Demonstrators gather at Monument Circle to protest a controversial religious freedom bill recently signed by Gov. Mike Pence during a rally in Indianapolis on March 28, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS, Nathan Chute *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MICHAELSON-COLUMN, originally transmitted on April 6, 2015.

A 'religious freedom' proposal that I can agree with (COMMENTARY)

Demonstrators gather at Monument Circle to protest a controversial religious freedom bill recently signed by Governor Mike Pence during a rally in Indianapolis on March 28, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS, Nathan Chute *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MICHAELSON-COLUMN, originally transmitted on April 6, 2015.

Demonstrators gather at Monument Circle to protest a controversial religious freedom bill recently signed by Gov. Mike Pence during a rally in Indianapolis on March 28, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS, Nathan Chute
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MICHAELSON-COLUMN, originally transmitted on April 6, 2015.


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

NEW YORK (RNS) I’m not supposed to like this idea.

It was put forward by a conservative Christian pastor who says that “Faithful American Christians are increasingly under attack across the country by the gay lobby.” And it’s a proposal for Christian-owned small businesses who don’t want to serve people like me: gay people, especially ones who are out, loud, and proud.

And yet, I’m for it.

The proposal comes from the Rev. C.J. Conner, author of "Jesus and the Culture Wars: Reclaiming the Lord's Prayer," and a Lutheran pastor in Dodge City, Kan. It is elegantly simple. In places where businesses can’t say “no gays allowed” -- places like Indiana, after last week’s remarkable backtrack by Gov. Mike Pence -- Conner suggests that florists, photographers, bakers, and others who might be called upon to be part of a same-sex wedding state clearly that they will only provide their services in connection with specific houses of worship. In his case, “Bible-believing churches,” as he defines them.

Those houses of worship, in turn, are protected by the Constitution. They can turn away gays, Jews, interracial couples, interfaith couples -- basically, whoever they want -- because unlike flower shops, churches are religious institutions, and are covered by the First Amendment.

Why do I like this idea?

First, Conner’s workaround (I’d call it a compromise, actually) enables small, expressive businesses, which are often run by a single individual, to maintain their religious scruples in a way that doesn’t smack of discrimination. It’s far better than the overly broad “religious freedom” laws still under consideration in a dozen states. And it’s better than the chaos we have now.

Second, despite Conner’s prediction that “the gay lobby expands its agenda to target Christians and houses of worship directly,” I don’t know a single LGBT activist who wants to compel a church, synagogue, mosque or other religious institution to solemnize anything at all. The battle we are fighting is about businesses in the public square, not churches.

Most importantly, that battle is about public values, not private conscience. Remember, businesses that say “no gays allowed” cause two kinds of harm. First, they deny their services to people who would like to make use of them. The second, and far more grievous harm, is the public statement they are making: that this kind of discrimination is publicly acceptable, that I can look you in the eye and say “No, I won’t serve your kind.”

Conner’s proposal solves the second problem. The florists aren’t saying “no gays allowed” -- they’re saying “only conservative Christian weddings affiliated with (fill in the name of the church here) allowed.” That’s fine. No group is being singled out, no discriminatory message is being sent, and, indeed, the photographer is probably losing some business by taking this principled stand. Which I fully respect.

It’s also a lot better than saying “no weddings of any kind,” which many businesses have recently done in response to the controversy. No one wants individual artists to have to go out of business. We in the LGBT community just don’t want them to be able to discriminate against us, to continue to marginalize us, to stigmatize us, and to drive our youngest, most vulnerable members to take their own lives in staggering numbers.

Now, I do have a few important reservations.

First, Conner’s workaround should only be available to the kinds of businesses we’ve been discussing: small, expressive arts shops. It should not be available to large corporations or hospitals, and should not cover employment benefits, adoption or family services, or any kind of medical treatment, including pharmacies.

It’s one thing for wedding-related services to limit themselves to weddings performed in a certain place and in a certain way. It’s quite another for one’s marital status to be used as a filter in all walks of life. The physician who refuses to treat the child of a same-sex couple is violating not only the Hippocratic oath, but also the rules of fair play. That is unacceptable.

Second, the workaround must be sincere. If service providers are found to be selectively enforcing their policy, they should be held liable, just like any other fraudulent business. The policy must not be a smokescreen for the same old discrimination. If a business is promising exclusivity, they must deliver it.

Finally, this doesn’t mean the LGBT community is going away. On the contrary, Conner’s policy returns the moral battle to where it should be: within communities of faith.

Jay Michaelson is a columnist for The Daily Beast and author of the 2013 report “Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights.” Photo courtesy of Jay Michaelson

Jay Michaelson is a columnist for The Daily Beast and author of the 2013 report “Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights.” Photo courtesy of Jay Michaelson


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Public accommodations laws are no place to have a theological discussion. Rather, as we’ve seen across the country in conservative Christian communities, sexual diversity is a profound moral issue. It belongs in church. Christians shouldn’t be debating constitutional law; they should be reflecting on their faith, and I'd recommend they listen to the voices of faithful LGBT Christians like Justin Lee, Matthew Vines, Jeff Chu, and Tonyia Rawls, and allies like C.S. Pearce and Richard Cizik. That is the real conversation we should be having, and it should happen church by church, pastor by pastor, without the shrill voices of politics.

So, that’s why I like this law, despite its unfriendly source. The bakers can obey their consciences, the big players obey the law, and the public square remains free of discrimination. Best of all, the debate can refocus on the issues that really matter, rather than the ones that raise money for advocacy groups.

Of course, Conner doesn’t have to persuade me -- it’s his allies who are pushing this fight, groups like Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, and the Becket Fund. So, Rev. Conner, you’ve got me on board. Now what about those who claim to speak in your name?

(Jay Michaelson is a columnist for The Daily Beast and author of the 2013 report “Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights.”)

KRE/AMB END MICHAELSON

Comments

  1. ” Conner suggests that florists, photographers, bakers, and others who might be called upon to be part of a same-sex wedding state clearly that they will only provide their services in connection with specific houses of worship. In his case, “Bible-believing churches,” as he defines them.”

    I have been saying this in a more crass way for some time. If you want to discriminate, don’t be in OPEN commerce. That doesn’t mean you can’t be in closed commerce. The best part about this type of action is that you don’t ever need to change the laws in any way. Services and goods sold within a church environment are not open commerce. So they are not subject to the same rules. It is the same as forming exclusive membership clubs.

    Of course this means no shops open to the general public and no widespread advertising. But there is always a price to be paid for “religious convictions”. Nobody said religious based bigotry has to be profitable.

  2. Your heart’s in the right place, but not your experience.

    I was a wedding photographer for 30 years. One gets one’s business from many different sources, not just churches. In fact, I found the churches to be the worst source of business.

    Also a fact: this is really just making it all permissible discrimination, no matter how hard they try to disguise it.

    Here is a better solution: a clear statement in all relevant printed materials, by the cash register, an on the website. “Due to our religious beliefs, we will not provide service to the following people whom we believe are not acting in accord with our belief.”

    Followed by a specific list.

    It’s honest, it’s clear, it’s direct. And best of all, they get to stand up for their beliefs, not hide them under a bushel. They’re speaking their truth, no?

    Unfortunately for the religious bigots, I suspect that the vast majority of those signs won’t stay up for very long. And so we’re back to square one:…

  3. This is a great compromise and really necessary since since the first amendment doesn’t apply to businesses, which is exactly why the freedom of the press for newspapers is not constitutionally protected.

  4. And we can make them wear little yellow armbands, too. That will help!

  5. I agree with Ben. In this country small businesses, or mom & pop shops, have typically been given the First Amendment protections, and it should remain as such. For comparison sakes, when did “freedom of the press” ever lose its First Amendment protections just because it was part of a multi-million dollar newspaper, or magazine. No, freedoms are freedoms. And they need to be given full capacity. And I myself would not be dissed if a gay company turned away my business because I am not gay–and that doesn’t even involve religion. Leave people alone in this country.

  6. “It’s one thing for wedding-related services to limit themselves to weddings performed in a certain place and in a certain way. It’s quite another for one’s marital status to be used as a filter in all walks of life. ”

    Exactly. Thank you.

  7. I think that’s the wrong way to think of it. Being upfront about one’s policies is good business and much kinder than forcing what might be a humiliating conversation for the gay future spouse-to-be.

    Don’t parents of small children appreciate being told their children aren’t welcome at certain hotels or apartment complexes rather than engaging in what might be a protracted negotiation only to be told “oh wait–you have kids? Sorry, we don’t allow children in our hotel/complex.”

    Don’t you appreciate being told that your credit card is accepted–or not? There was a restaurant in Anchorage that–I kid you not–that told you after you tried to pay with a credit card that they didn’t do credit cards. They would direct you to an ATM across the street. Put a sign on the door, Olympus Pizza!

    Provided the business truly stick to those events that are traditionally religious in nature, e.g., weddings, I think it would be a good solution.

  8. There is no 1st Amendment protection to engage in discrimination in open commerce. It is not an act recognized as free exercise of religion any more than any other form of personal and public harm. It doesn’t become less harmful when you do it to gays as opposed to blacks or Muslims. Its just many state laws don’t care as much.

    That is why the Christian bigots rely on RFRA and not the 14th Amendment. RFRA-like laws make all actions under the guise of “religious expression” to be OK regardless of whether it falls under usual definitions of free exercise. Any and all actions are given some kind of bogus religious excuse rather than looking at the action itself.

  9. If they don’t do it in open commerce (ie stores open to the general public, unrestricted online sales), they can discriminate to their heart’s content. Just like any private club. Since they are not serving the public, there is no necessity to abide by rules concerning discrimination.

    But once they make their wares open to the public, all bets are off. This way nobody has to be bothered with the scenario of some bigoted shop owner selling their stuff to one class of people and not another. Of course it drastically limits the ability to make money in one’s business. But money doesn’t matter to people so concerned for their immortal soul, they would normally act like raging d-bags to others rather than endanger it. They could manage,

  10. Ben’s comment shows the reality of gay political and social power. This IS all about forcing Christians to show obeisance to the “gay community” which of course means they have to be supporting, condoning and promoting homosexual behavior. That Christians supposedly have given up their rights to public free speech because they are Christians is laughably the exact same kind of discrimination that LGBT’s and “Their Gay Community” say they do not.

    My how the hypocrisy is on the other feet.

  11. The First Amendment doesn’t apply to businesses?

    How brain washed ARE the millennials?

    Man I thought it was quite bad, but this is utterly shocking!

  12. Here’s yet another intolerant demand of the LGBT activist:

    “Christians shouldn’t be debating constitutional law; they should be reflecting on their faith, and I’d recommend they listen to the voices of faithful LGBT Christians like Justin Lee, Matthew Vines, Jeff Chu, and Tonyia Rawls, and allies like C.S. Pearce and Richard Cizik. That is the real conversation we should be having, and it should happen church by church, pastor by pastor, without the shrill voices of politics.”

    Matthew Vines is absolutely demanding that Christians fall at the feet of the Rainbow idol. His heretical religious fanaticism, his anti-Gospel message is one that utterly discounts Biblical truth and actuality and the clear antithetical nature of gay “pride” and social demands If Christians and the historic Church are to be put under the submission of Vines and his demands of “reformation,” then we may as well pass out condoms and lubes in the collection plates. There is no truth in demands of gay…

  13. “Second, despite Conner’s prediction that “the gay lobby expands its agenda to target Christians and houses of worship directly,” I don’t know a single LGBT activist who wants to compel a church, synagogue, mosque or other religious institution to solemnize anything at all. The battle we are fighting is about businesses in the public square, not churches.”

    This has to be highlighted as a pure lie. And Michealson knows it. Matthew Vines is a radical anti-Gospel gay activist demanding that Christians follow a gay agenda. One just needs to cruise Vines’ website and anti-Christian organization and see for oneself.

    And then go read the letter of Jude (it’s in the New Testament) and see that Vines and his ilk have been trying this for over 2000-years.

  14. I think it’s the wrong thing to think about it, too, but it is a logical conclusion of the suggestion. It’s a way to identify ideological dissenters so that they can be prosecuted and avoided by the enlightened.

  15. This just shows that you don’t don’t understand the issue. This isn’t bigotry, because that involves irrational hatred. This is people exercising their freedom not to permit in an activity they perceive to be (rightly or wrongly) immoral.

    The argument that everyone has to accept the morality of a newly invented category of marriage between like genders or else be a bigot demonstrates an inability to think. It relies on an ad hominem to overcome the absolute lack of logical content in your argument and your refusal to look at what the bill actually contains.

    Just as no feminist should have to cater a beauty pageant (if he or she finds such a think offensive), no person of faith should have to cater a celebration of paganized sexuality against their will. You may not see it as that, but they do. They should have the freedom on conscience to abstain from an activity they find offensive. The fact that you find something unoffensive should not require them to engage in it.

  16. It isn’t irrational hatred because they sincerely believe in their hatred? No. It is irrational because it lacks any kind of objective consideration behind it. Every bigot sincerely believes their hatred and discrimination is moral and rational. It does not make it so.

    There is no freedom to harm others in service of your belief. Changing the group you want to harm , throwing up ridiculous euphemisms and pretend religious excuses doesn’t change the harm of the act.

    BTW it is not ad hominem. I am straight up insulting the group I was describing.

    Your “freedom of conscience” is worthless. It is merely a pretext to avoid responsibility for ones actions. License to attack others and lie about the reasons for doing it.

  17. @ albert

    Your premise is entirely false. Bigotry isn’t necessarily hate, rational or not. A good deal of bigotry is one’s wholly unwarranted belief in a completely imaginary superiority as a human being, a Christian, or a moral person.

    You should watch the movie “The Help”. Those white women didn’t hate their black servants. They loved them. They just didn’t want those black cooties on their white porcelain.

    no hate necessary.

    As for “paganized sexuality”? A great example of the “no true Christian” fallacy. No true Christians could possibly believe that gay people are worthy of being treated just like everyone else, right? And those “true Christians” who wish to deny services to others are surely in the know about the relationship of their god to all of the people they don’t think are true Christians, right?

    You are really advocating for is Christian exceptionalism. They don’t need to treat others as they would like to be treated, or to follow RELIGIOUS…

  18. “the first amendment doesn’t apply to businesses”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._FEC
    The Supreme Court held in Citizens United that it was unconstitutional to ban free speech through the limitation of independent communications by corporations, associations, and unions, i.e. that corporations and labor unions may spend their own money to support or oppose political candidates through independent communications like television advertisements.

    “which is exactly why the freedom of the press for newspapers is not constitutionally protected”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_Times_Co._v._Sullivan
    The First Amendment, as applied through the Fourteenth, protected a newspaper from being sued for libel in state court for making false defamatory statements about the official conduct of a public official, because the statements were not made with knowing or reckless disregard for the truth.

  19. “I don’t know a single LGBT activist who wants to compel a church, synagogue, mosque or other religious institution to solemnize anything at all.”

    I wish this were true. But not too long ago, just on this tiny news and commentary site, I remember at least eight posters who were all on board with requiring the Christian ministers who ran The Hitching Post in Idaho to perform gay weddings, free exercise AND free speech notwithstanding. I’m afraid that too many people today either don’t know what their 1st Amendment freedoms are or no longer care — because of poor quality education and the inertia and apathy engendered by living too long in an overfed and superficial modern society.

  20. Except the story was fake. You forgot to mention that part.

    The state already carved out exceptions for wedding chapels. There was no danger of lawsuit or running afoul of state laws. Plus the Hitching Post did not perform religious weddings. It was non-sectarian and non-denominational. It was not a church or any other form of house of worship. There was no religious expression to be had in their services. It was handling officiate services as a subcontractor for the state.

    The only people who have to care about churches being forced to perform gay weddings are the congregations of said churches. The ones who have the actual power to do so. Government can’t nor is seeking to force churches to do so.

  21. @ BB

    I don’t think you understand one word of what I wrote. Or may be you did, and you have twisted it to your own purposes.

    I want them not to lie. I want them to stand for their principles, not hide them. I want them to come right out and say who they will serve, who they will not serve, and why.

    We should be in total agreement here.

  22. I was going to write what Larry wrote. He was accurate. you are not.

    Hitching post was a BUSINESS, not a ministry. They offered both Christian and non-religious ceremonies to prospective clients. And all of their whining was done BEFORE marriage equality came to Idaho.

    This whole thing was cooked up by the ADF lawyers to create a victim when there wasn’t one.

    for those who are interested in the facts of the matter, rather than the spin put on it by the antigay, I would suggest going to goodasyou.org and searching for “hitching post.”

  23. Of course it was fake. But no matter. You were the loudest of the eight wanting to force participation.

    Forget free exercise (not that you care about it anyway). Ever hear of “compelled speech?” It’s a violation of freedom of speech under the 1st Amendment and you wrote probably a hundred posts howling for it. Nor were you the only one.

    So yes, I’m a bit skeptical of the alleged benignance of LGBT activists — particularly when they were the ones who previously assured everybody that same-sex marriage would never affect anyone else’s lives AT ALL.

  24. I was still right. They weren’t a church or even a registered religious organization. They would have had to perform the service anyway. Not a free speech issue as much as an open commerce one.

    Your failure to mention the story was fake tells us all how much you are willing to bend facts to fit an argument. You got caught and are trying to salve your ego. What else is new.

  25. What facts did I bend? You, thinking the case was factual, were all prepared to violate a minister’s right to free exercise of religion AND freedom of speech and wrote post after post caterwauling for it. 100% fact. And it tells us everything we need to know about you and everyone else who agreed with you. You’re exactly the kind of “ally” that the very reasonable author is disclaiming.

    “You got caught and are trying to salve your ego.”

    LOL! Larry, you’ve been trying to “catch” me for months and you end up embarrassing yourself every single time. I’m not a liar and I don’t write about stuff that I don’t know about–therefore, in the words of Norman Lear, “A will never catch up with B.” Sorry.

  26. Exactly right Albert. The ad hominem attacks are especially revealing, and show who the real bigots are. We don’t insist they accept our religious tenets of faith, but they insist we accept their redefining of marriage or else. I always believed that when people have to result to personal attacks when making their case, that’s proof they know they have no case to make in the first place. Anyone who’s familiar with the gay community, as i am, knows it’s utterly laughable for them to tell the world they believe in marriage. The men, especially are little more than rabbits when it comes to sex. I’d respect them more if they’d just be up front about what they want. The complete destruction of all former heterosexual notions of morality, sex, gender and marriage. It’s the day of the Judges where everyone does what is right in their own eyes. Meanwhile, 1 in 5 gay men have HIV, and sodomy is still an extremely dangerous sexual act, yet we’re ones who deny science.

  27. Gary, where is the ad hominem? I was flat out insulting people like yourself as anti-democratic hateful types.

    Especially given your open support of discrimination in commerce under the color of law. There is a difference. I am denigrating the views you express, not just your alleged religious belief.

    “Anyone who’s familiar with the gay community, as i am”

    Please do tell where your “familiarity” comes from. You have me curious now.

  28. Well said, Shawnie.

    In other words:

    “If you like your religious freedom, you can keep your religious freedom. “

  29. Does the First Amendment’s Freedom of the Press clause pertain also to big multi-million dollar news businesses, who transport their opinionated bigotry across state lines? Or does freedom of the press only pertain to the Town Crier’s of an earlier age? My thoughts on the First Amendment, are that if they can interpret the Free Exercise of Religion clause to only pertain to individuals and very small businesses, then the Freedom of the Press clause is restricted in the same way, as they are all part of the same amendment to the Constitution.

  30. “Second, the workaround must be sincere. If service providers are found to be selectively enforcing their policy, they should be held liable, just like any other fraudulent business. The policy must not be a smokescreen for the same old discrimination. If a business is promising exclusivity, they must deliver it.”

    I agree on this, and I believe most not overfeeding in areas of belief/rights are honest. But … the proverbial but … inside every ‘letter’ is a sealed envelope containing additional quarry.

  31. See my comment on April 7, 2015 at 1:26 pm
    The first amendment includes big newspapers and has been applied to them. Albert is flat out wrong. You are even sillier for repeating his nonsense in light of clear information to the contrary in this discussion.

    Freedom of religion has never been held to be for corporations under the 1st Amendment. It was the vagaries of the RFRA and an extremely limited supreme court case of zero precedential value which made such ridiculous pronouncements. Hobby Lobby was written in such a way that it couldn’t be invoked for anyone but Hobby Lobby.

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