A few years ago, I was invited to speak at a symposium on religious freedom at a Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Also on the panel was an attorney for the church whom I had known for years. I suspected that during the Q&A, the issue of business owners refusing to serve certain people because of the owners' theological beliefs would come up, and I wondered what the attorney would say. SDAs tend to be theologically conservative, but they're also often strong supporters of separation of church and state.
Sure enough, the issue came up almost immediately when we called for questions. The SDA attorney, a large, physically imposing man, was very plain-spoken. He said something like this: "I am left-handed. I am also a member of the Adventist church. Let's say I walked into a shop, and the owner said, 'I'm sorry, but we don't serve left-handed SDAs'. My answer to that would be simple: 'Guess what--you do now.'"
The nation needs a little more of that attitude as we appear to be hurtling headlong into a new era of discrimination, one where the owners of stores and other businesses are arguing they should be able to deny services to anyone who doesn't measure up to their theological beliefs. (Mind you, the people we're talking about here own secular, for-profit businesses. No one disputes the right of clergy to decide who can attend their houses of worship and receive their services and sacraments.)
This issue is exploding in our courts. The US 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the nation's most conservative, ruled recently that a Minnesota videographer doesn't have to shoot weddings for same-sex couples, even though that state has a law barring discrimination against LGBTQ residents. And the Arizona Supreme Court granted the same right to a calligraphy studio whose owners said they didn't want to make wedding invitations for same-sex couples.
Most of these cases deal with vendors who work in the wedding industry. After the US Supreme Court upheld marriage equality in 2015, religious right legal groups ramped up their arguments that fundamentalist Christians and others who own businesses should not have to serve certain people--usually members of the LGBTQ community, but the same logic would certainly also cover atheists, humanists, single parents, cohabitating couples, and others.
As these issues have played out, I've been surprised by the number of people on social media and other platforms who seem to believe that...