Right to Religious Freedom? Yes. Right to run a business according to your faith? Not necessarily.

Our nation’s commitment to the free exercise of religion is unwavering. Religious organizations are tax-exempt, and gifts to religious organizations are tax deductible, lest the tax code be seen as a burden to the free exercise of religion. Americans are free to assemble with people of like faith and to practice their faith in community without fear of government intervention. People can generally dress, worship, eat, practice morality, and otherwise structure their lives in accordance to their faith. This is a great strength of our nation.

And even the Armed Forces support a Chaplain Corps that provides service members with Chaplains who perform religious services and provide for the free expression of religion of service members. Chaplains also advocate for religious accommodation – to include provisions for a religiously-defined diet, the wearing of particular religiously-prescribed clothing, religiously-defined grooming standards, required head coverings, etc. – within the highly structured and uniform environment of the military.

We are a nation committed to the free exercise of religion.

In this spirit, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed in the 1990s to guarantee the free exercise of religion by members of minority religions whose religious free exercise was unintentionally burdened by laws that otherwise had nothing to do with religion. So committed to the free exercise of religion are we that we wanted to make sure that minority religions could practice their faith without other laws would hinder their religious practice.

Yet, just over a week ago, my state passed a law that was designed to protect members of the majority religion (Christianity) from public policies they perceive as burdening their religious beliefs. What began as a law to protect the free exercise of religion from unintentionally burdensome laws has become, in its most recent state-law versions, a law to allow corporations to seek exemption from public accommodation laws on religious freedom grounds.

Of course, we’re talking about businesses owned by Christians who feel it a violation of their religion to provide services to gays and lesbians, particularly to gays and lesbians seeking same-gender wedding services (flowers, cakes, photography, etc.). They believe that providing such services would be an endorsement of a marriage that goes against their religious beliefs.

Yet, there is a big difference between ensuring the free exercise of one’s faith, and guaranteeing that a religious person who owns a business can operate that business with religious exemptions to key public policy commitments of our nation – including that of public accommodation (ie, businesses must serve all customers who walk through the door).

To this degree, the Armed Forces offers a helpful lesson.

The Armed Forces provides a Chaplain Corps to provide for the free expression of religion, and to perform religious services (worship, prayer, sacraments, rites, counseling, etc.) for service members. Yet, this commitment to religious expression within the military does not – cannot – accommodate a service member whose religion forbids the carrying of arms or engaging in combat. Such a citizen simply cannot be a soldier.

Ultimately, there is no constitutional right to join the Armed Forces.

Perhaps this is instructive for Christian business owners who seek exemption from serving certain customers. While there is a constitutional right to practice religion, and while free enterprise is central to our nation’s culture and economy, there is no Constitutional right to be a baker, or a photographer, or a florist. If conducting business according to the laws of our nation causes the business owner to violate their faith, perhaps the business owner need to find a new line of work.

The pacifist Christian cannot expect to keep a job in the military without violating her faith.

The orthodox Jew cannot expect to work in a pork processing plant without violating his faith.

Likewise, the conservative Christian perhaps should not expect to work in the wedding industry, if such work might require her to serve couples that offend their religious sensibilities.

The life of faith requires people of faith to make hard decisions. Will we tithe, spending less on consumer goods, house, or sports for our children? How will we raise our children? What choices will we make for engaging the culture – do we participate in civic holiday celebrations or not? What happens when religious practice conflicts with school or work schedules (an issue of particular concern for minority religions)? For some Christians, perhaps, one new hard decision they face is to find a line of work that would not put them in a position to violate core tenets of their faith.

I do not share the concern about same-gender marriage that some conservative Christians have. Yet, as someone committed to the free exercise of religion, I support the right of people to believe what they feel they are compelled to believe by their faith. Yet, their right to believe does not translate into a right to conduct a business in a way that sidesteps certain laws and commitments of our nation.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

4 thoughts on “Right to Religious Freedom? Yes. Right to run a business according to your faith? Not necessarily.

  1. “I do not share the concern about same gender marriage that some conservative Christians have.” Well….Pastor…in your own words you have indicated you also do not share the same concern as declared in the Bible, as God’s word affirms, as the Apostolic church through the ages has taught regarding the sanctity of marriage and it’s rightful place for a man and a woman. Did not God create man with the anatomical structure and woman with the specified physical body for sexual activity and procreation? Did he create man to perform perverse sexual conduct with other men as an option? Where do you find this in scripture, or is it unnecessary to go to the word of God when one is tied to ELCA’s theology mixed with secular humanistic immorality? Do you see your problem? Your problem is not with ” conservative ” Christians, but with what your Lord and Savior has said about the propriety of the male and female relationship. One could refer you to numerous verses regarding sexual sin, fornication, etc in both the Old and New Testaments, but your awareness of these verses would be largely ignored, overlooked, or dismissed. Why? It is simple. The ELCA is too progressive to accept the truth of the word of God, even plain and uncomplicated teachings against sexual sins, and same gender marriages will likely be done in your congregations in the near future. If in your heart you believe God in His righteousness can bless such unions, than it goes without saying that spiritual blindness will destroy the witness of your faith and render your church an apostate and pagan form of Christianity.

    1. Furthermore, a Christian business owner of a florist, a caterer, a wedding photographer should follow conscience and faith refer a homosexual couple to another business instead of being forced to be part of a gay wedding ceremony.

  2. John Flanagan is completely correct. Under no circumstances should a Christian be compelled to act against conscience and participate in behavior the Bible calls sin. We have enough trouble avoiding sin anyway, and never really succeed. To forbid Christians, or anyone else, to ignore conscience shaped by deeply held religious convictions based on the most fundamental teachings of the Bible, is wrong. It is the road to tyranny. In ancient Babylon, the king set up a pillar and told everyone to worship it on pain of death. I so admire the three Hebrews who refused to capitulate. In ancient Rome, empereors expected to be worshiped. While citizens smirked at the idea those emperorors were gods, they had no use for any god, and it was just a ritual they observed tongue in cheek. Christians practice biblical morality as submission to the will of God. If they must suffer for it, they will. Your statements are a disgrace to the teachings of the Bible and to historical Lutheranism.

  3. Your analysis appears based on a premise that citizens in this country derive “rights” from the government, and thus you argue that it’s perfectly understandable why the actions of some individuals would be unreasonable and would reasonably be subject to restriction. The premise underlying your argument is, however, legally incorrect because the issue isn’t one dealing with actions enforceable under civil law but by governmental actions relating to the federal constitution. Governments in this country derive their powers from the people and our governments are thus governments with limited powers, as clearly illustrated in the restrictive language of the First Amendment itself (“Congress shall pass no law…”)–hardly a grant of some right from a superior entity to its citizenry but a clear restriction on the exercise of governmental authority to its citizenry, who were understood to possess their basic rights from Divine Providence. Thus, state religious freedom statues are desirable to make it clear that before governmental power comes to play with regard to restriction of the exercise of religious belief, there will be a determination that such restriction is based upon a sufficient need for the exercise of the power sought to be exercised.

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