Sunday, January 31, 2016

Religious liberty or discrimination?

The tension between religious freedom and the law is palpable, and in the past years this tension has only become more apparent. The line between religious freedom and discriminatory actions is often not well defined, due to this unsettled issue we often see cases that beg the question, is the exclusion of certain groups on the basis of religious beliefs ethical?
Since the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage would be legal in all 50 States, legislators across the country have been proposing bills that would make it so business owners, and some public employees have the ability to refuse services to people, based on their sexual preference, by saying that it goes against their religious beliefs. Bills like Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and now in Georgia, Senate Bill 129 has gained much attention for doing just this. This bill would allow for business owners to refuse services to homosexual people, on the basis that it goes against their religious beliefs.  
Josh Mckoon (R-Columbus)
This is the second time Senate Bill 129 will be put to vote. The first time was in mid 2015, the Bill went through the Georgia State Senate, and passed without a hitch, the bill was stopped in the House Judiciary Committee, however, for not having an anti-discriminatory clause. The creator of the Bill, Senator Josh Mckoon (R-Columbus) states that that if an anti-discriminatory clause were to be added the essence of the bill would be gutted. Without this anti-discriminatory clause, support for this bill went from a large bipartisan support to having only 27% of the state senate’s support, made up almost exclusively of republicans. Gay rights groups are not the only groups contesting the passage of this bill. Senate Bill 129 is one of many bill the members of the Georgia state legislature are trying to add to ‘help combat the war against religious liberty’. Nevertheless Mckoon denies all assertions that the bill has an anti-gay agenda.
Major corporations, such as Google, Coca-Cola, and Delta Airlines are in fierce opposition of this Bill, citing the harm it did to the Indiana state economy after they passed a very similar Bill in 2015. According to a study, if Georgia was to pass this bill without an anti-discriminatory clause they are looking at national outrage, leading to an annual 4% loss in investment throughout the state, affecting the states economy exorbitantly.
            In terms of discrimination, this Bill could be detrimental to the status of gay and lesbian people living in Georgia. In 21 states, there are laws in place to protect people from discrimination based on sexual preference, however Georgia is not one of them. Without laws like this, Senate Bill 129 will lead to gays and lesbians being treated by the states government as second-class citizens. The language of this bill is far to flexible not to have an anti-discriminatory clause, without it I believe this bill to be unconstitutional because it unfairly disadvantages a certain group.
            Erick Erickson a radio host, and a very vocal supporter of Senate Bill 129 claimed; “absolute majority of American support religious exceptions relating to providing goods and services to gay marriage.” What Mr. Erickson, as well as other supporters of this bill forget, is that the law is there to protect minorities, not the majority. Supporters of this Bill also argue that it has no anti-gay agenda, however no activist groups have spoken positively about the Bill.
The bothersome aspect of this Bill is its stance on what you can and cannot discriminate against. Like race and gender, sexual preference is something you cannot decide. I think James Esseks, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & HIV Project director says it best; “Religious freedom is critical to America’s core identity, but we know religious freedom doesn’t give anyone the right to harm other people. That’s discrimination, not religious freedom.”

Thankfully the chance this bill passes through Senate is little to none without legislators adding an anti-discriminatory clause, which the authors of this Bill seem firmly against. This Bill does bring a lot of unresolved issues to the forefront, should religious beliefs allow you to discriminate on the basis of sexual preference? This debate is on going, and Senator Mckoon’s bill is not alone on trying to create more protections for religious groups to combat the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage, religious liberty is a cornerstone of American politics, however we must ensure that by supporting one group we are not putting another at a disadvantage.


Samantha Woolford said...

This is a very difficult situation in which people need to decide what is more important, religious beliefs or individual rights? I agree that this bill should not be passed unless it has some sort of anti-discriminatory clause (however, I also agree that the purpose of the bill would then be "gutted" should there be such a clause added). Religion is definitely important, but when a person decides to enter the public working place, they need to realize that not everyone follows their beliefs or their religion, so they need to be respectful of others. The bill is unconstitutional in that it violates the rights of certain individuals, relative to the religion of the person denying another certain services.

Sara G. said...

I believe that the bill seems very unconstitutional as it is. It is illegal to discriminate against other factors such as race and gender, so why shouldn't sexuality be protected as well. There is a religious sect which prohibits women from wearing pants. If someone of this faith owned a store that sold clothing, would they be allowed to prohibit women from buying pants? Can a business refuse service to someone because of what their religion may say about race? What if they are wearing something that violates their religion like another religion's symbol, or the example of a woman wearing pants? No, this would be deemed unconstitutional discrimination. Sexuality should absolutely be something that is covered under all anti-discrimination acts, just like other forms of personal identity. Race, religion, gender, and sex are all protected nation wide against discrimination. These are all personal identities that do not interfere with someone's ability to perform tasks or function in society, and since sexuality is also such an important part of personal identity that doesn't inhibit performance in society it should also be protected throughout the country. Another point to be made is that sexuality is someone's own personal preference. A business cannot refuse a public service to someone because their private beliefs or opinions differ from the beliefs of the business owner. A vegan restaurant can't refuse service to non-vegans because owners see their normal meat-eating as wrong, and a conservative store owner can't stop a young girl from buying tight-fitting clothing because they believe in modesty. A business offering some public service cannot, or at least shouldn't be allowed to, force customers to accept the business owner's personal ideals and lifestyles before offering the service.

Caroline S. said...

Georgia Senate Bill 129 is evidently a highly controversial bill because it aims to allow businesses to deny service to particular customers based upon sexual orientation. The bill has lost a lot of support due to its lack of an anti-discrimination clause- I did not fully understand the argument that this would "gut" the bill's purpose because the premise of the bill is that a religious belief permits denial of service- which would in theory mean that a religious belief excludes these business owners from being discriminatory. Otherwise the intention of the bill would be characterized as unconstitutional- it is illegal in this country to discriminate against an individual based upon sexual orientation. Although I understand that some religions believe that homosexuality is wrong- I do not think that religion should trump individual liberties in this case. Although these businesses are private, it is still an infringement of an individual's civil rights to bar them from service. This reminds me of integration because a lot of people thought that white people and black people should not be served at the same restaurants or drink from the same fountain- however their personal beliefs did not allow them to deny individuals service after the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. The individual's belief in segregation did not permit them to deny the civil liberties of others.

Lauren C. said...

This bill, like others have said, is clearly controversial for obvious reasons. However, the bill in itself somewhat contradicts the premise of religious freedom. Our rights allow us to freely practice our respective religions, but it does not allow people of one religion to force others to follow the rules and values of their own religion. This bill states that someone of a particular religious group can deny service to someone based off of the fact that the person goes against their religious beliefs. But can we not view it from the other perspective and say that the customer being refused service is not obligated to conform to the religious beliefs of the store owner? I understand that the businesses are private, but agreeing with Caroline, these are individual civil rights that are being infringed upon. This bill seems unconstitutional in all aspects.