Gay rights vs. religious freedom

gayrightsYesterday, I wrote a post noting how the mainstream media were following to a tee the media plan of same-sex advocates. I asked for stories that broke the mold. A few readers obliged, sending along a story written and broadcast by National Public Radio’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty. It’s beautifully written and crafted and really enlightens readers and listeners about the tensions involved in legal battles over gay issues. Here’s how the story is framed:

As gay couples in California head to the courthouse starting Monday to get legally married, there are signs of a coming storm. Two titanic legal principles are crashing on the steps of the church, synagogue and mosque: equal treatment for same-sex couples on the one hand, and the freedom to exercise religious beliefs on the other.

The collision that will play out over the next few years will be filled with pathos on both sides.

Titled “Gay Rights, Religious Liberties: A Three-Act Story,” the story begins by telling the story of Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster — how they met and fell in love eight years ago at a Jewish retreat. When they decided to formalize their union, they tried to get married at a Methodist worship space overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Act Two details the conflict between Methodist doctrine and practice about the blessing of same-sex unions and the desires of the lesbian couple.

When Bernstein and Paster asked to celebrate their civil union in the pavilion, the Methodist organization said they could marry on the boardwalk — anywhere but buildings used for religious purposes. In other words, not the pavilion. [Rev. Scott] Hoffman says there was a theological principle at stake.

“The principle was a strongly held religious belief that a marriage is between a man and a woman,” Hoffman says. “We’re not casting any aspersions or making any judgments. It’s just, that’s where we stand, and we’ve always stood that way, and that’s why we said no.”

The refusal came as a shock to Bernstein, who says Ocean Grove has been revived by the gay community.

“We were crushed,” she says. “I lived my whole live, fortunately, without having any overt prejudices or discrimination waged against me. So while I knew it was wrong, I never knew how it felt. And after this, I did know how that felt. It was extremely painful.”

It is so nice when a reporter can let conflicting sides put the conflict in their own terms, as Hagerty does. Efficiently and clearly, Hagerty explains that the couple filed a complaint with New Jersey’s Civil Rights office alleging unlawful discrimination. They made the case that religious beliefs are not a defense. The Methodists responded that their First Amendment rights protect them from such a case. The lesbians won and the state revoked the Methodist’s tax exemption for the worship space. The Methodists are appealing.

The third part of the story looks at the issue nationwide:

As states have legalized same-sex partnerships, the rights of gay couples have consistently trumped the rights of religious groups. Marc Stern, general counsel for the American Jewish Congress, says that does not mean that a pastor can be sued for preaching against same-sex marriage. But, he says, that may be just about the only religious activity that will be protected.

“What if a church offers marriage counseling? Will they be able to say ‘No, we’re not going to help gay couples get along because it violates our religious principles to do so? What about summer camps? Will they be able to insist that gay couples not serve as staff because they’re a bad example?” Stern asks.

Hagerty mentions other cases. Yeshiva University was ordered to allow same-sex couples in its dormitory for married couples. A Lutheran school has been sued for expelling two lesbian students. Catholic Charities abandoned adoptions services in Massachusetts after it was told to place children with same-sex couples. A psychologist in Mississippi who refused to counsel a lesbian couple lost her case and a doctor who refused to provide in vitro fertilization to a lesbian in California is likely to lose his case before the California Supreme Court.

The stories, such as this one about a wedding photographer, are riveting:
FirstAmendment

On January 28, 2008, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission heard the case of Vanessa Willock v. Elane Photography.

Willock, in the midst of planning her wedding to her girlfriend, sent the photography company an e-mail request to shoot the commitment ceremony. Elaine Huguenin, who owns the company with her husband, replied: “We do not photograph same-sex weddings. But thanks for checking out our site! Have a great day!”

Willock filed a complaint, and at the hearing she explained how she felt.

“A variety of emotions,” she said, holding back tears. “There was a shock and anger and fear. … We were planning a very happy day for us, and we’re being met with hatred. That’s how it felt.”

Willock declined to be interviewed, as did the owners of Elane Photography. At the hearing, Jonathan Huguenin said that when he and his wife formed the company two years ago, they made it company policy not to shoot same-sex ceremonies, because the ceremonies conflicted with their Christian beliefs.

“We wanted to make sure that everything we photographed — everything we used our artistic ability for, everything we told a story for or conveyed a message of — would be in line with our values and our beliefs,” he said.

The defendants’ attorney, Jordan Lorence at ADF, says that of course a Christian widget-maker cannot fire an employee because he’s gay. But it’s different when the company or a religious charity is being forced to endorse something they don’t believe, he says.

“It’s a very different situation when we’re talking about promoting a message,” Lorence says. “When it’s ‘We want to punish you for not helping us promote our message that same-sex marriage is OK,’ that for me is a very different deal. It’s compelled speech. You’re using the arm of the government for punishing people for disagreeing with you.”

In April, the state human rights commission found that Elane Photography was guilty of discrimination and must pay the Willock’s more than $6,600 attorneys’ fee bill.

Hagerty speaks with legal experts who predict gays will easily win future battles between religious rights and gay rights.

It’s a really good story, complete with a lengthy sidebar detailing how same-sex couples are successfully challenging policies of parochial schools, parachurch organizations and Christian business owners. There’s also an interactive map of the United States showing different laws by states.

The story covers a ton of ground, which only highlights the need formuch more coverage on each of the individual stories and legal battles she mentioned. It also highlights how horribly the media have reported the legal and religious ramifications of the California State Supreme Court ruling.

The other story I wanted to highlight as a good example was written by Anne Krueger and Angela Lau of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The reporters simply surveyed religious leaders throughout the area about the same-sex issue. It’s packed full of context and it really does a good job of presenting the information fairly, showing that some clergy and parishioners view same-sex marriage as a fundamental right while others view it as an unholy union.

The first mention goes to the Unitarian Universalists, but it’s followed immediately by an evangelical megachurch. Others weigh in:

freeexercise

The Roman Catholic Church is absolute on the issue. The sacrament of matrimony requires one man and one woman. Holding to that belief, the Rev. James Rafferty of St. Pius X Catholic Church in Chula Vista will not perform weddings for gay couples.

“The bottom line of the church is the building up of relationships between spouses and the begetting and rearing of children,” Rafferty said after morning Mass yesterday. “The second one cannot take place between same-gender couples.”

The San Diego Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center in Hillcrest has compiled a list of more than two dozen clergy willing to perform weddings for gay and lesbian couples.

John Fanestil, a United Methodist minister who heads a nonprofit social justice organization in San Diego, joined that list even though his denomination’s governing body does not sanction same-sex marriage.

I really appreciated how the reporters noted whether local clergy were obeying or disobeying their denominational policies and why. The reporters also contrasted teachings within Judiasm and Lutheranism.

Here’s how they ended the piece:

In his May 17 statement, [Bishop James Mathes of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego] reminded his followers that faith also can be about accepting that people won’t always agree.

“I ask all people of the diocese to hold the court’s decision gently,” Mathes wrote. “Prayerfully remember that God has placed his children, who share different perspectives on same-sex relationships, next to each other in church every Sunday.”

This story reads like the reporters understood that very thing as they prepared this story. Considering how one-sided much of the coverage has been, it’s a welcome change.

NOTE: Please keep comments on the topic of media coverage of the issue. If you want to debate same-sex marriage, do it elsewhere.

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  • Charles Curtis

    I wonder if anyone in the press is interested in the possibility of civil disobedience by religious persons and institutions over this issue?

    This is similar to the issue of the seal of confession, or priest penitent privilege, which is periodically challenged by law enforcement. I’ve discussed these issues with Catholic and Orthodox friends, and I think people might be driven to the barricades and catacombs pretty quickly.

    It’s one thing to quote traditionalists, and allow them to explain their position. The question I’d like answered, is how far are they willing to go to defend the integrity of their beliefs and institutions?

  • Michael

    I think that Hagerty’s piece is quite good, as far as it goes. What’s missing is more context–which is admittedly hard to do–although she missed the opportunity on the website. After laying out the parade of horribles, she owed it to her readers to give a sense of why the courts ruled the way they did and also explain whether there are ever cases where anti-gay discrimination has been found permissible when couched in religious belief. She also failed to connect the dots between these gay rights cases and the issue of same-sex marriage.

    The clash is going to be whether individual believers are free to violate the law and whether that freedom is contained somewhere in the First Amendment. It would be hard to poinpoint examples in history where believers–as opposed to institutions–were permitted to discriminate against other citizen and violate the law all under the guise of religious belief.

  • Thomas

    … I think where this piece falls short is in its lack of analysis of how central this issue is to people of faith, and why. I would hardly call anti-gay sentiment a core tenet of ANY faith. And yet, instead of reading about the awesome charitible work done by churches, their fine educational systems, and their other contributions to the wider community – all I seem to be seeing is how angry they are over gay couples getting hitched.

  • Jerry

    It strikes me that more and more public broadcasting is becoming one of the few places where there is decent reporting of monumental conflicts between groups that assert rights which conflict with each other.

  • Brian Walden

    The article is great. I think it reveals the large amount of ambiguity both in religious belief and the law. I think that each case that goes to court is going to lead to greater clarity in both. It will be interesting to see if religions will clarify their beliefs to try to fit into the nuances of the law. Will they instead boldly defy the law as Charles Curtis asks? Or will they follow the lead of the law if their state recognized same-sex marriage?

    From the examples given in the article, I can imagine that there may be a trend in the future of religious organizations closing themselves off to the public and only offering their services to members, thereby relying on freedom of association to only serve those who choose to abide by the group’s rules. But it seems like from the Sea Scouts example at the end of the article that even this tactic might not work. There’s not enough detail given to tell exactly why, but in an article that’s already so long Hagarty can’t be faulted for that.

  • Thomas

    Another alternative might be for the religious groups to give up their tax-exempt status, paying market rent for the use of government owned properties, and basically privatizing, as Brian noted above.

  • Some Guy

    So, how are these two things at odds? Gay marraige and religion. If religion doesn’t like it, then keep preaching it’s wrong… so what if people get married? That’s why you are fighting a losing battle as anti-gay. You are trying to influence people who don’t want to be influenced, while they are just trying to secure their own way of life.

    And as for freedom of religion, aren’t they also free to believe then that getting married is spiritually sound? If you think it’s immoral, attend a church/service that believes the same, and leave people who believe otherwise to go to their churches and services that believe what they believe.

    Too much war and fighting in the name of religion, and why I avoid it. It’s made the whole thing bitter-tasting. I consider myself spiritual, but I could never be religious. Too much concern about other people’s morality, and not enough focus on one’s own relationship with God.

  • Belden

    I am shocked that this got through unchallenged:

    The defendants’ attorney, Jordan Lorence at ADF, says that of course a Christian widget-maker cannot fire an employee because he’s gay.

    Um, but the Christian widget-maker can do exactly that, depending on the jurisdiction. Many states do not have job protection based on sexual orientation. This blatant falsehood seemed to be unnoticed or unremarked.

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    Hi Mollie,

    I agree with you that the Barbara Bradley Hagerty article is beautifully written and crafted.

    But it is crafted to advocate a position by it’s use of the lesbian woman’s story at the front end and the opinions of the lesbian gay rights advocate/ attorney at the close.

    By giving the last word to the opinion that these changes are irrevocable and that the gay lawsuits will win, doesn’t it become propaganda rather than reporting?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Several points:

    * As recently as the Clinton White House, a wide coalition of liberals and conservatives supported religious exemptions in the workplace on this issue. The status of that coalition is a major story.

    * In church-state law, the power to tax is the power to control. The legal option is to remove tax-exempt status from ALL non-profit groups, thus prevent discrimination on the basis of religious doctrine. The government is not supposed to get involved in changing doctrines except in cases of fraud, profit and clear threat to life.

    * Pastors arrested for sermons? That is a hate-speech law away from happening. Check out the trends in Europe.

  • Darel

    There is a great potential story in the actions of the New Mexico human rights commission mentioned here, and a comparison with recent actions by Canadian human rights commissions. Of course, the Canadian variant is currently under some serious public scrutiny, and not just in Canada (see the June 12 story in the New York Times, for example).

  • Michael

    Pastors arrested for sermons? That is a hate-speech law away from happening. Check out the trends in Europe.

    Where, of course, no First Amendment exists. Reporters need to deconstruct this argument and do a little fisking of this argument, which is becoming something of a meme on the right.

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  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Michael:

    Hang in there. Defend the First Amendment and decades of rulings on church & state.

    Meanwhile, many folks on the left side of the aisle greatly admire all things European. Some justices are starting to lean that way, too.

  • Martha

    Okay, can anyone explain why a Jewish (presumably) couple wanted to get married in a Methodist “worship space”?

    I suppose it was a pretty location and they picked it for being picturesque, but still – did the Methodists rent it out to weddings outside the denomination, or was it always used for Methodists only?

  • Belden

    I think it’s a bit of a stretch to call a boardwalk pavilion a “worship space”, especially if it was routinely used for other things.

    It looks a lot like a public picnic area here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/03/nyregion/03ocean.html

    And according to the NYT piece, they did let outside groups rent the pavilion.

    In its original application for the exemption — which saves the group about $500,000 a year and is up for renewal on Sept. 15, according to Bernard Haney, the Neptune Township tax assessor — the association noted that the properties were open to the public and that the pavilion had been used by outside groups.

    Sounds like the court got it right.

  • Michael

    Martha, the gazebo was seen as a public space and had nothing really identifying it is a religious. The church camp that controlled the boardwalk and gazebo and surrounding beach had obtained tax benefits in exchange for making space available to the public.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    When you see stories about parks, camps, etc., the first thing that you have to ask is whether they are truly being operated as non-profit spaces.

    But, again, when you talk about whether spaces are “sacred” or not, you are really wrestling with how courts are supposed to stay out of making those kinds of calls. Would you make the same ruling for a Muslim pavilion as for a Catholic one, a Native American pavilion or a Jewish one?

  • Brian Walden

    I don’t think the legal issue is the status of the space as sacred, it’s whether the owner of the property sees using it in a certain way as against his beliefs. I also think there’s a ripe grounds for a story in covering the difference between the ceremony and the reception.

    If I owned a pavilion, I would hope I’d have the right to not be forced to use my property to assist a couple in performing an invalid marriage ceremony. At the same time I can’t, off the top of my head, think of any reason for denying a same-sex couple (or anyone else married invalidly) who got married elsewhere from using my hypothetical pavilion for their reception.

    Also side question which popped into my head. Do states like California and Massachusetts, who have taken an agnostic stance toward the nature of marriage in favor of honoring any two people who wish to call their relationship marriage, restrict a person from marrying their child (assuming the child is old enough to freely give consent), or their sibling, or first cousin, etc. If so, why?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Please keep comments focused on media coverage, rather than the underlying issues themselves.

  • Tim J.

    I think the fact that this story has gone largely untold is a far, far more damning indictment of the media than the general cheerleading tone of most gay marriage articles. The latter I can attribute to the simple fact that the authors are just so surrounded by pro-SSM folks that they really don’t understand how people could be opposed to it. But I find it hard to believe that they’re unaware of the rest of these stories. The only reason I can think of that they’re being ignored is that reporters are worried that reporting the stories might shift public opinion in a direction they don’t want it to go, and so they’re taking it upon themselves to shield us from the truth.

    Do any of us even for a moment believe that if some Catholics got Gay Couple Adoptions shut down, it wouldn’t be plastered all over the news everywhere? But reverse is ignored, when it should have been a huge story. Had I access to media members, these are the things I would want explained. As it stands, it looks to me like they’re burying truths they find inconvenient, and I can think of no greater betrayal of journalistic principles than that.

  • Jonathan

    the association noted that the properties were open to the public and that the pavilion had been used by outside groups.

    But did any of the other outside groups violate the religious tenets of faith of the Methodists? The argument, “well, they let other people use the space!” is exceedingly weak. Hypothetically, if the Methodists allowed an atheist group to use the pavilion, then the lesbian couple has a legitimate argument. But the NYT report and others failed to note whether these other “outside groups” also violated a tenet of the Methodists’ faith or doctrine. If not, then the lesbian couples’ lawsuit violates the Methodists’ rights and I hope that appeals courts have better legal reasoning skills than those exhibited in New Jersey. If it can be shown that the Methodists did allow other groups that violated their beliefs, then they deserve to get nailed to the wall.

  • Henry

    [Rev. Scott] Hoffman says there was a theological principle at stake.
    The principle was a strongly held religious belief that a marriage is between a man and a woman,” Hoffman says.

    I think he’s playing it a little fast and loose with the term “theological principle.” The number of theological tracts that actually enumerate and elaborate on the concrete evils of homosexual marriage are surprising small. As one might imagine they’re heavy on the scripture and skimpy on the data. They’re rife with judgments, and it’s not surprising they don’t get more air time, even at the pulpit. The arguments that do get air time (and I agree, they don’t get equal coverage, or even coverage consonant with the percentage of those who hold them) are timid and oblique, typified by the Hoffman quote. If opposing viewpoints don’t get heard I think it’s due less to media neglect and more to lack of conviction on the part of those who hold those viewpoints. When one actually gets into the nitty gritty of saying why gay marriage is a moral and social wrong, even the clerics who espouse those views get squeamish and try to say, you know, the facts are beside the point. If those who defend “traditional” marriage want greater coverage of their views, they should first have the stomach to articulate those views.

  • Mark V.

    I believe that one or two Canadian clergymen were convicted for hate crimes recently because of the preaching. I didn’t see any reference to this case in the NY Times article referenced above.

  • Thomas

    Jonathon says:

    Hypothetically, if the Methodists allowed an atheist group to use the pavilion, then the lesbian couple has a legitimate argument. But the NYT report and others failed to note whether these other “outside groups” also violated a tenet of the Methodists’ faith or doctrine.

    Literally, any a group of any other faith tradition would “violate” Methodist’s faith or doctrine. It should be easy to show that they didn’t restrict use of the pavilion to Methodists, and the piece comes right out and says that it was open to the public. Based on the town’s demographic, it’s safe to say that gay people used it in an unofficial capacity for years.

  • http://knapsack.blogspot.com Jeff

    On the margin between commenting on the media coverage and discussing the issue (which i’m not gonna do, don’t delete me, pleeeeese!), how do you properly cover events that haven’t yet happened, but whose likely upcoming developments are being much discussed and the assumptions around which are driving debate and factionalism right now?

    I refer specifically to the “pastors arrested for hate speech” question hovering around these stories, for readers and i have to assume reporters. I would agree that the First Amendment means there is no likely looming arrest following a sermon — what i am concerned about, and what makes me “read” these stories more conservatively than i would otherwise, is a growing tendency to use Civil Rights Commissions on the state level to harass and deter co-workers and supervisors from having any public opinions on subjects like gay marriage — because the moment an employee is disciplined or terminated for whatever reason, you can count on a CRC filing and months, years of paperwork, attorney’s fees, and traveling to hearings that are postponed and postponed again, and then often — but not always! — resolved as “not proven.”

    That only has to happen once to you, or a colleague, to cause you to start speaking, and reading, very differently.

    So i don’t think clergy will be arrested, but they will be filed upon for preaching against gay marriage, and that drives preachers and denominational offices and religiously motivated photographers to not say what they think. That’s why i’m fascinated by Elane Photographers’ courage in sending a cheerful, clear message as to why “No” as opposed to “gosh, we’re booked.” But there’s no acknowledgment in the stories and most of the comments here that this is driving religious speech underground even while the church building may still be a State & Main.

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  • http://www.christlutheran.net Jeff Samelson

    One issue with the Hagerty sidebar: the California Lutheran High School suit is not “before a state judge” anymore, and hasn’t been for months. It was decided in favor of the school. (I had trouble finding a “regular media” reference to the decision — not sure if that’s significant.)

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    MARK V:

    Please give us some URLs. Mainstream press preferred.

    In Canada, the key issues focus not on courts, per se, but on the expanding role of civil rights tribunals that are in many ways functioning as courts.

    See: http://www.onenewsnow.com/Culture/Default.aspx?id=140824

    Or: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=66704

    Sadly, these cases are primarily drawing the attention of European-style conservative, alternative media.

    This is a story that needs to hit the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc.

  • Michael

    At the risk of having another comment spiked for disagreeing with Terry’s assumptions, I think we do need to have coverage of the Canadian tribunal stories but for a different reason. I think it’s healthy to have debate over Free Speech, but it’s also important to emphasize the radical differences between Canadian and U.S. law.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Spiking away, Michael. Editing, too.

    Please quote what I say, not what you think that I say.

    Of course there are differences in the laws. But the conflicts between religious liberty and some approaches to gay rights have been clear in church-state circles since the mid-1970s.

    Meanwhile, read on:

    http://www.nationalpost.com/todays_paper/story.html?id=580627

    Perhaps you can join me in hoping for mainstream press coverage of the issues here.

  • Dale

    Michael said:

    What’s missing is more context—which is admittedly hard to do—although she missed the opportunity on the website.

    A partial context can be just as misleading as no context at all. If a reporter is going to “provide context” to minimize the impact of gay rights law on religious freedom, the reporter should also report on how many civil rights claims are being made against gay individuals because they don’t permit their property or their business to be used by religious groups for purposes that explicitly oppose homosexual sex acts. Or a comparison of gay and religious activist groups on how they target their political opponents for civil rights suits.

    After laying out the parade of horribles,

    There’s no “parade of horribles”, Michael. The piece reports the results of real civil rights suits, and the opinions of legal scholars that these decisions aren’t flukes.

    The clash is going to be whether individual believers are free to violate the law and whether that freedom is contained somewhere in the First Amendment.

    That’s a great piece of rhetorical spin. The First Amendment is the law, and as federal constitutional law, it takes precedence over state sexual orientation anti-discrimination statutes. People who exercise constitutionally protected rights don’t violate the law; those who try to prevent them from doing so violate the constitution; even if it’s “law”, if it violates the constitution, it’s invalid.

  • Kirk

    I wish the media would do a comparison story on the *seemingly* incongruent treatment by the state of the exercise of the freedom of religion by the religious groups described in the article (e.g., the Methodists) with the FLDS group in Texas. On the one hand, the government would force the Methodists and others to act against their religious tenets; and on the other, absent evidence of direct and immediate harm to children, the government will not be permitted to interfere with the FLDS’ bizarre matrimonial practices, even though the practices are prima facie unlawful and affect children. Both cases touch upon religious rights and matrimony. Surely there’s a story in there somewhere.

  • Darel

    barbara findlay, Xtra! West, 1997: “the legal struggle for queer rights will one day be a showdown between freedom of religion versus sexual orientation.”

  • Michael

    Perhaps you can join me in hoping for mainstream press coverage of the issues here.

    Absolutely, as well as context. I’d also hope for analysis of the right’s rhetoric on these issues, which are desperately in need of some “fisking” for accuracy. The press can play an important role in teaching some basic civics lessons about the importance of the First Amendment, while also challenging assertions about the threat of European and Canadian legal consequences.

    Take for instance, this:

    The First Amendment is the law, and as federal constitutional law, it takes precedence over state sexual orientation anti-discrimination statutes. People who exercise constitutionally protected rights don’t violate the law; those who try to prevent them from doing so violate the constitution; even if it’s “law”, if it violates the constitution, it’s invalid.

    The First Amendment has never been seen as a blanket exemption from following the law, especially as it applies to noninstitutional speakers. The laws that permit churches to discriminate don’t extend to individual shop owners. There is no blanket First Amendment exemption from the laws of the land.

    Just as a shopkeeper in 1965 couldn’t refuse to take pictures of an interracial couple based on religious exemptions, a shopkeeper likely can’t use religious exemptions to avoid taking pictures of same-sex couples. Public accommodation and the right to contract don’t contain a religious believer’s exemption.

    The press can play an important role in explaining why the courts are ruling the way they do, as well as clarifying what religious liberty means in the context of U.S. and state laws.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Mollie –thanks for highlighting this issue. I have been complaining about the lack of coverage on the persecution of Christians by state power on behalf of Gays for about a year now (here and elsewhere on the internet, etc.) Maybe there will be a real breakthrough in the major MSM outlets soon (such as the NY Times, Wall Street Jounal,etc.) as one commenter observed is needed).
    And seeing so many examples in the stories and comments about state power coercing religion and religious believers on behalf of gays certainly puts the lie to the frequently gushed propaganda line in the MSM: “Oh! promoting gay life styles and allowing gay ‘marriage’ has no effect on anything else or anyone else in society.”

  • danr

    Thomas wrote, “Literally, any a group of any other faith tradition would “violate” Methodist’s faith or doctrine.”

    Not quite. You fail to consider what a good court should, by being willing to distinguish between religious essentials and nonessentials. Lutherans and Baptists and Jews don’t perfectly align with Methodist-specific “doctrine”, but Methodists could feasibly allow them to rent the pavilion in good religious conscience without fear that a major moral or spiritual tenet of their Methodist-specific faith would be violated. The same could certainly not be said for the above case.

  • Thomas

    Danr – Jews do not believe in the divinity of Christ. I kind of think that’s a religious essential – far more central to a faith tradition than whether or not gay couples should be able to use a heretofore public accomodation for a ceremony. Roman Catholics have some seriously essential religious beliefs that conflict with Methodism.

    Even the most ecumenical Baptist would say to a Methodist” “Christianity – you’re doing it wrong.”

    It simply can’t be had both ways.

  • http://www.GetReligion.org Mollie

    I think the First Amendment question is whether the state should be deciding how the Methodists practice their religion.

  • Tim J.

    Thomas, your whole argument rests on the idea that the courts are the ones who should decide what constitutes a core doctrine, rather than the Methodists themselves. That strikes me as exactly the kind of church-state meddling and restriction of free exercise that the First Amendment is supposed to forbid.

    Micheal, Thomas would provide a good example of the context you seek. Saying we can be sure our speech will be safe due to the First Amendment rings hollow when that same amendment is already failing to protect the free exercise of religion.

  • Brian Walden

    Just as a shopkeeper in 1965 couldn’t refuse to take pictures of an interracial couple based on religious exemptions, a shopkeeper likely can’t use religious exemptions to avoid taking pictures of same-sex couples. Public accommodation and the right to contract don’t contain a religious believer’s exemption.

    The issue isn’t taking any old pictures of a same-sex couple. I don’t believe that anyone should be able to refuse a person business based on their sexual inclination. The issue is that marriage ceremonies have been been a religious ceremony since the beginning – long before the state began recognizing them. A marriage ceremony is a religious event. Can the state force people to participate in a ceremony that goes against their religious beliefs? I don’t think so. It shouldn’t matter if it’s a Methodist refusing to take pictures of a gay couple’s marriage ceremony or a Catholic refusing to take pictures of the ceremony for two people who are already married to others and civilly divorced.

  • danr

    Thomas – I know what Jews believe, I was born and raised one. Yet many Jews and Christians agree to disagree on doctrine, while communing together and cooperating on activities which their faiths hold in common (feeding the hungry, Habitat for Humanity, etc).

    And even the most conservative Baptist wouldn’t have a problem with a Methodist holding a wedding (or baptism) in their church, I’ve participated in one such event. As long as that wedding was between one man and one woman, that is.

  • Thomas

    Tim J.

    Thomas, your whole argument rests on the idea that the courts are the ones who should decide what constitutes a core doctrine, rather than the Methodists themselves. That strikes me as exactly the kind of church-state meddling and restriction of free exercise that the First Amendment is supposed to forbid.

    No. The Methodists already have decided what their core doctrines are, and state them rather clearly in their sacred texts and on their website, as have the other faith traditions I named.

    One wonders, then, since each is proclaiming itself the one true faith and merely agreeing to disagree with those of other traditions on some truly essential theological matters, what truly motivated them to single out the gay couple for exclusion.

    Or, to be more fair – why hold the line at this issue and not at transubstantiation, Papal Authority, and the divinity of the Christ?

    Brian:

    The issue is that marriage ceremonies have been been a religious ceremony since the beginning – long before the state began recognizing them. A marriage ceremony is a religious event.

    Closer reading of the coverage here shows that marriage is not always a religious event – city hall officials across the country would be shocked to learn that it was. The couple in this case, on property open to the public and used by other groups, sought merely a civil ceremony.

    It’s hard to discuss the facts of a case if we rewrite them.

  • Brian Walden

    Or, to be more fair – why hold the line at this issue and not at transubstantiation, Papal Authority, and the divinity of the Christ?

    Thomas, it’s not about disagreeing with someone’s belief or sexual inclination – refusing to serve someone purely based on those things is discrimination. If a Catholic tries to get a hotel room for the night and the Baptist hotel owner sees a crucifix around her neck and refuses her a room – that’s discrimination. If a Catholic calls a different hotel and tells the owner he wants to reserve a conference room for a rosary prayer group – I think the Baptist owner has a legitimate right to refuse if she thinks it would be sinful of her to aid another person in praying to Mary. Do you see the difference?

    Closer reading of the coverage here shows that marriage is not always a religious event – city hall officials across the country would be shocked to learn that it was. The couple in this case, on property open to the public and used by other groups, sought merely a civil ceremony.

    It’s a religious event to the person who objects to it. Or does the state get to determine that his belief doesn’t count – that seems like a pretty clear violation of his First Amendment rights.

  • Dale

    Michael wrote:

    The press can play an important role in teaching some basic civics lessons about the importance of the First Amendment

    Only if the press is accurate.

    The First Amendment has never been seen as a blanket exemption from following the law, especially as it applies to noninstitutional speakers.

    No constitutional right creates a “blanket exemption”, including the right to freedom of speech. Yet state law limits on freedom of speech must serve a compelling state interest, and be the least restrictive means for protecting that interest. Whether a speaker is “institutional” is not a vital factor in determining whether the First Amendment protects his or her freedoms of speech, religion or association; rather, the fact that a speaker is “institutional” has been used to determine whether the claim of religious motivation is genuine.

    If a reporter is going to cover religious freedom jurisprudence, I would suggest that they first call Professor Douglas Laycock at the University of Michigan Law School, who is recognized as one of the top authorities in the field. As a lawyer, I see way too many articles written about law and court decisions that are inaccurate.

  • Thomas

    Brian, both of your examples sound like a refusal of a public accomodation to me. The state sets laws regarding civil marriage, not religious.

    In other words, if the pavilion owners thought it wasn’t a marriage, why the brouhaha? It’s not like they wanted to do it at their altar rail.