Religious groups seek exemption from anti-discrimination order



President Obama has not yet signed his executive order forbidding government contractors from discriminating against homosexuals, but a group of “major faith organizations” has asked to be exempted from it. Citing Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, representatives of Catholic Charities USA, Saddleback Ministries and the National Association of Evangelicals asked that the president provide a “robust religious exemption” from the federal government’s plan to stop doing business with homophobes. In a letter organized by Michael Wear, the former director of faith outreach during Obama’s 2012 campaign, the groups write, “we are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need.” That whooshing you hear is the sound of open floodgates.

The argument that equal treatment of homosexuals somehow infringes on these groups’ right to exercise their religion is no less intellectually dishonest for being familiar. To claim that the federal government is planning to protect the rights of gays and lesbians “at the expense of faith communities” is to draw a false equivalence between what those two communities want. Gay people want the right to work. The gay agenda, in this case, does not involve religious people, whereas the religious agenda focuses narrowly on gays. The right these Christian groups want is to infringe on the rights of somebody else.

A better equivalence would be if the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company—which, in this hypothetical, has contracted with the feds to supply Chubby Hubby to NSA analysts—refused to hire Christians, claiming it was their right as homosexuals. If that happened, Fox News would declare discrimination with a quickness.

The thing about a right is that you shouldn’t need someone else to exercise it on. My right to free speech, for example, is not my right to make you listen to me. Similarly, my right to bear arms ends when I bring a gun to your house. Christians have the right to believe what they want about gay people, and they have the right to assemble and talk about how the high school choir teacher is going to hell. But they don’t have the right to fire him, or to refuse to pay property taxes in support of the high school that employs him, because that’s not how things work in a community of individual rights—also known as a modern nation.

At least it shouldn’t work that way. In our present modern nation, religious claims are somehow weightier than arguments from shared values. For example, the federal government clearly cares about gay rights. The judiciary keeps striking down restrictions on gay marriage; the executive branch, in this proposed order if in no other way, wants to end homophobic discrimination. We—the American we, the democratic we—want gay people to be treated well, or at least equally to straight people.  Yet the authority of our democratically supported government is somehow subordinate to the authority of religious claims.

That’s a problem, because you can make a religious argument for pretty much anything. In Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, for example, a South Carolina restauranteur argued that he should be exempted from the Civil Rights Act, since his religion demanded that he discriminate against black people.

That claim seems absurd now. Racial discrimination is hardly a central tenet of Christian faith. Plenty of devout Christians fought against segregation, just as plenty of other devout Christians defended it. In the end, this conflict was decided not on the basis of whose beliefs were more sincerely felt, or what Christianity really taught, but by our shared values. That was something we could adjudicate based on persuasion and the processes of government, rather than a logjam of unimpeachable claims that forced us to let anyone who complained exempt himself from federal law.

Freedom of religion is not freedom from the democratic project. I have the right to believe and worship as I please, but I don’t have the right to ignore any development in American government that makes me unhappy. I can argue against it, of course. I can buttonhole people at parties and in the public square and try to convince them to change federal laws. But I cannot declare myself exempt from them, simply because I believe something without evidence that I refuse to reconsider.

That’s the thing about religious claims: unlike virtually every other kind of statement, they’re not something we can argue about or gradually come to a consensus upon. They do not appeal to the authority of logic or shared values. They are unsupported claims, pretty much by definition, and that makes them a poor foundation for public policy. The federal government should stop giving in to these kinds of assertions, lest the American experiment become an exercise in refusal.

Combat! blog is free. Why not share it?
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Reddit


  1. My…wife’s employer has signed on to this request. My lady wife. Of me, who am a lady too. Huh.

  2. (didn’t seem to post, but sense I went through the trouble to write it I’ll venture one more try.)

    My argument has always leaned towards community and states rights.
    I think ghey’s should be able to get married and trollop down mainstreet with no clothes on in their own communities.

    It would be as rude to go in a ghey friendly community and start pushing your own opinion that offends the majority of that community as it would for ghey’s to push their values on everyone in alabama were they offend the majority of that community.

    But ghey “rights” is not the liberals agenda, the liberals agenda is expansion for their own power and profit.
    Bullying for more territory to push the arbitrary fee’s, fines and taxes that they get rich off of.
    And the gheys and the race-carders are only patsies to it.

  3. Putting aside what the phrase “race-carders” might mean, I think you’re missing something important about rights. They’re not dependent on majority opinion; in many cases, they’re constructed in opposition to it. The point of a right is that it marks the point where the rule of the majority stops. Democracy can do whatever, provided it does not infring on individuals’ rights. What constitutes infringement is up for debate, of course — that’s the essence of the libertarian critique. But I don’t think the idea of community rights makes a lot of sense, since rights are by definition a check on the power of communities over individuals.

  4. “The point of a right is that it marks the point where the rule of the majority stops. ”

    By “race-carders” I mean people who use their race as an excuse.
    I’m a firm believer in equality and no INHERENT GENETIC EXCUSE.
    (Its social, and by design of social engineers.)
    I dont see race.

    I agree with you.
    But there is also an argument that a minority of people shouldn’t be allowed to dictate the rules of the majority.

    Thats smacks of elitism.
    Maybe even Nazi-ism.

  5. But I agree, that proper safeguards to protect the minority may have saved the Jews in Germany.

    Its already not legal to assault, discriminate or put Ghey people in ovens.

    Discrimination is not the same as choosing not to hire you or firing you because you insist on being a nuisance to the people around you for your own ego. Thats just called avoiding an asshole and it happens all the time for good reason.

    Gheys getting married is not an issue of their protection.

Leave a Comment.