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Stop Arguing for Religious Liberty and Start Arguing Against Religious Discrimination



catholic charities

For an increasingly secular populace, actions and policies must be defended on the basis of reason much more than faith.

Author Auguste Meyrat profile




In a recent legal settlement, Catholic Charities West Michigan successfully challenged Michigan’s decision to bar state funds to adoption agencies that do not serve same-sex couples. The settlement forced Michigan to reimburse the charity for its legal fees and other costs. Using an argument that has now become familiar to most Americans, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a lesbian mother of two and former gay rights activist, charged Catholic adoption agencies with discriminating against same-sex couples. In response, the Catholic adoption agencies used the same logic, accusing the Michigan state government of discriminating against Catholics and effectively denying them their religious freedom.

While Christians should celebrate this recent victory, it’s nonetheless sad this appeal had to be made. When gay marriage was legalized in Obergfell v. Hodges, Christians were assured that they could practice their faith and live out their values in peace, but this was almost immediately proven wrong. As the ink of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion was drying, LGBT groups immediately went after Christian bakersfloristsphotographers, popular chicken sandwich chains, and other Christian organizations for their religious beliefs.

Defense Based on Reason not Faith

This war will continue so long as Christians keep using the religious freedom defense. Even though this argument has the best chance of winning in legal courts, it is unconvincing in the court of public opinion. As more Americans drift away from Christianity, they increasingly view this defense for denying service to same-sex couples not as a valid objection, but as a childish copout: “The Christian God doesn’t like gay people.”

Rather, it’s important to establish that most Christian churches are established on natural law (that is, moral laws based on objective truth) as much as the Bible. To be sure, faith and reason both matter enormously, but for an increasingly secular populace, actions and policies must be defended on the basis of reason much more than faith.

This has been the case with abortion, with the pro-life position steadily gaining popular support as it has adopted more reason-based arguments. The pro-life movement has grown because it has argued that unborn babies are people, and therefore abortion is murder. Although the Bible acknowledges this argument, the argument itself isn’t strictly based on the Bible.

Reasons Against Same-Sex Couples Adopting

Similarly, in issues involving marriage and children, Christians need to appeal to reason more than their faith. In the case of same-sex couples adopting, two issues need to be addressed. First, do all couples have a right to adopt a child? Second, do children have a right to a father and mother?

Concerning whether all couples have a right to adopt, the answer is that they do not. As any couple who has gone through the process of adoption understands all too well, many screenings and conditions have to be met. Someone from the adoption agency will inspect their home, rifle through their personal information, interview them and others, and then, after so many legal hurdles, possibly allow a child to live with them. Even then, the biological parent may change his or her mind and take back the child.

As painful and expensive as this process is, it is necessary because children are human beings with rights of their own, not objects a couple acquires out of boredom or simply some charitable impulse. Consequently, adoption agencies must discriminate among couples wanting to adopt, only selecting those who meet the criteria of good caretakers.

A Right to a Mother and Father?

This leads to the second issue of whether a child’s rights include having a mother and father, as opposed to two fathers or two mothers. The science on this is mixed, both because it’s a politically charged issue and because it’s a difficult thing to measure. One may say that a loving committed couple is enough, but one may contend that a loving committed heterosexual couple is necessary.

Katy Faust persuasively argues this latter view in her excellent book “Them Before Us.” She explains that men and women represent two distinct and essential supports to a child growing up; fatherhood and motherhood are not interchangeable or dispensable. Furthermore, she argues that a child does best with his or her biological parents in nearly all cases. For Faust, adoption is an alternative that should only be considered in cases of serious abuse or neglect.

Not only does Faust support her argument with a multitude of studies, but she has both a homosexual parent and an adopted child. Even though her situation would suggest that same-sex adoption should be treated the same as any other parental arrangement, her reasoning leads her to think otherwise.

Faust’s example is a good model for all Christians trying to serve their community in accordance with their values. Whatever charitable work they do — whether it is finding homes for orphans or allowing those orphans to be born in the first place — it is done for the person in need, first and foremost. This is not a political or religious issue, but a human one.

It is not a coincidence that this means they are doing God’s will in the process. Contrary to what opponents claim, Christian values are based on objective truth, not blind faith to various Bronze Age prejudices. As such, the goal is not about winning, but about making the world a better place.

Auguste Meyrat is an English teacher in the Dallas area. He holds an MA in humanities and an MEd in educational leadership. He is the senior editor of The Everyman and has written essays for The Federalist, The American Conservative, and The Imaginative Conservative, as well as the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter.


Supreme Court Appears Sympathetic To Christian Baker In LGBT Rights Dispute

Reported by Kevin Daley | Supreme Court Reporter | 12:17 PM 12/05/2017

A majority of the U.S. Supreme Court appeared sympathetic Tuesday with a Christian baker from Colorado who declined to create a custom wedding cake for an LGBT couple.

Several justices expressed concerns about the integrity of civil rights and public accommodations laws, and the Court generally struggled with the proposition that Phillips has a speech interest in his custom cakes. But Justice Anthony Kennedy and the conservative justices expressed concern about government hostility to religious believers, signaling a potential victory for the baker.

The case was occasioned when David Mullins and Charlie Craig, a gay couple, entered Jack Phillips’ Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo. After a short discussion with the prospective patrons, Phillips said he would not sell them a custom wedding cake due to his deeply-held religious beliefs. Mullins and Craig filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, prompting a lengthy legal battle culminating in an appeal to the high court.

Phillips says he has sold baked goods to LGBT persons in the past, and that he would similarly sell generic baked goods — including cakes — to Mullins and Craig. He refuses, however, to create a custom cake conveying a message respecting their nuptials, and argues the state cannot compel him to create speech with which he disagrees.

During Tuesday’s argument, several justices expressed concern about the line Phillips asked them to draw. Assuming that a cake is in fact speech, Justice Elena Kagan wondered which other proprietors could also decline to provide services for a same sex wedding. Kagan used the example of a makeup artist or a hairstylist, professionals who uses a highly-specialized skill set to create beauty. Kristen Waggoner, the lawyer representing Phillips, replied that hair and makeup is not expressive.

Kagan later expressed incredulity when Waggoner said a baker creates protected expression, but a chef does not.

Attempting to extricate her from Kagan’s withering hypotheticals, Justice Samuel Alito asked if architecture could be considered speech. Waggoner said no, since architecture is primarily functional. Justice Stephen Breyer noted it would be odd indeed if a cake was considered speech, but an architectural masterpiece by Mies or Michelangelo was not.

Breyer added that a poorly-tailored free-speech exemption for religious dissenters could compromise public accommodation laws, which require businesses to treat all customers equally.

“The reason we’re asking these questions is because obviously we want some kind of distinction that will not undermine every civil rights law from the year two,” he said.

Kagan revived her line of questioned when Solicitor General Noel Francisco stood to argue on behalf of the federal government, which supports Phillips. She asked if a renown chef at a tony restaurant could refuse service to a gay couple celebrating their wedding anniversary. Like Waggoner, Francisco said a chef’s work is not protected speech, since it is a generic, uncustomized product.

“So the baker is speech, but the great chef who is like ‘everything is perfect on the plate and it’s a work of art, it’s a masterpiece’ [isn’t]?” she said.

“My colleagues, I think, go to more elite restaurants than I do,” Alito quipped, to laughter.

All told, the Court struggled to navigate Phillips’ free speech argument. In something of a role reversal, Breyer appeared decidedly sympathetic to the baker’s religious convictions, while Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch acknowledged a ruling in his favor might create chaos in civil rights law. All nine justices appeared unable to find a sufficient remedy on free speech grounds.

The Court seemed less divided over the Commission’s conduct in adjudicating the matter. Kennedy suggested that Colorado has not been tolerant of Phillips’ religious beliefs while handling this controversy. At one juncture, he asked Colorado Solicitor General Frederick Yarger to disavow statements made by commissioners during a hearing, which suggest hostility to orthodox religion.

One statement, which he read in part from the bench, said religion has been used to justify slavery and the Holocaust.

“[R]eligion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust,” one commissioner said. “We can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use.”

“Tolerance is essential in a free society,” Kennedy said. “And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual. It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs.”

Seizing on this point, Alito claimed the Commission has not treated similarly-situated bakers equally. In a 2014 case, the Commission found that a Denver-area bakery which refused to create cakes promoting traditional marriage did not discriminate against a patron’s Christian religious beliefs. This, he said, was evidence that the Commission does not fairly enforce anti-discrimination law.

Roberts elsewhere feared that anti-discrimination laws like Colorado’s could be weaponized against religious groups. He asked Yarger if the state could force a religious pro-bono law group like Catholic Legal Services to represent a gay couple in a lawsuit relating to their wedding plans. After a lengthy exchange, Yarger said they could.

At the argument’s conclusion, it appeared possible that the Court will side with Phillips given the Commission’s alleged failure to enforce anti-discrimination law fairly, while avoiding a sweeping decision about the rights of religious dissenters.

The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, will be decided by June 2018.

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