The Supreme Court and Religious Freedom
Our Religious Make-up
According to a recent poll done in July of this year by ABC News/Beliefnet, 83% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. This total is spread out over many denominations. Of course our population is also comprised of people of other faiths such as Jews, Muslims, and others— although their combined numbers by percentage are relatively small. While it is safe to say the U.S. is a Christian nation, our Constitution prohibits the adoption of Christianity as a national religion.
The 1st Amendment
The 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution states, among other things, that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". As we have no religion given preference by our main governing document and since our Constitution both limits and guarantees religious freedom, we have a dilemma. Clearly, the Constitution was written to preserve the right of every faith to a robust existence and the freedom of its members to openly practice their faith without any fear of persecution. Indeed, this was after all, one of the reasons the Pilgrims, and others migrated here. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any specific guidance of how to resolve conflicts on just how far individual rights extend. What happens when the rights of different people are clashing?
We now find ourselves with several of these rights interfering with each other. Individual religious rights are in conflict with both group and individual rights in the public marketplace.
1) One case involves both individual members of and the gay population at large. A Colorado baker refused to provide his services to a lesbian couple based on his faith's disapproval of homosexuality.
2) In New Mexico, we have a recent case with a Walgreen's pharmacist refusing to fill a young woman's prescription for birth control medication because of his "personal beliefs." Even though it was the girl's mother who was picking up the prescription, the pharmacist thought his own rights took precedence over his client's. This was strictly a moral judgement not a concern of some legal impropriety. Walgreen's only offered to transfer the prescription to another pharmacy.
This case is not yet part of the case before the Supreme Court, but could eventually be affected by the final ruling.
Here we come to the difficult dilemma of competing rights. It seems only fair that every individual has the right to contract with the service provider of their choice without fear of prejudice. We all make our selections of vendors for the same reasons: Product quality, reliable service and price - among others. Why then should it be allowed that someone is refused service based on faith instead of law.? The answer is really quite straightforward. If your faith cannot accept homosexuality, you can choose to be heterosexual. If you are against contraception, you need not use it. No one can force you to engage in any practices or activities that your beliefs prohibit. However, those rights do not carryover when offering your services in the public marketplace. You do not have the right to impose your religious viewpoints on the public at large. In both your personal life and decisions these rights are rock solid. One can even refuse to support family members who violate your religious code but legalized discrimination must never be allowed.
If the Supreme Court should rule in favor of these faith-based plaintiffs, it will be a very dark day in our nation. What other more serious implications will ensure if prejudice is allowed to become the law of the land under the guise of religious freedom? Will any Christian in any business be allowed to refuse service to Jews or Muslims because they are not Jesus-centered faiths? Of course, these faiths could not be banned, but it will be OK to limit their commerce with legalized discrimination. This discrimination could then be allowed solely at the business owner's discretion.
This concept would also allow faith-based judgements on divorced people, interracial marriages and anything else that might be interpreted as deficient according to your own faith. Would we allow polygamy or older men marrying thirteen year old girls because their God so instructs? Where will the line be drawn and who will draw it?
If you believe that the wife is subservient to the husband as the Church is to God do you get to control all of your wife's decisions and actions? Will women's hard-earned freedoms be lost at their mate's decisions? What restrictive laws could be passed in a male, Christian dominated Congress and upheld by staunchly conservative justices at all levels of the judiciary?
Hopefully, the high court's present makeup will prevent a return to legalized discrimination. If President Trump is in a position to appoint another Supreme Court Justice our culture and nation could be turned upside down. Imagine our Supreme Court converted to a religious tribunal to the detriment of us all? Each citizen should start calling the Supreme Court phone # +1 202-479-3000 and urge the Court to protect the proper balance between the rights of consumers and those who provide needed services.
According to the Declaration of Independence, all Americans are guaranteed certain "inalienable rights". Among which, of course, is "The Pursuit of Happiness". One way citizens pursue happiness is through the purchase of goods and services. As long as negotiated terms are met we expect delivery of said goods and services in exchange for prompt payment. There is no room here for a values or lifestyle test. Vendors and tradespeople can set their own personal views, but cannot impose them on others around them. Fair and equal treatment of all potential customers is part of doing business. If you are unable to work with citizenry as a whole and treat them all with dignity and respect perhaps a different vocation is in order.
Over time laws found to be discriminatory have been struck down and new ones enacted to help insure equality. We cannot abide the appointment of extremist judges of either camp. Right now though, the danger is coming from the Right. There is a real danger of judges coming to the Court with a predisposition to end the separation of Church and State. This could lead us to the formation of a Christian version of a Middle East Sheikdom - just more subtly. We must not underestimate the importance and implication of this case and others like it that are sure to follow.