Opinion: The Supreme Court Is Again Debating Legalized Religious Bigotry

Walter Rhein

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Once again the United States Supreme court is debating whether individuals with “deeply held religious beliefs” should be allowed to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community. The latest case involves a web designer who does not wish to work with same-sex couples.

Whenever cases like this come up in the media, they are usually discussed in terms of “traditional values.” However, too often that is nothing more than a code word for bigotry.

The idea of a religious exemption to our laws is not in the Constitution. Religious exemption started to gain prominence in American politics after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

When you stop and think about it, the concept of a religious exemption doesn’t make any sense. Why not create a new religion that has an objection to paying taxes? Everybody knows that churches already have exemptions to paying taxes. But what if they took it even further?

What if members of religious groups said it was against their “deeply held beliefs” to pay income, property, or sales tax? I bet everyone in the country would join that religion just for tax benefits. They wouldn’t attend church or engage in any charitable works, but that’s commonplace among religious people anyway.

There are people in the United States who claim they stand for law and order. However, if you want the privilege of an exception to the law, you don’t stand for law and order. Laws only work if they apply to everybody.

Having laws that apply to everyone is fundamental to a functioning society. That’s what the rule of law means. When religious groups bring case after case to the Supreme Court demanding that they should receive exemptions from the laws, they’re undermining the fabric of our whole society.

It’s problematic that the media rarely discusses the potential consequences of these exemptions.

For one thing, why are these businesses able to turn away so many potential customers? The desire for profit is the fundamental mechanism that is supposed to make a free market system function. I used to own a business. We never turned customers away for any reason. What happened to, “The customer is always right?”

When a business is content to turn away customers and beg the government for special protections, the rest of society has to make up the difference. We want less government intrusion, not more.

Another aspect that the media tends to overlook is that an exemption to discrimination laws would deny the LGBTQ community access to the same free market as everyone else. If certain businesses are allowed to deny service based on sexual orientation, then the members of that community might encounter price gouging at other businesses.

Why does American society think it’s fair to hand out exceptions to laws to one group but not another? For example, if the government elects to deny the LGBTQ community access to the free market, perhaps they should be granted something in return. Maybe it would be fair that members of the LGBTQ community shouldn’t have to pay taxes just like the church.

At the end of the day, all Americans should be concerned about any government action that serves to deny rights to any group. Any erosion of Constitutional protections is a threat to all of our rights.

Ultimately, there is an easy solution to this whole controversy. There is nothing stopping people who run businesses who do not wish to do business with the LGBTQ community from placing a prominent note on their propaganda.

They can declare that they’re legally required to provide service to everyone, but then they can offer a list of the groups that they hate.

I would appreciate it if businesses put notes like this on their web pages because it would help me avoid doing business with bigots.

It seems to me that what members of the religious community want is to practice their discrimination in secret. They want to quietly deny service to certain people that they despise, and they don’t want other decent people in the community to know about it.

I’d rather live in a society where all human beings were treated with the same tolerance and respect for human dignity. The latest Supreme Court case shows that we’re a long way from achieving that society.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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