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.

Same Gender Marriage & The State: A Perspective Rooted in Freedom & Faith

2014-01-13 09.26.10

Yesterday I stood with hundreds of fellow citizens outside the doors of the Indiana State House Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing on HJR-3 – a proposed state constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. I was part of the large crowd opposing this unnecessary, anti-family proposal.

As a person of faith and as an American, I oppose HJR-3 for many reasons. Here are just a few.

  • Constitutions ensure, rather than deny, certain rights and protections.
    This proposed constitutional amendment would prohibit a class of citizens from eventually accessing a body of legal protections available to the general population, and would limit the ability of future legislatures and courts to provide that class of citizens with those legal protections.
  • Democracies don’t vote on legal protections for minority groups. All are equal under the law.
    If passed by the legislature, HJR-3 would lead to a general election vote on whether a minority group should ever have the chance to access certain legal protections that are enjoyed by the general population. In this case the minority group is gay and lesbian citizens. Which minority group will be next to have their legal protections determined by the majority’s vote?
  • Marriage doesn’t need protection. People do.
    Supporters of HJR-3 speak of protecting or defending marriage. Marriage is an institution that has changed dramatically over the centuries – socially, religiously, and legally. The state has authority to address only one understanding of marriage – civil marriage. Civil marriage, and the rights, responsibilities, and protections it affords, is quite popular and doing just fine. Civil marriage doesn’t need any so-called “protection.”
    What does need protection is the class of citizens whose families are endangered because they cannot enjoy the rights, responsibilities, and protections of civil marriage. Let’s protect people.
  • Gay and lesbian soldiers and veterans deserve legal protections.
    I am applying to join the Indiana National Guard as a chaplain. I am concerned that soldiers who serve our state and nation could be denied legal protections if this constitutional amendment passes. People who offer their lives in service to others don’t deserve this kind of legal discrimination. Neither do their families.
  • 2014-01-13 09.58.37John 10:10 – “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
    My faith informs the way I live and the way I look at public policy. How can my neighbors enjoy the abundant life that our Lord desires for all people if they are denied basic legal protections for their families? We’re talking about inheritance, health benefits, property ownership, joint bank accounts, medical decisions, and so forth. An abundant life is made much harder by legal and constitutional restrictions on a class of people.
  • The Fifth Commandment – “Thou Shalt Not Kill”
    In explaining the fifth commandment in his Small Catechism, Martin Luther writes that not only are we not to kill, but we are to do everything we can to improve the wellbeing of our neighbor. Limiting access to legal protections harms the wellbeing of our neighbor and is a violation of the fifth commandment.
  • Micah 6:8 – “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
    Scripture is chock full of calls to justice – to protect the orphan and widow, to extend care to the outcast and marginalized, to welcome the outsider, to lift up the lowly, to visit the imprisoned, to feed the hungry, and so forth. HJR-3 is exclusionary and runs counter to the Scriptural call to extend care and protections for all people.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:5 – “Love does not insist on its own way.”
    HJR-3 insists on its own way – a narrow definition of civil marriage that would restrict legal protections and rights for a minority class of citizens. Why not have a more inclusive approach to the rights and protections of civil marriage? Even if HJR-3 is defeated, people who hold a certain “traditional” view of marriage will still be able to maintain their traditions and teachings. Even if same gender civil marriage eventually comes to the Hoosier state, “traditional” marriage will continue to be legal.

I enthusiastically endorse freedom of religion, and I respect those whose faith lead them to hold other views of marriage and sexuality. My objection here is not about those who hold a so-called “traditional” view of marriage.  My objection is that HJR-3 would deny a class of citizens from one day enjoying certain legal protections and benefits.

We do not need to deny our fellow citizens access to legal protections. We do not need HJR-3.