Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Religious freedom or class discrimination?

On Wednesday, Feb. 26, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses the right to refuse service to members of the gay and lesbian community based on religious beliefs.

The Republican-controlled legislature passed the bill, and it sat on Gov. Brewer’s desk for less than a week before she gave it her stamp of disapproval.

If passed into law, businesses in Arizona would have had the legal right to refuse their services to members of the GLBTQ community, as long as that business asserted its religious beliefs and claimed that serving the GLBTQ community would violate those beliefs.

Many people asked, “What were they thinking?” Well, that much is obvious – they wanted to stem the tide of gays and lesbians who are forcing bakers and photographers to take their business.

In 2013, a Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, refused to make a wedding cake for David Mullins and Charlie Craig, a gay couple who married in Massachusetts and wanted a cake for their Colorado reception.

When Phillips refused, Mullins and Craig wanted to force the bakery to take their business. They weren’t just asking to be served, they were demanding it.

This couple could have walked away and found a different bakery that wanted their business. Or they could have told their like-minded friends – gay or not – about the discrimination and then taken their business elsewhere. Bad word-of-mouth has killed many a business.

Instead, Mullins and Craig sued.

Now, let’s say – as a business owner – you already have one of those signs in your store window that says “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” It’s not worth the paper it’s printed on given the anti-discrimination laws.

Sure, you can refuse to serve a disorderly customer who’s disrupting your business. And bartenders are legally bound to refuse service to those they think are already intoxicated. But we’ve come a long way since the days we could refuse service to a class of people based on their color, sex, age, or sexual orientation. You cannot refuse to serve just anyone.

However, it’s important to note that Phillips was not discriminating against a class of people, like southerners did during the years prior to the civil rights movement.

Phillips did not turn the couple away because they were gay. On the contrary, he was happy to make the couple any other kind of cake, cupcake, cookie – whatever they liked. He just could not honor their request for a wedding cake as it violated his Christian belief of a traditional marriage – one man, one woman.

A similar lawsuit was filed against a New Mexico photographer who refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. The judge ruled in favor of the same-sex couple, stating that refusing to provide the service was tantamount to “refusing to photograph a wedding between people of different races.” As with Phillips, the photographer did not refuse to serve the couple, only to provide service for this one event.

Arizona’s vaguely worded bill, according to Gov. Brewer, could have resulted in businesses discriminating against a class of people, not just against their actions and how those actions might threaten the business owner’s religious beliefs.

I get that members of the GLBTQ community are tired of being told what they can and cannot do, but some members of that community feel they have a right to force their beliefs onto those who oppose them.

The problem, however, is that GLBTQ opponents do not want to be told what they can and cannot do any more than the GLBTQ community does.

Anti-discrimination laws prevent people from being discriminated against simply because of their color, religion, sexual orientation or any other protected classification.

But no one should be made to do anything that would violate his or her religious beliefs. Period. The US Constitution protects a person’s freedom of religious expression. Few people would bat an eye if Jack Phillips, a Christian baker, refused to make a cake to celebrate a Satanist’s wedding.

And most people would find it ludicrous if an Amish business that provided guided tours of rural Pennsylvania was sued because it would only provide a horse and buggy rather than an automobile.

Gov. Brewer was right in vetoing this particular bill because it was too vaguely worded. But it is only a matter of time before a bill with more specific language protecting religious freedom gets passed.

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