In Theory: On discrimination based on religious beliefs

Although Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has since vetoed it, lawmakers in that state recently approved a measure to allow business owners to refuse service to gays and other groups if it is perceived to violate the practice and observance of the business owner's religion.

Q: Is it discriminatory against religious business owners to demand that they treat everyone equally? If business owners do discriminate based on their religious beliefs, should that discrimination be illegal?


The practice of treating every person with fairness and equity without offending their basic human dignity should be extended to business owners as well as to their patrons. It would be grossly unjust to force a business owner to apply his personal time, tools and skills to an effort that violates his sincere religious or moral principles. We could no longer claim to be a nation of religious freedom if any of us is legally forced to operate his privately owned business in a manner that contradicts his faith.

The Arizona measure wouldn't have prevented anyone from living the way they freely choose. It would have protected people from being legally forced to contribute to activities and lifestyles that contradict their most deeply held beliefs. In 1 Corinthians 10:29 the Bible teaches that my freedom should not be judged by another's conscience. But chapter 8 of the same book teaches that when the exercise of my freedom directly wounds another person's conscience it is a "sin against Christ." In other words, it's wrong.

Tell me: What kind of a person would go into a business and demand that the owner do something that violates his sincere religious beliefs? Who would force a Jewish baker to make a cake in the shape of a swastika? Wouldn't a "tolerant" person understand that some people might not embrace his personal take on morality and that they should be allowed the dignity of conducting their business the way they choose? Seems to me the answer to our differences is a loving approach — from both sides of any issue.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church


Like every other sane-minded person in America, I think the bill the lawmakers approved is heinous. Consider this: if the bill were made into law, how exactly would it be enforced? You can't tell someone's gay by looking. The only way that law could ever work is if all homosexuals in the state of Arizona were required to register. Sound familiar?

The Third Reich of Nazi Germany rose and flourished in the aftermath of WWI — a loss of previously assumed military might and national impermeability, which led to widespread feelings of vulnerability and fear; to economic weakness and severe unemployment, a rise of arch-conservatives to power, and a tide of scapegoating those within the country who, in some nameless and insensible way, were seen as helping to bring about the country's demise. Sound familiar?

When the Nazis forced homosexuals to register, they made them wear pink triangles. (They identified many, by the way, by seizing the address books of the first and most "out" people they found — and how hard would it be now, for the government to access contacts lists and Facebook friends?) Homosexuals received some of the worst, most humiliating punishments in the camps, and some 10,000 to 15,000 were exterminated. Haven't we said, "Never again"?

Since the 1970s, the pink triangle has been reclaimed as a symbol for gay pride. If someone outside the gay community is permitted to give advice, mine would be: organize a Pink Triangle Day in Arizona, where every supportive man, woman and child, gay and especially straight, would wear one, to protest such a bill.

And with all due respect to George Takei's threatened boycott of Arizona, I think the opposite should happen: Gays should flood into Arizona. What they want is for you to leave; what you should do is stay, grow and flourish. Buy homes, start businesses, sing in church choirs, sit on PTA boards, coach Little League teams, run for office. And tell all your straight friends in Arizona to wear pink, every day.

Flood the darkness with light. "Overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21).

The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George's Episcopal Church
La Cañada Flintridge


I believe this proposed law is a very bad idea, and discrimination of this kind must never be legalized. While every business owner has a right to conduct their business as he or she sees fit, they should not be allowed to deny service to someone simply because of their sexual orientation. Businesses must treat everyone equally and cannot refuse to serve a customer simply because the customer's views offend their religious beliefs. If this measure were to become law, what would stop a Christian fundamentalist from refusing to serve me, a Jew, because my belief system may contradict his?

The only exception I could envision would be in cases where a vendor is asked to directly promote a way of life or religious ritual that contradicts his own faith. For example, I would not expect a religious wedding planner to be forced to plan a gay wedding, any more than I would expect a Jewish carpenter to be compelled to build a wooden crucifix for a church. Both of these actions could be a direct affront to the sensitivities of the business owner, which deserve respect as well.

In the final analysis, our national dialogue needs to revolve more around respect, tolerance and mutual understanding. I may not like someone's religious beliefs, but that does not give me a right to bully them into accepting my position. I may not agree with someone's lifestyle, but that in no way gives me license to discriminate against them. America needs sensible leaders who can find common ground upon which we can resolve these divisive issues. Discriminatory laws are not part of the solution, and I am troubled that Arizona's legislators gave this bill serious consideration.

Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center



Oh, Arizona! This is the same state that tried to rescind the Martin Luther King holiday. That wasn't successful, so now let's go for the gays! I find it almost laughable that it could be against a person's religion to treat everybody fairly.

What church of Satan do those folks attend, anyhow? Also, this is America, Christian nation or not, where we say everybody is treated fairly — unless (in Arizona) you're black or gay.

Not all Arizonans have their heads in the sand — or another unmentionable place. Some realize that their state might be boycotted by business groups looking to book conventions there but who might not if such a law were passed. Listen to the wisdom of those not wanting such a law, Arizona. Your hypocrisy could be costly.

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge


Yes, I think antidiscrimination laws must be enforced whatever the excuse for the discrimination. I do not think that equal rights laws constitute religious discrimination because they do not single out believers.

Those disagreeing with equal rights for gays are free to oppose those law directly. But that isn't the right wing's strategy anymore because discrimination against gays is no longer a winning issue.

This legislation, had it not been vetoed by the governor on Wednesday, would actually have made two changes in Arizona's already robust religious freedom laws: It would have allowed religious beliefs as a defense in a discrimination lawsuit and defined a "person" as any type of business or legal entity.

Regarding the former, I see problems with being able to cite religious beliefs in defending a lawsuit. What if my religion says I don't have to honor contracts? To the latter, I strongly object to any further spread of the absurd notion of corporate personhood. It is already having a disastrous effect on our democracy.

You would think that backing legislation too right-wing for Gov. Jan Brewer would give Arizona Republicans pause, at the very least.

I wonder also how religious Arizonans who do support equal right feel about bigots hiding behind religion.

Roberta Medford


Since when is the right not to do business with those with whom we have differences a religious belief? As someone who demonstrated in Atlanta, Ga., against the practice of racial segregation in keeping people of color from being served in restaurants in the 1960s, I am finding it difficult to believe that I am now living at a time when discrimination against other minorities is once again being defended on religious grounds.

Such beliefs were not good law or theology then, and they are not good law or theology now. People may have narrow-minded and bigoted points of view toward people who are different from themselves, but that fact should not be blamed on religion.

One of our early Unitarian forebears has been quoted as saying: "We do not have to think alike to love alike." And I wholeheartedly agree. Virtually all major religions in our world support compassionate action toward others in statements such as the Golden Rule. The biblical version of this rule appears in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures as: "Do to no one what you yourself dislike" and "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." So how is refusing to do business with gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people supporting these religious tenets?

My hope and prayer is that people of faith, whatever their religious tradition, will search their hearts for the best that is in that tradition, not the worst. If we do that, I believe we will see that treating others in the ways we would like to be treated and loving our neighbors as ourselves is the way toward a better world for all. For, if we do not, I fear we are destined for lives of growing hostility and societal degradation.

The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
La Crescenta


Recently we answered a question regarding the rights of employees not to sell alcohol or other items to customers that might contravene their religious loyalties, and now we have a question regarding business owners and whether they have equal liberty of faith when refusing contradictory customer solicitations. I think if there are concerns for one, the other should be likewise, and the rights of citizens should be safeguarded against litigious activists who seemingly cannot respect our religious sensibilities and graciously take their business to one of a thousand other amoral or specialty purveyors. Instead, they'll destroy some good family's livelihood for the sake of their sexual proclivities and political aspirations.

Imagine a porn director ordering a cake with perverted sexual objects and images. Shouldn't a godly baker reserve the right to decline the job? If the porno guy isn't homosexual, would that still be considered discrimination? The argument has gotten so left-lopsided, making everything about homosexual normalcy and acceptance. This is the issue, as it's likely a Christian baker would not be amenable to frosting rainbow wedding cakes, festooning them with miniature same-sex couples, and piping "Blessed Union" thereupon. It would seem sinfully complicit, but that's the issue right, whether it's sin?

If the Constitutional free exercise of religion means anything, then those of contrary beliefs should just freely exercise their patronage accordingly. Concessions are made for the Amish, the Native Americans and a variety of religious practitioners in society's periphery; we need to do the same for those in our midst. I ask you, is it discriminatory that there exist kosher delis that don't sell pork chops to gentiles? It's all a matter of customer base and religious preservation. We are a land of myriad options, so let's get off the hate-train against Christians and freely choose a different one.

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


Although the LDS church had no official position on the law vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer, church leaders have consistently supported legal protections for gays with respect to matters such as housing, employment and healthcare.

The church drew a clear distinction between such issues and its defense of traditional marriage in 2009, when leaders supported passage of a Salt Lake City law specifically protecting gays from discrimination in a variety of forms.

The Arizona law was opposed by many in the LDS community. Mitt Romney publicly urged Brewer to veto the bill and Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett and Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, both LDS, were among those against the legislation.

Personally, I believe the 1st Amendment's freedom of religion clause deserves more consideration than it typically gets as our society sorts out questions of conscience versus access to services. The problem with Arizona's remedy was its ambiguity and broad application across a wide range of services.

I would look skeptically on a car dealer or grocer who refused service to gays on the grounds that it would violate their religious beliefs. The transactions they engage in have nothing to do with sexual preference, nor do they require participation in religiously proscribed activities. The situation is quite different for New Mexico photographer Elaine Huguenin, who was sued after refusing to shoot a gay commitment ceremony.

Huguenin's attorneys say that for their client, photographing the ceremony and compiling images in a book celebrating the event would amount to an endorsement of gay unions. They are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a state court's ruling against her. I can understand the couple's dismay at being refused, but we must also find room in our culture for people like Huguenin to do business in a way that doesn't compromise deeply held beliefs.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta--

I am happy that even as I start to write this response, the Arizona governor has moved to answer this question and veto this legislation. Under our United States Constitution there is no room to discriminate against law- abiding citizens because of their differences. Again, whether the founding fathers intended it be so or not, there is no room under our United States Constitution to discriminate against law-abiding citizens because of their differences! Here comes the same list, that apparently bears repeating: The United States has struggled with this concept of the supremacy of religious beliefs over the equal rights of all law-abiding citizens when it has dealt with the right of women to vote, race relations, differently abled people, abortion rights, immigrants, race relations, people who own land, whether or not some people should pay income tax, prohibition, Catholics, Mormons, Jews — and did I mention race relations?

This “tempest in a teapot” bill that has now happily been vetoed reflects the small-minded thinking of fearsome legislatures who don’t have enough to do, don’t care about the plight of the disenfranchised and have no idea how to use their time wisely. God, please bless them and soften their hearts.The Rev. Dr. William Thomas Jr.
Little White Chapel

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