Tuesday, April 7, 2015

On the Indiana Religious Freedom Law

Last week the news cycle was absolutely dominated by the state of Indiana's newly passed Religious Freedom Act. There's been panic on both sides of the argument based on whatever news story their source of choice (which generally complies with their personal leaning, whether right or left) instead of -- and I know this is crazy -- actually reading the law.

Before I continue, I'm just going to leave this link here:

                             Here it is: The text of Indiana's ‘religious freedom’ law

Please don't continue until you take the necessary five minutes (at most) to read the law.

Did you read it? No? GO BACK AND READ IT.

Do it now.

I'm serious.

OK did you FINALLY read the law?

Good. Now we can continue.

Like many of you, I've spent the past few week in deep discussion with friends on both sides of the issue. Some see it as a necessary protection for us Christians and other people of faith.  On the other side, I've heard more than a few people attempt to compare this law to Jim Crow in the segregated South.  A quick aside about that:

No person has been denied service in general from any business because of their sexual orientation, nor does the law allow that to occur. Rather it presents a scenario where a business can decline to participate in an event (in this case the wedding ceremony of two same-sex partners) because of a moral objection -- which still to me seems like a reasonable choice that a person should have the right to make without being forced to either a) participate against their morals or b) close down their business.

I'm going to give an example which is admittedly a far more extreme scenario -- chosen specifically because I want to craft a scenario that all reasonable people, liberal and conservative, can understand how they personally would react -- to help people understand the thinking of someone refusing an event (so please skip the comments calling me a bigot for comparing homosexuals to Nazis):

A photographer being asked to be the photographer at the big Ku Klux Klan rally or a baker being asked to bake a Swastika shaped cake for the Illinois Nazi Bridge Rally. (Look that last part up kids so you can see how clever I am.) If I were that photographer I would absolutely, unequivocally say no to photographing the Klan rally and if I was that baker I would decline to bake the Swastika cake because I am morally opposed to the actions of both the Ku Klux Klan and the National Socialist Party (that's "Nazis" for those of you from Palm Beach County, FL).

Frankly nobody would call me a bigot for that -- mostly because it's acceptable to 99.9% of Americans (at least) to find the Klan and the Nazis immoral. Now if Joe the Nazi or Bubba the Klansman want to come in and buy a birthday cake or a dozen chocolate chip cookies from my display case, I'd sell them those things without question because their money is green and I'm in business to sell those things. What's the difference? One is turning participation in a specific event. The other is refusing to sell to a person because of who they are.

Nobody would get mad if I refused those jobs. But if you really boil it down, it's not much different than saying no to being the baker, florist or photographer at a same-sex wedding. It's an event. It involves some level a direct participation in an event. One should be allowed to say no to being part of an event if they morally feel they should.

More importantly, when you read the law, (you know, that link above that you promised to read?) it states that a business may use religious objects as a defense in court. It doesn't say it will be accepted.  I liken it to a claim of self defense when someone is on trail for murder. It can be argued, but you have to prove it for it to be accepted.  The reality is that people may initially try to use this law as an excuse to discriminate -- but ultimately the certain high level of failure of this defense will ensure that this claim is used only when appropriate.

Thankfully I'm lucky that I have a couple of politically informed friends who are able to discuss such issues in a rhetorical manner in an effort to discover the truth behind the talking points. A few legitimate issues did come up, such as:
  • What is the line between refusing an event and refusing to serve a person?
  • What is an event? Is a gay couple going out to dinner an event?
  • Can we make an accommodation only for small Mom and Pop businesses?
  • What about larger businesses? Can a major grocery store chain refuse to be the wedding cake provider because the CEO or some member of the board has a moral objection?
  • Is there room for reasonable accommodations to be made for individual employees at a major business like we offer for workers with disabilities, so that the consumer can still purchase the item/service they desire but the individual with the objection can be excused from participation?
  • What are the limits of these accommodations? Can a devout Catholic refuse to complete a customer's check out at the grocery store because he is a box of condoms? Can a devout Vegan refuse to complete checkout of a customer because he has a box of steaks?
  • How to we ensure these protections for businesses aren't allowed to turn into legitimate segregation?
With these in mind, I suggest the following proposal for a religious liberty protection law.

1. It is prohibited for any business, regardless of size, that is open to the general public, to refuse sale to any person normal day to day service or product within the confines of the business' location based on their race, age, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, religion, etc.
A. Day to day business is defined as any normal service or product available at that store as a stock item, menu item, or standardized service offered within the location.

B. Open to the general public is defined as a business available to all people, or all people who have attained a certain age (such as bars and casinos), or to all people who meet a singular criteria of membership as set out by said organization (such as an athletic club for women or a fraternal organization for men).

C. Non-profit organizations, certified religious organizations, and private membership organizations such as fraternal organizations are exempted from the above, regardless of size, as required by law.

2. It is prohibited for any business with ten or more employees to refuse any standard off-site service (such as catering, decoration, etc.) that they would otherwise provide to any person or group based on their race, age, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, etc.

3. Businesses under ten employees may refuse to take part in an off-site event (such as catering, decorating, etc.) based on personal objections to such event including but not limited to religious beliefs, political beliefs, or secular moral beliefs.

4. Businesses with under ten employees may refuse to incorporate certain symbols, images, uniforms, etc. into the design of products or on images that they are contracted to create -- but may not refuse to serve said person because of the customer's race, age, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, religion, etc.

A. For example, a photographer may refuse to photograph an individual wearing their Ku Klux Klan robe and a baker may refuse to put a Swastika on a cake. However, the same photographer may not refuse to photograph said individual wearing clothing other than the objectionable uniform. Likewise, the baker must still bake the customer a cake that lacks the objectionable symbol.

5. Businesses with ten or more employees shall, to the best of their ability, provide reasonable accommodations to individual employees on a case by case basis to employees who offer personal objections to a task or assignment.

A. Reasonable accommodations is defined by accommodating the employee in a way that does not interfere with the moment to moment service received by customers. For example, a reasonable accommodation would be a Vegan employee requesting to not be station at the grocery store deli counter and instead requesting to be stationed elsewhere.  An unreasonable request would be a Vegan cashier refusing to cash out a customer purchasing steaks and requesting that a new cashier be called in to complete that customer's order.

Nice and simple. Takes up less than one page. Replete with reasonable compromises and accommodations to protect the rights of EVERYONE, not just select interest groups. Nobody is getting everything they want -- but everyone's rights are protected.

Nobody is stopping that same-sex couple from having a wedding with a cake and a photographer -- but Mom and Pop bakery (owned by people of faith) can have the right to not be a part of that wedding. That said, the aforementioned same-sex couple is still welcome to come into the bakery and purchase some delicious goodies on display in the case and order their friend's birthday cake without being refused service. 

Joe the Vegan and Fred the Hindu can both ask not to be stationed in the deli at the big supermarket chain while customers can order their honey roasted ham and smoked turkey breast without any delay and also have their purchase checked out by a cashier as normal.

Yes, somebody may still find their feelings are hurt, and in short, that's too bad. The Constitution exists to protect the rights of all -- not the feelings of all -- even if the person exercises said rights to be politically incorrect.

As a country, we must be sure to tread the oh-so thin line between personal freedom and discrimination. I believe the above law does just that.

What do you think? Do we need to add a detail or two? Did something get missed? Discussion is always welcome in the comments or on the Biblical Conservatism Facebook Page.

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