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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: One-way religious freedom

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Thursday, June 15, 2017 12:01 am

News-Sentinel editorials are serious about religious freedom (”Frivolous lawsuits don't help ..,” May 28) and have proclaimed that “if religious freedom does not belong to every single American, the right is meaningless” (Aug. 25, 2016). Who could disagree?

Yet, in support of majority Christians, the August editorial complained that “The fact is that in no case where religious freedom has clashed with LGBT rights, under any religious freedom act in the country, has religious freed(om) prevailed. Not a single one. The right not to be discriminated against has always won.”

The editorial was clearly thinking of the merchants whose faith led them to refuse service for transactions associated with a same-sex marriage ceremony. It didn't mention that those same-sex participants were other Christians, planning Christian ceremonies led by Christian pastors exercising Christian belief.

The problem here is a conflict between two sincere but differing Christian beliefs that need to find a way to co-exist. In the United States, no one should expect a secular court to establish one religious belief over another. The First Amendment requires that all be respected. Religious Freedom Restoration Acts don't change this basic principle.

The federal RFRA simply recognized the possibility that a law enacted for a totally non-religious purpose could unintentionally interfere with an established religious tradition. Its original problem arose from a drug control law that affected the Native American use of peyote in a religious ceremony. The federal RFRA still allowed for limiting a religious practice but said there had to a very, compelling reason.

Indiana's RFRA has only a borrowed title in common with the federal law. It says simply that if a person's religious belief is burdened by participation in a normal commercial transaction, the state is then entitled to become a party to the transaction, presumably to relieve the burden. .The law doesn't (and can't) say which belief to support.

When ordinary business service is denied for a religious difference, regardless of the actual words, the message is clear: “My religious belief will control your actions. Your freedom of religious expression doesn't exist here.”

That is one-way religious freedom, and the courts have correctly rejected the imposition of one belief over another.

In the end, the only way to have universal freedom of religion is for everyone to get past feeling offended, burdened or threatened by someone else legally exercising a different religious belief. Even more, no one should use a religious belief to justify a direct personal effort to penalize or harass anyone acting in expression of a different belief.

In our church, we sing a hymn with this opening line: “O for a world where everyone respects each other's ways, where love is lived and all is done with justice and with praise.” Genuine acceptance of universal religious freedom would be worth the effort.

Gordon E. Walter


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