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March 1, 2013 Print

When Did Government Turn Into Dr. Phil?

by Bruce Hausknecht

Is the government the arbiter of people’s emotions?

Is it the duty of government to decide which feelings of its citizens to validate, and which to condemn?

Well that’s exactly what is happening in Colorado and elsewhere as legislative debates over same-sex civil unions (and same-sex marriage), public accommodations and non-discrimination laws increasingly devolve into debates over religious conscience rights. I testified at a legislative committee hearing recently on the issue of a civil unions bill that appears poised to pass after the November election changed the composition of the Legislature.

This year’s bill pointedly removed any protections for faith-based adoption agencies like Catholic Charities, which may get out of the adoption business rather than violate Catholic doctrine by placing children with same-sex couples. Why? Because the sponsors knew that they had the votes to pass the bill, and don’t care if Catholic Charities is forced out of the adoption business.

Testimony about a Colorado bakery shop owner who politely refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple (for an out of state ceremony) and was brought up on discrimination charges before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, also fell on deaf ears.

No religious accommodation for anyone. Why is that? Well, it’s “discrimination,” is what we’re told.

But so is punishing Catholic Charities and the baker for their deeply held religious views.

In another current situation, an elementary school here in Colorado is faced with a charge of discrimination under the state’s public accommodations law for refusing to let a six year-old boy, who believes he should be a girl, use the girls’ restroom. The school is concerned for the feelings of the little girls who would also be using the restroom (and their parents), and quite reasonably offered to let the boy use a stand-alone restroom. But the boy’s parents turned down the offer and filed the discrimination claim. The applicable law, passed in 2008, does not tolerate any reasonable compromises such as what the school offered. Why is that?

After listening to a lot of testimony over the last several years on these bills, the underlying reason for the complete abandonment of reason on the part of legislators is simple. The homosexual and transgender community won’t tolerate it. They say repeatedly (through dozens of witnesses at the committee hearings on these bills) that they will be deeply offended at being referred to another adoption agency, or baker, or wedding photographer or what have you. And state lawmakers here and elsewhere have decided that those hurt feelings must be prevented at any cost. And those deeply held religious beliefs in the one case, and the basic fears and concerns of little girls and their parents in the other, must be denied, subordinated, penalized and criticized.

Why is government picking winners and losers in the “feelings” department, anyway? Has the era of nanny-state big government, complete with soft drink size restrictions and light bulb and Happy Meal bans, finally turned to the field of psychology?

Even Dr. Phil often turns to his guest and advises, “You need to get over it.”

 

 

 



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  • Kathleen

    The ‘feelings’ angle here strikes me as a strawman. The real issue is one of basic civil rights. If you are a public business you simply have to treat all customers equally — you can’t refuse someone service because they are gay, or black, or female, or have a religion that you think is false. If you can’t serve the public, you probably don’t belong in the public marketplace.

    • BruceHausknecht

      Kathleen – thanks for your comment. See my response to Ex-Gop voter. I think that covers what my response to you might be.

  • Ex-Gop Voter

    I always enjoy your posts, even though my responses get selectively posted.

    Regardless, I wonder how I would feel about certain business establishments not serving me because I was a Christian? Or because of the color of my skin? Or because of any other characteristic of mine?

    I suppose a bakery has the right to serve whomever they want. 100 years ago though, the argument would be centered on the belief that some businesses should be able to opt out of providing services to mixed-race couples. Imagine how we would view that thinking now? If a bakery said that they wouldn’t provider service at a wedding between they didn’t like the a black person and a white person were getting married.

    • BruceHausknecht

      What always gets lost in this debate is that the religious conscience objection is over the message, not the person. I’ve not heard one objection in all these cases around the country to serving a homosexual person. There are no hardware stores refusing to sell hammers to homosexuals. And there’s no difference between an objection to promoting a message on same-sex marriage and the objection to promoting racism, for example. (the “racism” hypothetical that we’re always hearing about is probably the worst hypo that one can adopt. The more likely scenario is a proprietor who refuses to promote racism through whatever his goods/services would do.)

      Plus, a “check” on the abuse of religious objections is that the “objection” gets tested under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on (1) is it a bona fide religious belief; and (2) does it create a “substantial burden” on the exercise of religious belief. If there was going to be such a test case on racism as being a bona fide religous belief, I’m sure we’d have seen it a long time ago.

      And finally, when did Americans get so thin-skinned that they won’t accept a referral to someone else who will be happy to decorate that cake, or photograph that ceremony, or rent that hall? One of my points in this post is that on this single issue, we have apparently lost our collective capability to compromise.

      • BruceHausknecht

        I forgot to mention the legal/constitutional check on religious conscience objections under the First Amendment and RFRA. This is important for the racism hypothetical. Even if the objector passes questions (1) and (2) that I mentioned, the government still wins if it has a “compelling government interest” that it accomplishes in an individual case while using the “least restrictive means” to do so (the “least restrictive means test is why the HHS Mandate will lose – if indeed it does – against the religious conscience objections currently being litigated) In the racism case, the Civil War Amendments (13th, 14th and 15th) create the compelling govt interest that would defeat a public accommodations owner from refusing service to an African American – or any other race.

        • Ex-Gop Voter

          I’m quite frankly more concerned with the promotion of the kingdom of heaven than the promotion of the laws of the US. You study the laws more than I do, and if you believe that a company can simply refuse anybody service for any reason, and that’s fine, well, that’s that. I personally would hate to be denied some sort of service because I’m a Christian, or because I’m white, or a man, or anything else that makes me up as a person – but in the long run, the company denying service is going to be hurt more than I will be as an individual.

          I do think this is one more area where we Christians end up turning people off to the kingdom of Christ. I’m sure that these various places have provided services to those who have committed adultery, lived together before marriage, or committed other sins around marriage. I’m guessing that greed, swindling people, swearing – none of that causes a customer to be refused. But a gay couple? I mean, now we’ve crossed some sort of line, right?

          Drive through weddings and sky high divorce rates…those should be the targets of the ‘sanctity of marriage’. By getting all high and mighty now, we all just look like a bunch of hypocrites.

          Thanks for the response though – while I disagree with the a lot of the political slant on this site, I appreciate the thoughtfulness and insight of you and one or two other writers.

          • BruceHausknecht

            Ex-Gop Voter – I always appreciate your thoughtfulness and tone and especially – in your latest reply – the concern over how such an exercise of religious conscience would reflect on Christ. I’ll keep coming back to this, but using your example of adultery, I would have no problem if someone refused to decorate a cake to celebrate an adulterous affair. It’s the message, not the person, that is the key here. Christians are to be salt and light, but once they start sending a message – as part of their business – that goes contrary to their religious conscience, then that’s the line in the sand beyond which they ought not to go. And to take a step back from theology and look at the constitutional issues involved, the Founders valued freedom of conscience above all else. If you think about it, the rise of non-discrimination principles (other than the the laws emerging from the black civil rights movement) are wholly new, and they often clash with First Amendment principles. It’s the resolution of that tension that we’re seeing played out in Colorado and elsewhere. The aim of my post is to point out that we should be of sterner stuff than merely arguing over who is more offended by the other person’s point of view.

  • Dianne

    I agree with Kathleen and Ex-Gop Voter. A business should not refuse anyone service for any reason. We are all sinners. I would not want a business refusing me service in order to send a message to me about my sin. It is between me and God.

    As to the trans-gendered child, I do not see how this a religious issue. There is no law in the Bible against sexual identity. The parents are concerned about the child being singled out, stigmatized or bullied.

    As for the ban on incandescent light bulbs, man-made climate change will not be slowed without government regulation. Individual efforts to reduce energy usage will not be enough to turn climate-change around.

    • BruceHausknecht

      Dianne – thanks for the comment. Here’s a hypothetical situation for you. For this question, you happen to be Jewish. I walk into your portrait painting business. I say “Hi, I’m a member of the Aryan Nation. I would like you to paint me as a Nazi executioner at Auschwitz standing upon a heap of dead bodies.”

      What’s your response, and why?

      • Dianne

        It would depend somewhat on the nature of my business. If he is asking me to conjure the scene up from my imagination, I could not do it. Art is an expression of one’s self and I could not paint something that would be so deeply hurtful to me as a Jewish person. I would be refusing because my belief of what happened to the Jews at Auschwitz would make the thought of painting this scene too distasteful. It would be a personal reason rather than trying to send a message.

        If he is going to supply we with photographs and is asking me to paint a montage of them, that might be a different matter, then the painting would be more like a mechanical reproduction of photographs.

        Maybe if I told him i was Jewish, he would find another artist. Before refusing I would ask him why he would want to be depicted that way and what he would use the portrait for. I would think most people would want to be immortalized in a good light, rather than for violent acts.

        • BruceHausknecht

          Good answer. We’re not that far apart at all. You seem to grasp the implications of a proprietor being put in a bad position because of the nature of the business and the message that would be sent. In a slightly different scenario, if you were a Jewish owner of a hardware store, you’d probably never learn nor care that this customer hated Jews, as long as he wanted to purchase a hammer or saw.

  • James79

    Tough scenarios, and it will only get more common. Believers who run a business need to decide on how they will handle situations like this – and now. I do some part time freelance work for commercials/advertising, and I live in WA, so of course I’ve been thinking about this issue quite a bit the last year or so. My conclusion is that everyone has to decide for themselves… and I feel for those who work in a very personal, direct line of work such as photography, etc. But there simply isn’t anything in scripture to go on for only providing your line of work / services to fellow believers or events you agree with. And for things as innocuous as cakes and flowers…. I can’t really defend declining those things to customers. And I don’t think Nazi analogies are a useful or rational comparison.

    • BruceHausknecht

      James – thanks for your thoughtful comments. It is a struggle for those in certain occupations, whose creations express their own artistic skill. In other situations, like Knights of Columbus halls, for example, even the use of those facilities can send a message of endorsement by the hall owner. These are indeed few in number and easy to accommodate simply by referrals. There are verses in the Bible that can apply in a business or personal context, such as 2 Cor 6:14, and even Christians may debate the meaning and scope of that verse.

      If you don’t like any example that uses Nazis (and I use them only to make the hypothetical as objectionable, and as clear-cut as possible), what if a Christian couple went to a kosher deli and ordered a ham platter for their wedding feast. Is the deli owner obliged to offer ham, or does he simply refer the couple down the block to a different establishment? Why is this easily resolved in those cases without dispute, but when homosexuality is involved, suddenly there is no room for rational thought and the only response is to force the business owner to comply or get out of the business?

      I look at freedom of conscience as not a biblical right, but a civil right that has been around since the country was founded. As such, believers of any faith tradition should not be bound by a “majority vote” of what is, and isn’t, faith. Court decisions have outlined how the belief must not be a sham or ‘insubstantial’, but if the law (in these cases they are mostly public accommodations laws) puts the believer in a real quandary where he/she believes that the decision is either to to violate their conscience or suffer penalty, that is the point when, in my opinion, the equities of the situation favor the business owner.

      Just my thoughts.

      • James79

        The kosher example is a good one… I’ve not heard of a kosher-only establishment, I can’t imagine they are too common. I wish we lived in a more live-and-let-live society (though believers aren’t particularly good at this either I think you’d have to admit). But the difference with gay marriage is that for most people it is the most important relationship of their lives… very personal, very emotional. As much as we try to explain it isn’t the person, but the relationship/actions (which differentiates it from race)…. that just gets drowned out by the truly awful examples out there who get the media attention.

        As I mentioned I live in the Northwest, which I’m sure is much different than other parts of the country. What others would see as an endorsement I tend to see as just common courtesy. My coworker had a going away party recently, which turned into a kind of reception after he shared he married his boyfriend privately. I applauded and congratulated him, I was happy he was happy. And I was actually the only one from work who showed, so I was glad I went.

        Anyways, a bit off topic… but thought I’d share. There’s going to be some growing pains as the laws continue to change over the coming years. While we maintain our moral beliefs, it’s increasingly important believers think specifically how that should play out in the different aspects of life, in this case – business… but also just how we personally engage and live alongside a variety of people.

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