In Focus: Religious freedom is a poor excuse for discrimination

The case of Arlene’s Flowers has brought an interesting question to the forefront in the Tri-Cities and across numerous locales throughout our nation: Does freedom of religion entail the right to refuse services to certain people?

The Establishment Clause in the 1st Amendment of our Constitution suggests that this is the wrong country for such religious-based action. Many of the Founding Fathers were not particularly Christian, and the Constitution they established is actually more remarkable in being secular than religious. America is a democratic republic, not a theocracy. Our highest laws are the federal and state constitutions, which generally prohibit discrimination. Hence, the discriminatory action of Arlene’s Flowers, as the judge correctly ruled, was illegal.

If, nonetheless, one wants to pursue the matter on theological grounds, then how do we cope with other problematic Biblical issues that so often are conveniently ignored, such as slavery? In Leviticus, the Bible legitimizes slave ownership, so long as the slave is not a person of Israel. Therefore, if an individual today decides to capture a gentile (non-Jew) and keep that person as a slave, are we to rule that it would be suppression of the captor’s religious beliefs to outlaw the practice? Or if someone wants to sell their disobedient daughter into slavery, as the Bible permits, should we allow the practice so as to not violate the person’s free exercise of their religion?

And what of people who differ from the racial traits of the ancient Hebrew? Genesis starts with Adam and Eve who beget Cain and Abel. Then other people appear without an explanation of their origins. This gap, particularly as it applies to people of color, has left believers for millennium to speculate about the creation of unexplained peoples, often developing tales that are rather pejorative toward them. Hence, are white store owners to be allowed, once again, to discriminate against nonwhites because they believe them to be inferior?

Such racial discrimination could actually slice much farther if we examine this issue with more precision. The ancient Hebrews of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel were not racially identical to Europeans, who are quintessentially “white.” Jesus Christ, himself, didn’t actually look like he is typically portrayed (a 6’2” fair-skinned Scandinavian). Instead, he most likely stood about 5’4” and had the appearance of a modern-day Palestinian. Should a Jewish shopkeeper of true Middle Eastern origin, therefore, be allowed to discriminate against all others, including people of European descent, because the shopkeeper views them as mutants produced by a Biblical curse?

If we’re to allow business owners to select whom they’ll serve based on the owner’s particular religious beliefs, the amount of discrimination would be both immoral and socially unmanageable. The “practice” of one’s religion, in these cases, would not just be a private matter, but instead have negative impacts on numerous others.

Based on the Bible, men could even deny services to women because women are generally portrayed as second-class citizens. And, finally, a non-Christian store owner could potentially deny services to Christians because to him or her, Christians are infidels.

In reality, people generally pick and choose which Biblical ethics they will follow. We ignore most parts of the Bible because it’s an ancient document that applies poorly to today’s world. What if, for illustration, we were to start actually stoning to death, as the Bible prescribes, people guilty of adultery? We’d have blood-soaked stonings every day!

The more one thinks about this issue, the more the problems become associated with allowing religious-based discrimination in the public domain. For illustration, are store workers going to ask people their sexual orientation prior to rendering service? Gentlemen, imagine yourself going into a floral shop to buy Mother’s Day roses and having the clerk ask if you’re gay. And, ladies, envision taking your woman friend with you to help buy furniture and having the sales associate inquire into the nature of your relationship. It’s hard to think of anything more inappropriate and intrusive. Our sexual orientation should be our own business, not the clerk’s nor the state’s.

A further fallacy of the frequently stated argument, “The owner of Arlene’s Flowers shouldn’t be made to violate her religious beliefs” is that she isn’t actually being mandated to do so, given nobody forced her to open a business serving the public.

Permitting store owners to discriminate against people based on whether those customers live up to his or her religious beliefs would be a huge step backward in the progression of human rights.