Slouching Toward DISCRIMINATION? In A Trio Of Recent Rulings, Courts Have Accepted A Distorted Definition Of 'Religious Freedom'.

Author:Boston, Rob

Religious freedom, Americans United contends, is a vital principle and a right that should be enjoyed by people worldwide. Religious freedom includes many things, such as the right to join in worship with fellow believers, construct and support houses of worship, read and promote religious literature and the right to spread your faith to others through voluntary channels, not to mention the right not to believe or worship at all.

But religious freedom was never meant to be an instrument to discriminate against others or take away their rights--yet, increasingly, that's exactly what it is becoming.

Courts have recently issued rulings in three cases that Americans United says warp the definition of religious freedom, turning what should be a shield to protect individual freedom into a sword that lashes out at others. Whether these decisions are aberrations or the vanguard of a new judicial interpretation of religious freedom remains to be seen, but AU says all are troubling.

The cases are summarized here: Minnesota: The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in late August ruled 2-1 in a case called Telescope Media Group y. Lucero that the owners of a videography business can refuse to serve same-sex couples due to the owners' religious beliefs.

The case came about because of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, a state law that prohibits businesses in the state from discriminating against customers based on their race, religion, sex and/or sexual orientation, among other protected characteristics.

Carl and Angel Larsen, the fundamentalist Christian owners of a videography company called Telescope Media in St. Cloud, said the law conflicted with their religious beliefs and sued to demand an exemption from it. The Larsens said they were willing to film weddings only for opposite-sex couples. In court, they were backed by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a large Religious Right legal group based in Arizona.

The 8th Circuit is regarded as one of the most conservative appellate courts in the nation, so the ruling wasn't all that surprising. Judge David Stras, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, wrote the opinion and basically gave ADF exactly what it wanted.

Stras argued that the Larsens' videography business is, "in a word, speech." And because it was speech, he said, the couple has the right to deny service to any customers if serving them would imply that the Larsens agree with those customers.

The couple, Stras ruled, cannot be "coerce[d]" into "promoting 'ideas they find objectionable.'"

Stras was not persuaded by Minnesota officials' assertion that the state has an interest in squelching discrimination in public accommodations (usually defined as businesses that are required to be open to everyone). But the sole dissenting judge, Jane Kelly, pointed out that "caselaw has long recognized"...

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