled violation of conscience.

    I don’t have any more time to discuss your persecution fantasies. I do appreciate you sharing them. I have a much better understanding of the phantasms that torment you. Good luck.

  73. thomas aquinas says:

    “It’s like asking Richard Dawkins to lead a team building exercise. Christians might feel a bit alienated, don’t you think?”

    And if they requested that Dawkins be fired–even though his performance had nothing to do with the quality of his work–that would make them bigots.

    True tolerance requires that we make subtle and important distinctions, that we don’t encourage private entities to use their economic power to engage in punitive termination ssimply because it would “send a message” others to remain quiet about their views. This intimidation into silence has lasting effect upon the public square and who would be willing to speak out. This, of course, helps advance your position. It is, as you know, called “bullying,” and it rightly decried by you and your allies.

    Stop being a hypocrite and stand against it wherever you find it.

  74. JAD says:

    Gavin wrote:

    1) A florist who could have been in a tough spot, had she actually existed.

    Clay the the athiest wrote:

    Urbanus, there is concern that churches will eventually be obliged to carry out marriages they disapprove of, and that florists and other wedding-related companies will be forced to labor in the service of gay weddings that offend their beliefs. Those are valid concerns.
    http://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/06/the-court-the-culture-and-the-glory-of-god/#comment-65397

    What about a real life baker who refuses to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding?

    Pro-gay activists have launched a boycott of an Iowa baker who declined to create a wedding cake for a lesbian couple based on her religious beliefs.

    http://radio.foxnews.com/toddstarnes/top-stories/christian-baker-faces-boycott-for-refusing-to-make-lesbian-cake.html

  75. Tom Gilson says:

    You’re right about that not being DOJ standard, Gavin. It wasn’t a lie, it was a mistake I made in assessing the situation. Please do be careful about jumping to conclusions. You were right about the error, and wrong about the motivation.

    Would you like further examples? Download and read the free sample offered at Amazon for Unlearning Liberty. It was written by a dyed-in-the-wool abortion-supporting Buddhist-leaning liberal, and it begins to detail infringements of religious freedom that would curl your hair. Buy the whole book if you want more.

    Or consider the many campuses that have required student religious groups to admit persons into leadership that deny or even oppose their beliefs! It’s happened at Hastings College of the Law, Vanderbilt, and many others.

    No florist? I was willing to let other commenters here deal with that one. How about a bakery instead? But wait! There actually was a florist!

    Your naivete on this would be touching, Gavin, if it weren’t so self-serving.

  76. drj says:

    JAD,

    I think my #33 puts the focus on the right place when it comes to the baker (and similar cases involving photographers, etc).

    Public accommodation laws cover you too. If you have a problem with those laws, then address those laws. If you have a problem with the fact that homosexuals are also beneficiaries of those laws, well then tough luck, and bigotry exposed.

  77. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    I very much appreciate your willingness to post and engage commenters with other views, such as myself. This discussion has been very eye-opening for me.

    Best,
    Gavin

  78. bigbird says:

    there is kind of an important difference between ‘offensive’ speech and threatening speech. That was Gavin’s point.

    My point is that what one person might consider to be offensive, another might consider to be threatening. I’m not advocating threatening people btw.

    Someone screaming racial or sexual epithets at strangers outside a bar, though, can reasonably be considered likely to have problems with an entire class of people.

    So you think people deserve punishment for having problems with an entire class of people?

    I would prefer people get punished for the actual crimes they commit, not thought crimes.

    In Victoria, Australia, much of the anti-Christian abuse on atheist forums such as Pharyngula would be illegal. I doubt if any of us want that kind of situation.

  79. d says:

    BigBird,

    Now, I don’t exactly know if it holds true for this hate crime statute, but all previous hate crime statutes that I know of, have simply been punishment enhancements for existing actions already against the law, and defined no new crimes into existence.

    And of course, when each of those hate crime statutes came around, we heard the *exact* same ole misinformation, time and time again – that things that weren’t crimes today, will be crimes tomorrow.

    So I’m sorry… wolf has been cried too many times, when it comes to hate crimes. I’m very skeptical that anything is different in this case.

  80. bigbird says:

    I’m very skeptical that anything is different in this case.

    I’m not American, and I don’t live there (well, not since 1975). I’m not that familiar with your laws.

    But the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 in Victoria, Australia, is very different.

    I quote from the guidance:

    “Vilification is behaviour that incites or encourages hatred, serious contempt, revulsion or severe ridicule against another person or group of people because of their race and/or religion.”

    Severe ridicule? How many posts on even these forums ridicule religion? What about atheist websites? These are all illegal under this law. If you aren’t convinced, look at the Catch the Fire case.

    Why should you care if you aren’t in Victoria, Australia? Because laws like this aren’t made in isolation. Consider the Racial and Religious Hatred Act in the UK, passed in 2006 (which fortunately under pressure was amended to be less severe than originally planned).

    There are always people wanting restrict our freedoms for ostensibly good reasons, and vigilance is important. Just look at what Edward Snowden has revealed about your country.

  81. JAD says:

    drj @ #78:

    Public accommodation laws cover you too. If you have a problem with those laws, then address those laws. If you have a problem with the fact that homosexuals are also beneficiaries of those laws, well then tough luck, and bigotry exposed.

    OTOH, according to Jim Campbell, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund:

    “No business owner should be forced to violate his conscience simply because someone demands it…The Constitution absolutely supports the rights of business owners to decline a request to support a message that conflicts with their deeply held convictions.”
    http://radio.foxnews.com/toddstarnes/top-stories/homosexuals-file-human-rights-complaint-against-t-shirt-company.html

    Who’s right?

  82. d says:

    That does sound like a bad law… and I agree… we always have to be vigilant about the new laws, and their potential for abuse.

    What I don’t really buy here, is that extending the same protections to homosexuals, that the rest of us enjoy when it comes to race, religion, etc, necessarily comes hand-in-hand with that sort of tyranny.

    We can have the former without the latter. Any move to further the former is not automatically a move to further the latter.

  83. Holopupenko says:

    @84

    Simple: race and religion are not disordered unless intentionally used that way; homosexuality and atheism are disordered, period. It’s got to do with human nature… and the ability to think straight (pun intended).

  84. JAD says:

    Mark Steyn had this to say about the recent DOMA decision:

    Having assumed the power to redefine a societal institution that predates the United States by thousands of years, [Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy] had the responsibility at least to work up the semblance of a legal argument. Instead, he struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that those responsible for it were motivated by an “improper animus” against a “politically unpopular group” they wished to “disparage,” “demean,” and “humiliate” as “unworthy.” What stump-toothed knuckle-dragging inbred swamp-dwellers from which hellish Bible Belt redoubt would do such a thing? Well, fortunately, we have their names on the record: The DOMA legislators who were driven by their need to “harm” gay people include notorious homophobe Democrats Chuck Schumer, Pat Leahy, Harry Reid, Joe Biden, and the virulent anti-gay hater who signed it into law, Bill Clinton.
    http://www.nationalreview.com/node/352350/print

    What about the “improper animus” that has been (and is being) directed at people who defend traditional marriage on religious grounds? Or, is freedom of conscience and freedom of religion no longer protected by the constitution?

  85. JAD says:

    In his dissent on SCOTUS’s recent DOMA ruling (US v Windsor) Scalia had this to say about Kennedy’s charge of “improper animus”.

    By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition. Henceforth those challengers will lead with this Court’s declaration that there is “no legitimate purpose” served by such a law, and will claim that the traditional definition has “the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure” the “personhood and dignity”of same-sex couples… The majority’s limiting assurance will be meaningless in the face of language like that, as the majority well knows. That is why the language is there. The result will be a judicial distortion of our society’s debate over marriage—a debate that can seem in need of our clumsy “help” only to a member of this institution.

    http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-307_6j37.pdf

    This means that SCOTUS will no longer fair and impartial when it come to religious belief, because it is on the basis of religious belief that many people oppose SSM.

  86. Mr. X says:

    On a side note, is anybody else slightly worried that the SC seems to have set a precedent for rejection laws based on second-guessing the motives of those who support them? Even if you agree with the outcome in this case, this practice seems wide open to abuse (Don’t like a law but can’t disprove it on constitutional grounds? Simply declare that the people who passed it were nasty people, and voila! Law struck down).

  87. JAD says:

    Some more thoughts on Justice Kennedy’s (“improper animus”) opinion:

    Everybody understands that gay marriage is today’s cause celebre — but freedom of religion/conscience is America’s “first freedom.” If those who oppose gay marriage for a variety of reasons are to be understood only as irrational bigots (and their objections labeled as nothing more than “improper animus”), it’s hard to see how a head-on collision between gay rights and religious freedom can be avoided.
    http://ricochet.com/main-feed/Rights-of-Conscience-in-Windsor-s-Wake

    The danger is that SCOTUS in US v Windsor has already chosen whose side they are on.

    As Mr. X has written above:

    “SC seems to have set a precedent for rejection laws based on second-guessing the motives of those who support them…”

    Exactly!

    P.S.

    For those outside the U.S. (or those of you not up to speed on this)

    SCOTUS= Supreme Court of the United States.

    Scalia who I referred to @ #87 is Antonin Scalia, the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court who wrote the dissenting opinion. You can find the quote I referenced on p. 58 of the ruling.

    US v Windsor is the recent case that struck down part of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). Other parts of DOMA still remain in effect.

  88. Ray Ingles says:

    bigbird –

    So you think people deserve punishment for having problems with an entire class of people?

    No, as should have been clear from the context. The Ku Klux Klan committed crimes, for which they deserved punishment. The fact that they intended their crimes to terrorize more than just their immediate victims should, it seems to me, factor into that punishment.

    You don’t advocate threatening people, I know. Now, threatening people is a crime. When such threats are aimed at a whole class of people, that’s different from – or at least, in addition to – threatening specific people. When a crime is committed, factoring in the targeting when determining punishment doesn’t seem a priori unjustified.

    Now, you express concern that people might be accused of threats when they didn’t intend to threaten. I can understand that concern (it happens all too often) but it’s not limited to Christians by any means, nor do I see any evidence that Christians are particularly targeted. It’s a far bigger problem than just anti-Christian bias.

  89. [...] of intolerance” used to mean a simple (and necessary) respect for individual [...]

  90. bigbird says:

    Now, you express concern that people might be accused of threats when they didn’t intend to threaten. I can understand that concern (it happens all too often) but it’s not limited to Christians by any means, nor do I see any evidence that Christians are particularly targeted. It’s a far bigger problem than just anti-Christian bias.

    I agree, it isn’t limited to (or specifically aimed at) Christians at all.

  91. [...] “Three Reasons Freedom of Religion Matters,” Thinking Christian [...]

  92. JAD says:

    We tend to thinks about ethics and morality is being about rules– moral obligations and duties. However, I think we could argue that ethics and morality actually begins with rights. It’s only when “my” rights appear to conflict or collide with others that we needs rules or laws to protect our rights.

    In other words, I didn’t arrive at my view of personal rights by following a set of rules. My rights are not something that have been imposed upon me by someone or something else (i.e. the state or society). My rights are something that I own– they’re MY rights. They’re something that I want and value. They are intrinsic not only to who I am as a person but who I am as a human being.

    Again, while rules are not the source of my rights, rules may be required to protect my rights. For example, in a democratic society we need rules so that people are not infringing on each others rights.

    I would argue that the fundamental right that I have as a human being is freedom of thought, conscience and belief (freedom of religion). Freedom of speech, press and assembly are all superfluous without this fundamental freedom.

    In recent years, however, there has been as all out assault on this fundamental right. The assault itself has been very dishonest and very deceptive. A movement led by secular progressives, for example, have attacked freedom of religion by arbitrarily creating so-called new rights that they know directly conflict with traditional moral values: the right to an abortion, the right to not be offended, the right to same sex marriage, animal rights, assisted suicide and euthanasia etc. But consider what kind of right these are. They are rights that must be imposed by abolishing existing rights of at least half, if not more, of the population. Was freedom of thought, conscience and belief (religion) imposed on the majority? How about the freedom speech etc.?

    Democracy grew out of the religious wars of the 17th century. While secularists want to take full credit for this so-called enlightenment there were a lot of prominent religious believers involved in the movement– Roger Williams, and English poet John Milton for example. But even if we give secularists and humanists the lion’s share of the credit, at the time they certainly thought that freedom of religion was a good idea. So then what is the purpose of this new war on religion? To me it appears to be to take away my rights. Ironically, if that happens, you have succeeded in destroying democracy. That will mean that the great experiment that began here 237 years ago has been a tragic failure.

  93. JAD says:

    Here is an example, of new arbitrary rights intentionally designed to conflict with historically established rights:

    “There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that’s the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner.”

    - Chai Feldblum, law professor, prominent advocate of the homosexual legal agenda, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner (EEOC)

    http://blog.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/2012/10/26/more-proof-the-homosexual-agenda-clashes-with-religious-freedom/

    In other words, Bill of Rights or not, the “new rights” automatically (no discussion or debate) trump all the old rights.

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