A Note on Religious Freedom

November 23, 2016


There has been a great deal of talk recently of religious freedom in the context of businesses and in public affairs.  Some argue that their religious beliefs need to be given accommodation in the public sphere.  Others argue that such accommodation amounts to religious justification for discrimination.  In what follows, I am trying to work that out.  This is a first stab at a position on this topic, not a last word, but I think it is a pretty good first stab.


Here's what the constitution says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;


This means that Congress, nor any other government entity can take an action to establish a religion or to favor one religion over another (thus why the "clergy" housing allowance also applies to rabbis and other religious leaders - one religion is not being favored over another).  It means that the government can't tell a church how often to celebrate communion, what morals and ethics to teach from the pulpit, and who to include or exclude from membership.   It means that the government can't tell you not to wear a cross or a clerical collar or a hijab.  It means that the government can't tell you which religion to belong to or that you must belong to one at all.


It does not mean that you are not expecting to behave in normal, respectful ways in normal. respectful society.  You can't not serve African-Americans in your restaurant even if your church (or your country club) would not admit an African-American member.  You can't not provide housing for a homosexual couple because your mosque would not marry a homosexual couple. You can't not sell books to a Lutheran preacher because your Roman Catholic Church does not allow clergy to marry.  


You are free to belong to a religious group that makes all sorts of rules, but you can't impose those rules on the rest of us nor expect us to act differently to help you keep your religious nose clean.  That is on you, not me.  Cloistered life may be necessary to meet your religious rules, but don't expect me to build the cloister around you.


In short, my religious freedom includes a right to worship as I choose and follow beliefs and morals to which I ascribe. My religious freedom does not allow me to coerce you to act or not act, to be near or far from me, or to do business or not with me.  My religious freedom does not take away the rest of your freedoms.

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Photos by Leer Photography