Personally, I am a live and let live kind of guy. As long as you are not interfering with my pursuit of happiness, I am more than happy to let you enjoy yours. But, that isn’t enough for many. There are far too many folk in this country who feel like they have the right to tell you how to live and what to believe.
For instance, I don’t get what Vegans objection is to meat. It seems blazingly stupid to me, but I am more than willing to respect their right to believe and eat whatever they want. But, that kind of tolerance isn’t enough for many militant Vegans. They are adamant that everyone cease the consumption of dead animals. If they are ever successful in getting laws enacted to get meat out of our diets, I’ll have a problem with that and I’ll fight to make sure that their beliefs don’t prevent me from exercising mine. This doesn’t make me a bad person or an animal hater. It just makes me someone who enjoys eating meat and thinks it is necessary to live a healthy and happy life. You can say I am wrong. And many Vegans would. But, that’s what I believe. Fortunately, I live in a country where I can exercise my right to eat as I choose. Or do I?
For far too many religious people in this country, the right to live their lives in accordance with their beliefs is being actively threatened. The issue of gay marriage has caused a crisis of conscience for some who are involved in business of weddings. They are being given a choice to either violate their deeply held beliefs by participating in gay nuptials or forced to face harsh legal consequences for discriminating against homosexuals. The long arm of the law is being used to compel compliance with cultural diktat.
This violation of personal liberty is being justified on the basis that once a business opens to the public they lose the right to pick and choose to whom they will serve. Many on the left try to make the case that refusing to bake a cake for a wedding is akin to not serving African-Americans at lunch counters. But, actually, that is a flawed analogy. Very few of the individuals who have refused to perform services or sell things have declined to do so based on the race, religion or sexual orientation of their customers. In fact, in many of these cases, the bakers, florists and pizzeria owners were more than happy to serve openly gay customers for years. What they refused to do was participate in an act that went against their conscience.
To choose not to participate in the aiding and abetting of an act performed by others is far different than declining service based upon who or what someone is. In this case, it is that individuals are being forced to validate and participate in the ceremony and celebration of a marriage. It is the act that is the problem, not the individual race, religion or sexual orientation of those who choose to engage in it. This is the key distinction.
Let’s look at this from a perspective divorced from the divisiveness and acrimony of the gay marriage debate. According to all nine justices of the Supreme Court, no law can prevent a religion from performing animal sacrifice. Personally, I think such sacrifice is horrible, grotesque, shameful and wrong, but the ultimate arbiter of our Constitution says is that it is the law of the land. Sound familiar?
Suppose I happen to be of a sect that legally sacrifices animals as part of my religious ceremony. And, supposing, in order to make a point and an example, I go and find the most vegetarian, animal rights photographer I can locate to shoot pictures of me performing these heinous acts. These photos will be intended for distribution to my parishioners and for the purpose of proselytizing and propagandizing my religious beliefs to the public at large via the internet.
I think we can agree that I am being a bit of an jerk to ask this photographer to do something that I know they will find deeply offensive. However, according to the logic used against florists who refuse to participate in certain weddings, I am still well within my rights to demand that the Vegan photographer shoot pictures of my sacrifice. After all, they are open for business to the public are they not? Were they were to refuse to perform their service for me, would they not be guilty of discriminating against me on the basis of my religion?
Regardless of legality, would it be right for me to demand that someone violate their conscience when I can find someone else to shoot the photographs? Do I have the moral and/or legal right to force someone to go against their deeply held beliefs just because I can? Do I have the right to put them out of business and ruin their lives just so that I can make a point?
Supposing that I find the most evangelical sports videographer I can locate and demand that I want to hire her to shoot video of my wife and I and another couple having sex. Clearly a sport, no? Do they have a legal right to refuse? On what basis?
Can YouTube prevent me from using their platform to air it? And if so, why? Sex is natural. It is the world’s number one sport! What about my animal sacrifice? Sacrificing animals is a beautiful part of my religion! Who is Youtube to say otherwise?
If the law used against bakers were applied equally to all, then Facebook would be forced to allow their platform to be used by ISIS. To deny them would be a violation of their civil and religious rights. However, Facebook eagerly helps the government to shut ISIS and other terrorists down. Both Facebook and Youtube gladly shut down other speech, video and images that they find objectionable even though such content might be religious in nature.
How can these companies legally discriminate and not sell or allow their service to be used? It turns out that they are allowed to do so via something called a “terms of service” agreement that gives them free reign to pick and choose what is allowable to be posted and what is not. Why is it acceptable that bakers and photographers don’t have the same rights as YouTube or Facebook? Why are there no “terms of service” for them?
If it were the case that gays couldn’t get other bakers, photographers, catering halls etc. to serve them and were, thus, locked out of their pursuit of happiness, I would understand their position and feel they had a right to ask the government for redress. But, the truth is that they can acquire these services from a myriad of companies who would happily compete for their business. The number of people who would refuse the money is incredibly tiny. Therefore, this violation of their civil rights is not systemic. It’s isolated. Further, the discrimination isn’t based on who a person is, but on being forced to participate in acts that some people find morally offensive. Like animal sacrifice. Or participating in pornography.
Forcing someone to violate their conscience by participating in an act that goes against their religious beliefs may be legal. But, why do it? Even if we find the principles held by the photographers, bakers, florists and pizzeria owners objectionable, why is it OK to continue to escalate division and hatred between our fellow citizens? After winning a landmark legal victory in the Supreme Court, why is it necessary to force people who disagree to validate it? Why is it admirable to engage in campaigns that are designed to seek the public condemnation and ruination of individuals whose only sin is to bravely stand up for principles they hold in good conscience?
One of the great problems of our day is that ideological tyrants of all sides feel some great need to insist on forcing those who disagree with them to submit entirely or suffer financial ruin. Hello Brandon Eich! As a result, there is an ever widening rift between people of good conscience. Once gays were forced to comply with the majority that shunned them and relegated them to the closet or worse. Now, deeply religious individuals must be forced to comply with the new majority and violate what they conceive to be their religious principles. Do two wrongs really make a right? Must everyone be forced to bend to the will of the majority? I am not talking legality or legitimate questions of constitutionality here. I am talking as an American who believes in the importance of civil society.
There are two rights involved here. I see them both as legitimate. I accept that it is a fine line we are walking and balancing these two rights isn’t easy. But, people of good conscience should be able to differ with each other without the need to ruin lives. We could choose to live and let live and be decent human beings and respect everyone’s right to hold different opinions. Or, we can take every disagreement to court and let the black robes decide every tiny facet of our lives and our relationships to others. Is that the kind of society we want to live in? Everyone at each other’s throat over every issue that might cause offense? Sadly, that’s what it will come to if more voices don’t speak up for real tolerance and a real live and let live attitude.