Religious Rights Are Irrelevant in the Public Sphere

The right wing has taken over the Republican Party almost completely, and it shows. Look at the crowded GOP field, and you’ll know immediately why we call it the Klown Kar. There are maybe 2-3 candidates in that field who have more than about a 5% chance of becoming president, and the only candidate in the field who wouldn’t be a complete embarrassment to the party, George Pataki, is having a difficult time polling at 1%.

One of the best examples of just how incredibly concrete-headed the Republican base is comes with their reaction to the decision that came down a couple weeks ago regarding the bakery in Gresham, Oregon that refused to make a cake for a same-sex commitment ceremony/wedding. (Basically, it was a wedding, but the state wasn’t recognizing them at the time.) The goal of the lesbian couple was to reinforce their commitment to the two special needs foster children they were adopting, that their parents would always be there for them.

Anyway, the state of Oregon has a law on the books that prohibits discrimination against anyone because they’re gay. I’m not going to go into the whole story, I am just going to get to the punchline; in a decision reached a couple months ago, and reinforced on July 2 after an appeal, the Oregon government published an order (here) that awarded the lesbian couple $135,000 in damages (NOT a fine, damages!) because of everything that happened to them. (In addition to the discrimination, the owners of the bakery also doxxed the couple, posting their name address and phone number on their Facebook page and talking about the case on national radio and TV, so there was a lot of damage done.)

Predictably, right-wingers everywhere were up in arms, because the owners of the bakery SAID the discrimination was based on their religious beliefs. Apparently, most of the right wing thinks that everyone should have the right to do whatever they want, and it should be excused due to religion. They keep telling me how the government violated their religious rights, and they whine and cry about “tyranny” and “oppression” and swear that we’re losing our rights.

You can’t lose what you never had in the first place.

The bakery owners broke the law. Read the order; they broke a specific law that is cited in detail in there. In the state of Oregon, it is illegal for any store owner to discriminate against gay people. Illegal. That means they broke the law. I know, I’m being redundant, but it’s important.

What Republicans who think this way are actually asking for, ironically, is a “special right.” Apparently, if someone cites a religious basis for doing something that’s against the law, they should be exempted, according to these people. If the health department was to go into the bakery and see the kitchen crawling with cockroaches, and the bakery owners claim they can’t call an exterminator because the Bible says, “Thou shalt not kill,” should they be given a pass, or should they be shut down, just like every other business? Does this mean every public business that hangs a cross and a picture of “white Jesus” in their store should be exempted from every law? Is the state not allowed to enforce laws if someone claims religion now?

For that matter, back when David Berkowitz was killing all those people and was claiming that God was speaking through his dog, should he have been let go?

Yes, I know those examples are ridiculous, but so is the notion that the owner of a public business should be able to cite “religion” and get away with breaking the law. The state of Oregon did not evaluate the bakery owners’ religion in their decision at all. They didn’t look at their religion and say, “screw your religion;” it didn’t factor in at all. Which is exactly what should happen; if the government had taken into account the owners’ religion and ruled in their favor, they would have de facto given greater weight to one party’s religion over the others’. And that would have been a violation of rights.

The separation of church and state is very important in our society. You can believe in whatever you want, no matter what anyone else says. You can believe in God/Allah/Yahweh, Jesus, Moses or the Flying Spaghetti Monster if you so choose. What you are not allowed to to is make the rest of us comport with your belief system.

At home or church, in your car, or your office, if you want to pray quietly or in a way that doesn’t disturb others, you have no greater supporter than me. But once you walk into the public arena, you are under society’s laws, not your individual version of “God’s Law.” A bakery is not a church, although I might point out that, when churches prepare food for fundraisers or poor people, they are still required to follow the law.

One last thing…

About those Republicans who praise the county clerks who are refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, shut up. They took an oath to defend the Constitution, not “God’s Law.” Their duty is to the taxpayers who pay their salaries, including the gay taxpayers. By the way, how far should we take this kind of nonsense? Should a game and fish warden who thinks their religion requires that they protect animals be allowed to deny licenses to people? Should an anti-gun activist be allowed to deny concealed carry permits to people who qualify? Should health inspectors refuse to inspect strip clubs because he or she doesn’t “believe in them”?

Separation of church and state is in the Constitution for a reason. Mixing the two spheres is toxic to both. People used to understand that.

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