Arizona and “Exercise of Religion”

On Thursday the 20th, the Arizona state legislature passed a bill that would essentially allow any business owner to deny service to gays (more broadly, anyone who serving would violate “religious beliefs”). The bill reached the governor on the 21st.

Yesterday, the 26th, the governor vetoed it. Thankfully.
But I don’t really care about that. (If the law passed, it would have been forced to the Supreme Court and been ripped apart, then making Arizona look stupid. Big deal.) People will oppose gay rights– that won’t end for a while. But, what kind of argument is “religious freedom”?

The Constitution does say, in the first line of the Bill of Rights:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

I can see where some people might say from here, “well, it’s right there, Congress can’t prohibit exercise of religion.”

But there’s a difference between exercising religion and applying religion.

People should be free to exercise religion in the sense that they can follow their own rules and pray how they like, but cannot press these rules on others or use their rules as exemptions.

THAT IS CRITICAL. When it comes to exercise of religion, law > society’s necessities > others’ religion > your religion.

Think about it this way. My religion says that I must never wear a seatbelt because it is the incarnation of the Devil. The law overrides this. I must wear a seatbelt either way. (As a note, sometimes the law is wrong. For example, the French “burqa ban” is essentially targeted discrimination.)

This, was the problem in Arizona. Zealots trying to legalize discrimination, which is illegal. However, there’s an underlying problem. ONE PERSON’S RULES DON’T APPLY TO OTHERS.

My religion may say that I must never wear collared T-shirts. That does not mean that I can try to pass a law banning collared T-shirts.  Fundamentalist hardline Christian tea partiers don’t seem to understand this. Christianity is not the only religion, neither is it the “best” religion. Most people can understand this (at least in my area). But one out of five Americans don’t. That’s a serious problem. That their interpretation of the Bible prohibits gay rights does not mean that gays are inferior beings is to them unimaginable.

I don’t see how hard this is to understand, but too many people apply it to too many arguments. “My religious book prohibits pie” is not a valid argument for banning pie sales. Similarly, “My religious book prohibits gay marriage” is not a valid argument for banning gay marriage. There may be cogent arguments (not that I’ve seen any), but “religious book says so” is not one.

I also noted above that society’s necessities override religion. But that is unrelated to the topic at hand. (Basically, you can’t skip work every Friday because “my religion says so”.)

Because America’s history and demographics are almost entirely Protestant, let me analogize this to something a bit out of the norm to make the point that one person cannot apply his religious rules to others. Mormon belief says that they shouldn’t play sports on Sundays. Okay. Whatever. Not my business. But let me quote : “We don’t expect others to feel the same about this issue.”

This is why you have never heard about Mormons protesting the Super Bowl. They don’t arrogantly expect others to hold their beliefs. When was the last time that a Mormon said something discriminatory because he was a Mormon? Of course, you can’t recall, because Mormons don’t do that. (Yes, Mitt Romney made a lot of stupid comments, but none were particularly religiously motivated.)

Meaning, in conclusion, your rules are your rules, and nobody else should, for any reason, have to give a damn. One thing the Mormons got right.



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