The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Freedom of religion or freedom of discrimination?

Recently, the Kansas Legislature failed to pass a law that, in sponsors’ eyes, would have guaranteed private citizens freedom to practice their religion as they see fit. While the Kansas House of Representatives easily passed House Bill 2453, the Senate did not. The law’s goal was simple: to protect God-fearing Kansans from the wrath of the homosexual agenda.

While Kansas antidiscrimination laws do not explicitly mention “homosexual rights,” the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community still feels entitled to sue private businesses when they decide to stand up to the homosexual agenda. Florists, wedding cake makers and even daycare centers can be the victims of a lawsuit, just because the owner or operator does not support state-sanctioned gay marriages on religious grounds. Kansas is not the first state to attempt to protect religious freedoms in this way; the state of Washington recently considered a similar bill, which was quashed by gay activists. Although Washington has redefined marriage, Kansas still firmly supports its traditional definition. This makes it all the more baffling that they would punt on such a crucial bill for Kansans’ protection.

While HB 2453’s detractors claimed that the law would violate the U.S. Constitution, the First Amendment is incredibly clear on this issue: People are free to practice their religion as they see fit. Not as other people see fit and not as the state sees fit. Therefore, it is totally logical that a business owner with a firm belief in the Bible would not want homosexuals in his establishment. After all, did the Puritans not come to America to escape the religious persecution they experienced in England? The Puritans founded Massachusetts Bay Colony so that they could kill their own children, ban atheism and subjugate women, without the United Kingdom telling them otherwise.

Similarly, Kansans deserve some real protections for what they believe in. If a Christian business owner does not want to let the people who crucified the Lord and Savior into his establishment, why should he? If a sports bar owner is tired of insubordinate women coming into the bar without their husbands, shouldn’t he be able to ban them? And if a Mormon restaurant owner is tired of people disrespecting his religion by drinking coffee, can’t he refuse service to people who are known coffee-drinkers?

You see, once the state decides that the freedoms of one group (here, Christians) can only be protected by marginalizing the rights of another, it opens the door to all manner of unusual laws (and lawsuits). Why does the state have the right to tell private businesses how they must operate? Because when those businesses serve an important purpose (supermarket, gas station, medical clinic) in a small community, allowing them to discriminate against customers potentially means depriving people something that they cannot obtain elsewhere.

Further, encouraging businesses to justify their discrimination on the basis of religion is a vague and loophole-prone tactic. Who decides a business’ religious policy? If a business owner wants to attract gay and lesbian clients, but an employee of that business has a religious objection, can the employer fire them for not doing their job? Of course not, because Kansas employment laws protect citizens from being fired on the basis of their religion. But if business owners have the right to choose if they will serve same-sex couples, how can they choose to, without violating the religious beliefs of their own employees? Who decides what constitutes a religious belief? Which religions are eligible for consideration?

The law, as written, would suggest “all of the above.” Does that mean that Christians can ban non-Christians from entering their businesses? What if those businesses sell the things that non-Christians use to practice their religions (like supermarkets)? Does religious freedom trump women’s rights, as well? Laws such as HB 2453 fail to distinguish people’s right to believe in a religion, from their right to practice it with impunity. Multiple Supreme Court rulings have reaffirmed that one person’s religious freedoms end where another person’s freedoms begin. No one’s rights (religious, gender-based, or marital status-based) hold priority in a court of law, because all people are equal in the eyes of the law. That is just as much a part of the Constitution (through the 14th Amendment) as the separation of church and state.

Kansas senators realized that such a blatant attempt to marginalize homosexuals would be their own undoing, and so they stopped it. However, the Arizona Legislature has approved a similar bill, which is currently sitting on Republican Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk. She has decided to veto the bill, but in today’s political climate, these bills can pop up anywhere. Time will tell whether a bill like this can pass, and the fallout from it will be disastrous, to say the least.

Richard Furstein is a senior anthropology major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at op-ed@thetriangle.org.