Sunday, April 5, 2015

Arkansas following in Indiana's footsteps

Despite controversy regarding Indiana’s recently passed, “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson signed a similar bill into law on April 3, 2015. The governor originally refused to sign the bill into law, which prompted the House to amend the bill quickly in order to get it passed. The bill in its original form was, “the most extreme version of a religious freedom act in the country,” and it was amended so that it appeared closer to the federal bill already in place.
            Bill 975 was passed with a 26 to 0 vote and allows businesses to refuse service to customers if the actions of those customers violate the religious beliefs of the religious business owners. One of the Bill’s sponsors described the Bill’s purpose as, "We're going to allow a person to believe what they want to believe without the state coming in and burdening that unless they've got a good reason to do so." The intention of the Bill is to protect religious citizens from being forced to participate in activities that go against their beliefs. 
This Bill, like the Indiana one, appears facially neutral. Nowhere in the bill does it say anything about discrimination towards the LGBTQ community. However, many people, gay or not, believe it is implied. Bill 975 gives justification to many of the current events we’ve been talking about in class recently such as the baker in Colorado, the doctor in Michigan, and the videographer in Ohio.  Under this Bill, all of these individuals would have been protected from being forced to serve the same-sex couples in each case. In addition, this Bill was passed just before the Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling regarding same-sex marriage. Many view this Bill as a preemptive measure put in place to protect religious business owners from the ruling the Supreme Court may make soon. 
            Although I do think that this Bill is discriminatory, I do think it is constitutional. The Free Exercise Clause was designed to protect the religious beliefs of individuals. I think forcing private business owners to do something that directly goes against their religious beliefs violates the Free Exercise clause. Their ability to freely practice their religion is compromised if they are forced to act in ways that violate their religious beliefs such as catering a same-sex wedding or making a floral arrangement for a same-sex couple.
This bill to me brings up the question of whose rights are more important? Is it the rights of people who live their lives in conjunction with their religious beliefs or the rights of people who want to be treated equally? I think it’s an extremely tough question to answer with no answer being the “right” one. What’s right for one group of people is not what’s necessarily right for another group which makes a Bill like this extremely difficult to pass judgment on.

Should this Bill have been passed? Is the right of Free Exercise more important than the rights of the LGBTQ community—who are citizens of this country too? Are the two even comparable?

11 comments:

Trevor T said...

I agree with the author that technically the bill is "constitutional," however it opens the door for discriminatory practices and there is a clear opportunity for a slippery slope. The bill allows for discrimination with the justification of religion. It is essentially valuing religious freedom rights over basic human rights of equality. I don't think religious rational can be used to deny service to people who don't even have the same fundamental beliefs. I think the bill is movement in the wrong direction and I can only hope and assume that Arkansas receives the same treatment of disapproval and boycotts that Indiana is receiving. I understand that if a gay couple is denied service somewhere, they could pretty easily go somewhere else for that same service, but out of principle they should not be required to be inconvenienced due to their personal and private lifestyle choices. Hopefully the supreme court will a recognize a compelling state interest in fostering a community of understanding and openness, while maintaining the necessity for religious freedom.

Molly H. said...

When it comes down to it, both Courtney and Trevor are right when saying that this newly passed bill is constitutional. It protects the religious rights of business owners, which is what the Constitution supports. However, I personally find that this law, like Trevor stated, is a prime opportunity for a slippery slope towards discrimination, racism, and sexism. What if a hasidic Jewish man who owns a business refuses to conduct business with a woman of a different religion who has been divorced. What if a Christian store owner refuses to sell his products to homosexual people or people of color? I think this law will ultimately lead to anger and upset within communities because of rising prejudices. I can only hope that, within the near future, the Supreme Court will acknowledge that this bill does not have the state's best interest in mind and that this will not support a community of understanding, as Trevor put it.

brian regan said...

`This is a tough case because I believe business owners hold the right to deny anyone business while consumers reserve the right to consume anything without being excluded based on racial/ethnic/sexual identity, etc. I believe the law is constitutional because it is facially neutral. Although, it might have some underlying discriminatory themes toward the LGBTQ community from certain religious groups. With regards to this law, I believe a somewhat backwards Sherbert Test should be invoked. The state should be allowed to restrict religious discrimination if they can prove a compelling state (individual consumer) interest outweighs this right. For instance, if a bakery had a monopoly over all wedding cakes in America and refused to serve gay customers, I believe the state should be allowed to step in and force the business transaction. If not, the law would be stopping a customer from having a wedding cake at all simply because he/she is gay. On the other hand, if the customer can get the same service down the street for a similar price, then the business owner holds every right to deny service based on their religious beliefs.

Will P. said...

I agree that the bill is at face value constitutionally viable. Facially it is neutral, and gives no reason or direct belief that discrimination is its intention. However, I am conflicted in the discrimination that will inevitably occur as a result of the passing of such a bill. This makes me contemplate the results if the sides were reversed. Lets say for example, there is a gay baker whom refuses services to a straight couple. He does not believe in straight marriage, and refuses service on those grounds. I think that the historically entrenched concept of marriage being the union between a man and a woman blinds us to the discrimination that will come from this bill.

Mackenzie Y said...

I think that the whole debate surrounding these bills is very interesting and will provide a large source of public debate in the coming future. I think that a benefit of this bill is that it finally gives a definitive answer for issues such as the baker, videographer, and doctor we have been discussing. I disagree with the author that this bill is constitutional. I think that the bill is perpetuating discrimination. As has been brought up in class numerous times, when you won and operate a business, you are providing a public good. Discrimination of a public good based on religious belief is not more important than the free exercise of the business owner, in my opinion.

Alex L. said...

Obviously these bills in Indiana and Arkansas have been portrayed in the media as a crusade against members of LGBTQ community and thus have received a ton of attention. However, I believe this is just viewing the possible negative(s) of this law. The stated intent of the law is to protect the religious rights of business owners who as we have seen in Colorado have been discriminated against themselves because of their religious beliefs. I believe that refusing service to any group for any reason is deplorable-yet it is the right of the business owner to do so. I realize this is an unpopular view-but we must not forget about the business owner as we tend to focus on the worse case scenarios this bill could produce. Fundamentally, I disagree with Trevor above that this bill “is essentially valuing religious freedom rights over basic human rights of equality.” If inequality is created through this bill it will be a shame and truly unacceptable on a moral basis-yet it is not unconstitutional.

Nate Hunter said...

To me the bill acts more as a shield than a sword. I think in effect it will protect business owners from having to break religious tenants that are very important to them, like the videographer in Ohio being forced to aid a same-sex wedding. If she had declined to film them while doing something neutral like sitting in the park, I don't think she would be able to justify that under the bills provisions, but the fact that it was a wedding, to her this was a direct affront to her god and her religious beliefs, therefore she would be protected under the bill to deny service, which I hope we can all agree is fair. To me this protects citizens constitutional rights, and is a step in the right direction for religious free exercise and the ability of small and private business owners to carry out their business in a way that suits them, which to me is completely justifiable under the constitution. In terms of the slippery slope argument, that is certainly a valid concern. However, like i said, I dont think the bill is designed in that way, so I am not worried that it is going to allow a christian business owner to deny all members of the LGBT community service at his ice cream store, because there is no real justification in that case, and he would very quickly be sued and most likely loose. So in my opinion as long as the judiciary in these states has the ability to carry out just and equal rulings regarding the newly enacted bill, i have faith that its main function will be protection rather then discrimination, but I guess only time will tell if it is applied in this idealistic way.

Nneoma I. said...

I still find it very disappointing that these bills are being passed. We've discussed many times in class the difference between belief versus action. I find that discriminating people public good or service based on religious obligation violates the 14th amendment. I disagree with the author. How can something be constitional while discriminatory? The simple fact of the matter is that those who cannot serve everyone should not have service jobs. Under this "facially neutral law" you can prove that your religion disallows you from serving disabled people or those who already live a disadvantaged and discriminated life. I think the government should spend more time protecting the rights of those discriminated against.

Ben K. said...

I agree with the author that this law is constitutional facially; however, it has underlying principles which could lead down a slippery slope and violate the free exercise of certain religions. Under the Free Exercise Clause of the 1st Amendment, everyone, no matter their faith, should have the ability to practice what they believe as long as it doesn’t harm another person’s rights. By allowing business to, in essence, discriminate based on the religious preferences of the business owner violates the right of another to practice what they believe in. As such, certain religions and even certain people (the LGBT community) are harmed by this law. This also could be seen by the state as violating the 14th Amendment Equal Protections Clause. Since all businesses require some sort of state action, the state has to ensure that equality is present in what the state is involved in. As such, this facially constitutional law can be seen as treating certain people unequally.

Nate McGuinness said...

The Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, actually had to amend his the original piece of legislation he signed into law regarding religious freedom in response to outcries about this very issue, opening the doors up for discrimination. I wouldn't be surprised if a similar measure was taken in the near future by the legislative bodies at work in Arkansas, but for now I am reluctantly inclined to agree with my classmates that technically speaking the wording itself of the law is not blatantly unconstitutional, mainly because it avoids crossing that line by being so broad and arbitrary, which is kind of the issue here since such a tactic only serves to potentially aid those looking to use the 'I'm only abiding by the tenets of my religion' as a defense when justify what would otherwise clearly be considered discriminatory actions.

Brandon Farrell said...

I agree with Nneoma,if a person isn't willing to serve all their customers how can they hold a legitimate service industry business? This bill allows for business owners to decide who and why they choose not to provide service too. What is stopping these business owners from denying service to someone they just don't get along with? If the courts are needed to establish what cases are discriminatory and what cases the denial of service is valid, isn't that entanglement? Allowing the court to determine which denials are valid and which aren't is establishing which action is legitimate and which religious denials aren't valid.