I saw this amusing video where confused college students willingly walk into proud and unaware declarations of hypocrisy concerning religious freedom. Videos like this prove little about the actual merits of an argument because it’s not hard to find someone who supports a position while simultaneously not having thought it through very deeply. It could be that there are thoughtful people with great reasons for holding a viewpoint, but you can be sure the producer of the video isn’t going to put them in the montage for one reason; they aren’t funny.
Nonetheless, you should watch this video because it’s funny and it supports my point of view.
I was talking through these issues with a gay friend of mine who agrees with me that florists, photographers and bakers shouldn’t be required to provide services for events that conflict with their religious values.
But I knew the issue well enough to know that we’d soon bump into a disagreement about how to form a law around such issues. I knew we wouldn’t reach agreement because I can’t decide for myself where a line should be drawn. For my friend, the location of the line was easy; don’t draw one at all.
He was of the opinion that no one should be forced to serve him at all if they objected to his homosexuality. Not only should the baker be free to withhold his services to make a gay-themed cake for a wedding, the baker should also be free to refuse to sell a cookie to two men who walked in his store holding hands. His position is appealing because it appeals to the ethic of autonomy with the side benefit of being 100% consistent across all concerns. He’s of the opinion that free market forces would easily resolve the situation by driving the baker out of business.
Because it’s nearly impossible to define what is and what is not “religious” I have a concern that the principle can be abused and used to justify any sort of bigotry. I believe there is also an ethic of equality that also needs to be respected. The free market might cause ghettos to arise where some parts of Mississippi refused to serve Africans entirely and some parts of California refused to serve Mormons entirely (because in Northern California Christianity is already borderline illegal).
When a baker or a florist might be exercising a certain measure of artistic expression in performing their services for a wedding, I think their consciences should be respected even if I don’t have their same concerns. But when they are offering a tangible product in an open storefront the situation is different. For lack of a more sophisticated way of saying it: individuals should be allowed to choose where they take their business but shouldn’t be allowed to refuse who may enter their business (some non-legally protected exceptions apply).
The problem I have with my proposal is that I immediately encounter an exception. There are some forms of Judaism and Islam that prohibit men from touching women. I don’t think a Muslim barber should be required to cut the hair of a woman. A lawsuit surrounding this issue was filed in Toronto in 2012 and settled civilly and privately. But eventually I feel as this sort of case will find its way into our public legal hearings. If you want to assume a barber is providing a creative service perhaps consider the situation for a Muslim doctor.
Our current value of equality will continue to confront or value of autonomy. How they will be sorted out will represent injustice in some regard. Someone isn’t going to get their way and it will feel unfair. How do we celebrate someone’s personal freedom when it denies us equality? How do we celebrate equality when it binds our own conscience?
Lord help us.