Originally published April 10, 2015 on the Huffington Post
The April 13, 2015 issue of TIME featured a powerful interchange between two arguments, pro and con (pp. 32-33), over whether Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is necessary or not. The issues at the heart of the debate are: Are the beliefs of orthodox Christians so much under attack such that they deserve special protection? Should orthodox Christians and the members of other faiths be required to undertake actions with which go against their fundamental beliefs? Should the owners of businesses be forced to serve those — for example, gays who wish to be married or who already are — that violate their deeply held religious beliefs?
I found the proposition by Rod Dreher, a Senior Editor of the American Conservative, not only seriously flawed, but utterly contemptible. In the interests of space, I’ve recast just one of the most critical parts of Dreher’s argument into the form of various ethical propositions. This is one of the best ways of which I know to show how horrid his or anyone’s arguments are.
Putting arguments in the form of ethical propositions forces us to ask, “Can this particular ethical maxim be generalized such that we’d we wish it to be applied it universally to all persons?” Or, “Is it so odious that common decency forces us to reject it in the strongest possible ways?”
It’s not that my ethical and moral standards are universal, but that an ethical proposition of some sort underlies every important social issue. As such, they deserve to be fleshed out so that we can subject them to rigorous examination.
Let me take one of Dreher’s prime contentions, namely, that if one baker refuses for whatever religious reasons to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, in today’s world there are many more bakers who are willing to have their business; therefore, gay couples have no right to feel slighted and thus complain. Translated into an ethical proposition, the principle reads: “Whenever there is at least one other person (person 2) who is willing to serve someone (person 1) who for whatever reason person 3 refuses to serve, then person 3 is ethically justified in refusing service to person 1; in other words, person 3 is ethically justified in committing an act of discrimination.” To boil it down, discrimination in the large is acceptable as long as there is at least one other person who doesn’t practice it.
This dubious principle not only further institutionalizes prejudice, but it also puts the burden squarely on those who have been discriminated against to seek out others who do not discriminate. Worst of all, the principle is its own justification. It also conveniently sidesteps the whole issue where there is no one in a small or closed community who wishes to serve someone else. Should the person who is denied service therefore be forced to drive miles at considerable cost and time in order to find someone who will serve them?
In Dreher’s words, “What is so alarming about the opposition’s [presumably, Liberals and gays] moral panic over [the Indiana law] is its inability to accept that there could possibly be a legitimate religious defense of discrimination at all.” Really? Name one! Slavery and the treatment of blacks and women?
I accept that anyone is free to believe and to say publically anything they wish, except of course hate speech. But, since businesses are licensed by law to serve the public, one’s actions are a very different matter. In this case, the proposition that “Every belief and action that is based on one’s deeply held religious beliefs are warranted ethically” fails miserably.
No, I do not respect equally every belief. If this means that we are embattled in a deep cultural war, then so be it. It’s time for the orthodox members of any faith or belief system to grow up! Discrimination of any kind is not warranted, period!
In the end, the Indiana law is just the latest skirmish in the long and seemingly never-ending battle against the dark and repressive forces that we have fought throughout all of human history. If there is any good news, we will prevail as we have before.
The dubious principles on which discrimination are based do not hold up to the moral cleansing light of daylight.