Affirmation is Not a Civil Right, and It Cannot Be Coerced

Protest Sketch Civil RightsWASHINGTON (RNS) The limiting of religious freedom is a perpetually contested question in American public life. Most recently, as states consider new laws and the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on same-sex marriage, gay rights supporters and traditionalist Christians appear to be on a collision course.

To make matters worse, whenever disputes between gay couples and conservative Christian wedding vendors arise, a well-funded professional grievance industry sends lawyers and media handlers out to convince the public that this is the great civil rights issue of our time.

As a new prevailing cultural consensus on homosexuality displaces a former one, it remains to be seen how the winners will treat the losers. From laws that impose punitive fines to rhetoric that places “religious liberty” in quotation marks so as to diminish it, the culture war’s apparent victors have not accorded religious freedom its due place of prominence in our public life.

The present tension between religious liberty and LGBT rights is unsustainable, but it is not insurmountable. Activists on both sides have been short on empathy for each other. Leaders have every incentive to portray their opponents as evil retrogrades hellbent on destroying society.

One reason each side talks past the other is that the religious and legal debates are oriented around different poles. The gay rights movement — which conservative Christian agitator Bryan Fischer derisively termed “Big Gay” — focuses on civil rights, including legal marriage and anti-discrimination laws. In this framework, it does not matter what religious people believe about sexual orientation or behavior.

In religion, the debate is primarily about affirmation. Regardless of civil law, religious organizations either affirm same-sex unions or they don’t. Legal debates are secondary to arguments over whether and how the church will amend its long-standing prohibitions against sex outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.

Disputes over wedding photographers, bakers and florists engender strong feelings because they embody the personal nature of the conflict. It is hurtful to be told by a local businessman that your upcoming wedding is so hopelessly immoral that the very idea of arranging flowers or baking a cake sickens him to his core.

Do wedding vendors who oppose same-sex marriage necessarily “participate in” or “celebrate” these unions? I’m not sure. I find photographers’ objections to be the most compelling and caterers’ arguments to be the least valid, with bakers and florists somewhere in between.

But I do know this: To the greatest extent possible, people should not be compelled against their conscience to provide services for an event they do not support.

I was married and divorced at a young age. When I got married again, a traditionalist wedding vendor might have declined my business, which is their right. I would have found someone else. I might have felt sad or angry that my neighbor judged my relationship to be immoral or unworthy. But I respect his conscience more than I need his flower arrangements. Religious liberty is inviolable. Affirmation is not a civil right, and it cannot be coerced.

By any measure, the gay rights movement has prevailed in the arena of law, culture and public opinion. Still, millions of Americans will continue to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. These people are not moral monsters.

Rhetoric about cultural conservatives’ hate-based discrimination is not only inflammatory, but also largely untrue. New research shows that exposure to religious liberty arguments actually makes evangelical Christians more tolerant of their ideological opponents.

I have qualms about expanding religious identity onto corporations. And many religious liberty claims made by businesses and people acting as government representatives are questionable. But we should not force private individuals and small-shop owners to violate their consciences when it is clearly not necessary to do so.

In the early republic, Baptist preacher John Leland spoke of “the rights of conscience inalienable.” In law and custom, conscience rights are sacrosanct. The success of the gay rights movement does not depend on the government’s compelling wedding vendors against their consciences. If stragglers eventually abandon their religious opposition to homosexuality, it will be because of persuasion, not coercion.

Jacob LupferJacob Lupfer is a contributing editor at Religion News Service and a doctoral candidate in political science at Georgetown University. His website is www.jacoblupfer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jlupf.

Religion News Service

RNS is owned by Religion News LLC, a non-profit, limited liability corporation based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Its mission is to provide in-depth, non-sectarian coverage of religion, spirituality and ideas.

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59 Comments on "Affirmation is Not a Civil Right, and It Cannot Be Coerced"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Paul W.
Guest
This is a really good commentary, although I don’t think the author fully explains the religious side of the argument. He presents the conflict on the religious side as “arguments over whether and how the church will amend its long-standing prohibitions against sex outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage”. This is quite incomplete since a secular reader could misunderstand the religious position as “this is just a traditional prohibition and nothing more”. But it is much more — from the religious perspective, the argument is really about the role of Scriptural authority and placing our duty to God above all else.… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

The question is irrelevant to the topic at hand.

Mark
Guest

Very good observations, Paul.

Liberals do their best to trivialize these fundamental Christian understandings–which are also shared by other faiths and many secularists–about marriage and sexuality, but they will only get away with it with uninformed and misinformed people…which means, in the current cultural climate, they will have some success.

Any thinking person should consider why, a generation ago, liberals called marriage an outdated social institution but now proclaim it as absolutely essential for homosexuals. It is a classic case of moving the goalposts in order to accommodate a socio-political agenda.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

So could church panjandrums someday find the locks to their buildings had been changed. It’ll never go that far. The far right is good at talking trash, but doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to fight a battle they know they would lose and lose big.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

BTDT

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

My problem, and America’s, and the UMC’s, is the mob of christofascists seeking power and control over others. Stop lying about me, and I’ll stop telling the truth about the villainy in your heart.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Translation = he has no argument.

Mark
Guest

Russ, you bring up a very important question that the myopic leftists seem not to consider. If a pastor “evolves” into accepting non-Christian sexual mores, and if the BOD can be broken based on this new “conviction of conscience,” then what’s to prevent the pastor from further “evolving,” perhaps even coming full circle, back to the point that he endorses traditional marriage (and thus ignoring any future BOD revisions)? It seems sexual liberationists only accept this evolution as long as it matches their agenda, unaware that the trajectory they endorse leads to places they don’t want to go.

Mark
Guest

George, many of us feel compelled to take a shower after reading your vitriol, and I am currently under water restrictions…..so, could you do a guy a favor??

Mark
Guest

That would certainly be one of many expected–perhaps even obligatory–consequences in an environment where vow-breaking is winked at….when you willingly slouch toward Gomorrah you eventually smell the brimstone.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Those metaphors are better applied to the right-wing’s obsession with the fetus, while they align themselves with power brokers who killed more than 100,000 Iraqui children.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Just like the right wing did when segregation no longer was acceptable so they switched to hated of women and LGBTs. Thank you.

Kevin Carnahan
Guest
This is a really unfortunate article. The author clearly has very little idea what he is talking about. For instance, he writes that “Religious liberty is inviolable.” That is an absurd claim, both legally and morally. Even the recent law in Indiana made no such absolutist and universal claim. More centrally, the claim that affirmation is not a civil right is unhelpful. No one that I know of is arguing to force affirmation, nor could you. Affirmation is an inner affective state. Laws have no control over this. We cannot legislate that people think no racist thoughts, either, but this… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

civil rights however are seamless.

Mark
Guest

Uh, no.

Affirmation may or may not involve an inner affective state. One may be forced to affirm something–by word or deed–whether or not they agree with it. So, at least on that point, the author is right on the mark.

Anyone who doesn’t think Christians are being forced by a dictatorial government to affirm things that violate their faith–abortion, marriage redefinition, etc.–is simply out of touch with reality.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Namecalling and excuses, that’s all you’ve got.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

I’m an X Category. We don’t wear raincoats.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

8.5 D Send that cup – it’ll make great target practice next to the one I have from the Reagan Library.

Mark
Guest

It’s become obvious that George is engaging in projection when he throws out these juvenile invectives. He is here to vent and provoke, not engage in rational, civil conversation.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

You’ve accused me, without foundation, of doing what you do. Just more in your effort to exert power and control over others.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Prove it. Otherwise it is apparent all your assertions amount to nothing but a game of angrypants stampyfeet disparate from reality. If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t get one. If you don’t believe in same sex marriage, don’t marry someone of the same sex. Problem solved. Moreover the assertion such violates one’s faith is ridiculous because the writer’s political opinions are his and his alone and his religious affiliation has nothing to do with it. This is readily confirmed by the fact so many Christians disagree. it seems his faith is in power and control over others, a poor… Read more »
Inis Magrath
Guest
Excellent article. Very thought provoking and reasonably balanced which coming from me (a straight ally with over a decade of LGBT civil rights advocacy behind me) is saying a lot regarding a piece from Religion News Service. One observation: I’m Jewish, but if I were a Christian and I cared deeply about my faith and my religion, the last thing I would want to see together in a sentence are the words “Christian” and “Bryan Fischer.” Mr. Fischer is exemplary of some of the very worst hate mongering just short of explicit calls for actual violence against gay people. Calling… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

There are grifters and there are provacateurs par excellence. Mr. Fisher could possibly play the character he plays in the media as perhaps a wrestling announcer, but very little else. As it is, the American Family Association (a Wildmon Family Business, LLC) proves it has earned its designation as a hate group by employing him.

Mark
Guest
This is one of the more balanced articles UMR has provided on this subject, so I commend you for printing it. Nevertheless, declaring the GLBT lobby the “winners” is premature. The majority–who have been rhetorically whipped into silence by the media, Hollywood, academia, leftist politicians and a hugely disproportional GLBT lobby–are uncomfortable with the idea of changing marriage in the most fundamental way ever. Removing the opposite-sex definition from marriage is a bit like removing the engine from a car. It will still look like a car, and it may roll along for a while, but dysfunction eventually ensues. Logic… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Truth is not present when facts are absent.

DW
Guest

What facts would you add to make it truthful?

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Mark’s post of 4/15/15, 1014 hours, is devoid of facts. There is no “redefinition of marriage.” His characterization of same sex marriage is an uninformed opinion and not factual. His assertion of what the state RFRAs do versus what the national one does is false; this is legislation specifically designed by a right-wing cadre seeking power and control in multiple jurisdictions. His characterization of birth control as “abortofacients” is not factual. These are propaganda and lies of a movement seeking power and control over all of us, including the United Methodist Church through their front groups.
DW
Guest

Agreed. It was an excellent post.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

That’s a loud paranoid screed, but short on facts. “Fundamentally redefining marriage” and
“[gpvernment] forces an employer to provide coverage for abortafacients” are not facts, just opinions, and very much uninformed ones.

John Thomas
Guest

People who refuse to service LGBT persons and people who refuse to serve people based on their race, ethnicity, or religion aren’t bad people, but are extremely misguided.
I recall the recent saying “if an LGBT person asks you to bake one cake, bake two”– not unlike the words of Jesus of going that extra mile!

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

That’s what I thought, too. Those who wish to be able to tell potential LGBt customers “I won’t serve you,” and claim to be acting out of religious faith are being deceptive in saying so. What they are acting out of is certainly nothing recommended by Christ or even Paul, but the desire to treat others badly and claiming the cloak of religion as an excuse.

Richard Hicks
Guest

Everyone needs to grow up and “Let it be, oh let it be, speaking words of wisdom, let it be . . . ” Dad and mom can’t make others like you. Here’s my wisdom: Retailers take the money. Consumers take your money down the street if you don’t like the service.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Would you have said that to SNCC at the lunch counters in 1956?

james
Guest
Paul W.
Guest

James, thanks for posting the link. I wish the UMC would provide the same kind of thoughtful Biblical and Wesleyan devotions on the UMC site. I fear for the soul of anyone who does not appreciate the gravity of the coming Day of the Lord.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Dude, Easter was 2 weeks ago.

james
Guest

all the hate in these long comments come only from your side of the computer Mr. Shuler.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Thank you for confirming my point, my dear fellow. I assure you I am ready for whatever comes and I stand awaiting. I believe your problem is you believe mythological events will smite those you hate. You have a long wait, fellow.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Reply to James’ post of 3/21/15 @ 0320: James, I have no hatred whatsoever toward you. I love you but I hate your sin.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

James if you show some “concern” or “compassion” I will surely note it but you have yet to do so with your constant carping against those for which your active hatred is self-evident. I understand. People in the South in the 1960s did not like to be called racists, but they were.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Russ, you may be unaware, but this whole “Apocalypse” business is a fictitious notion created by persons seeking power and control in the 19th Century. The “Left Behind” books are the right-wing’s equivalent to hate slam books by 8th graders. This whining about “signs and wonders” are revealatory to the signs that the whiner so involved is actively seeking to achieve power and control over others with his reprehensible behavior, just like you do.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Will you be chuckling when you find most denizens of hebbin are people you believe do not deserve to be there?

james
Guest

“events” smite no one, Mr. Shuler. It is ones actions or lack there of that cause the smiting. your tossing of the term “hate” always catches me off guard. how do you compare that word with the words “concern” and “compassion?”

james
Guest

Ah, Mr. Shuler, you have caused me to chuckle!!!

james
Guest
It feels like you believe that one who espouses a conservative view is automatically anti everything. If this is what you believe, you are sadly mistaken. I was raised to believe in the worth of the PERSON as opposed to the color of a person’s skin. My kids were raised the same way. Most of their friends were not of my kids’ ethnic background–they were just great/good/polite/friendly kids. It has been stated and stated and stated in the confines of this virtual umr that conservatives are bad–that liberal progressives are good. To those who believe that I am sorry. I… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Let’s not go around saying others said things which they did not say. I never addressed good and bad. As to your Johnny-Come-Lately claim of support for civil rights victories won fifty years ago, that’s nice for you and perhaps in another fifty years you’ll be claiming to support those won today. Interestingly, the leaders of your movement, most especially Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, were ardent segregationists fifty years ago. They just seamlessly dropped that part of their overall goals once they realized it was a deal-breaker.

james
Guest

dude!! we should celebrate Easter every day–the Christian faith is the only one with an Empty Tomb.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

It’s very convenient to be in favor of policies over 90% support. I assume nothing. My dear friend, the vitriol is all yours.

james
Guest

you assume many things Mr. Shuler. one thing is for sure: you have no idea about me or the regard I have been taught to show other folks. bigots cast every person into categories and ASSUME they have chosen correctly. I feel sorry for you, Mr. Shuler, because you house so much vitriol in your heart.

please, DO, keep looking up……………………

DW
Guest

Who said anything about James’ support for civil rights victories being “Johnny-Come-Lately”?

james
Guest

Yep!!!

Sandy Wylie
Guest

Here’s a solution that might be acceptable to me although I should probably give it more thought:
Every business could post a notice that declares whether that business serves EVERYONE. I will not patronize businesses that don’t serve everyone. Fair?
I’ve already got a list of businesses that I boycott for some reason.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Some in Indiana did just that. On the other hand a business in Mississippi posted a sign saying they would refuse business from LGBTs, Wiccans, Muslims, and Freemasons.

Wes Andrews
Guest

Should Westboro Baptist Church force a gay owned bakery to cater their “We Hate Same-sex people” event. I don’t think so.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

There’s a difference between overt, unserious offensiveness and the dignity and worth of others.

James Blackwell
Guest
I think a better example would be a pagan photographer. She did a couple of weddings loves the idea of weddings but it so happened that they were always in a secular setting. She feels anything related with the church as judgmental and wrong. A Christian couple feels a chance to witness to this pagan by having her shoot there wedding. She feels targeted, she imagines she will be judged through the entire ordeal. Should she be forced to be a captive audience to this ceremony she so obviously feels uncomfortable with, compel by the state? Is the solution really… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

I think the “reasonable person” test applies. A business person who is willing to state an intent to discriminate isn’t reasonable. That’s not only a progressive ideal; it’s common sense.

Wes Andrews
Guest

So yes. Progressives get to decide who is offensive and who isn’t. I get it.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Thank you, Jakob, for a thought-provoking commentary even though I disagree in part with your conclusions. The primary area in which we disagree is when you said this: “…millions of Americans will continue to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. These people are not moral monsters…” My response is: some are, and some aren’t. But of those leading the agitation for the right to discriminate, the bulk, such as your quoted polemicist Bryan Fisher, most certainly are. In the civil rights era South I had relatives who articulated loudly about their right to discriminate as well,… Read more »
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