September 2, 2016

Reflection / Sean Gallagher

Seek greater consistency in allowing for conscience rights of all people

Sean GallagherSome recent controversies have had me asking, “A little consistency, please.”

Last weekend, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick created a controversy when he refused to stand during the singing of the national anthem before a National Football League preseason game.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said after the game in explanation of his action.

Many people condemned his stance. Others supported it. Still others, while not agreeing with it, affirmed Kaepernick’s right to freedom of conscience.

Francis Beckwith, a professor of church-state studies at Baylor University, noted, “If only modest-income bakers had the same right of conscience to not participate in a ceremony as NFL millionaires do.”

Is it too much to ask for people who might support—as I do—Kaepernick’s decision to refuse on conscience to stand during the national anthem, to also support people—such as a photographer, florist or baker—who refuse on conscience to support a marriage ceremony of people of the same sex?

Representatives of many religious traditions, in addition to a large group of constitutional scholars and political leaders, have made reasoned cases that the latter is not unjust discrimination against a class of people. Rather, they contend that it is a just use of conscience when a person is asked to give material support—baking a cake, taking photographs, etc.—to an action to which he or she is opposed in conscience, namely the wedding of two people of the same sex.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) disagrees with such a stance, and hotly opposed Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act when it was debated last year. This remained so despite the fact that supporters said that no similar laws across the country for more than 20 years had allowed unjust discrimination, but actually had protected many religious minorities from government overreach.

Now we see the ACLU using Indiana’s religious freedom law to do just that. It has cited the law in representing a Muslim prisoner, who was refused a diet in conformity with his faith by the staff of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department.

Is it too much to ask that those who support—as I do—the religious liberty of a Muslim prisoner to receive a diet in conformity with his faith, to also support the religious liberty of a person opposed in conscience to redefining marriage who does not want to be compelled to give material support to a same-sex wedding ceremony?

As the religious landscape of our country becomes more diverse, and as more people in society choose not to practice any faith at all, it is in the common good of all that we respect with greater consistency the conscience rights of all people where there is not a compelling interest that would justify burdening that right in the most minimal way possible.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter for The Criterion.)

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