Apparently it is all the rage these days for state legislatures to introduce “religious freedom” bills that would allow people to refuse to do business with someone if it would go against their sincerely held religious beliefs. Clearly we are to understand these bills as a means for people who disapprove of same-sex weddings to not have to provide services for those weddings. On the one hand, this seems like not such a big deal. Who really wants an appalled photographer or caterer harshing the vibe at your wedding? Why should people have to participate in something that they disapprove of? Would I be willing to serve canapés at a dog fighting ring or a KKK rally?
But the proposed laws don’t state that no one should have to provide services that run counter to their conscience. They don’t suggest that it would be appropriate to refuse to do business with BP because you’re still mad about their massive oil spill from a criminally flawed deep water drill, or that we as a society get it if you don’t want to take photographs for the catalog of a clothing company complicit in the abuse of Bangladeshi workers. No, these bills are about religious freedom.
So I call bullshit. Your religion sets boundaries on how you live your life. It may tell you that it is wrong to be in a relationship with a person of the same sex, or to eat pork or to eat beef or to touch a woman who is menstruating. It may tell you that you should wear special underwear or a special hat or to wash your hands and feet before you pray. And no one has the right to interfere with your choices around any of those or a hundred or a thousand more ways of expressing your sincere religious beliefs.
But we don’t need any extra laws to say that. We have one already, called the First Amendment. Got it covered. So then the question is whether we need laws to protect you from in any way condoning other people doing things that are counter to your religious beliefs. Let me give you the short answer. No.
If you are Catholic and you disapprove of birth control, that means you shouldn’t use it. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have to comply with an insurance mandate to cover it for other people. How other people prevent pregnancy is not part of your religious practice. If your religion forbids your eating pork, or mixing milk and meat, don’t do it. But your religion doesn’t forbid you from taking pictures of people eating cheeseburgers with bacon. If you don’t think gay people should get married, then don’t marry a person of your gender. Who you bake a cake for is not part of your religious practice. Your religious beliefs apply to you, and if your God is going to judge you for standing by while other people live out their own religious lives, then your God needs to get a grip.
Of course, the reality of these laws has nothing to do with freedom of religious practice. Their function is merely to serve as a way for people who are losing a legal and cultural battle to try to exert control over something that has already escaped them. It is a place to put all the rage over losing the privilege of being able to assume that the way they see the world is the way everyone sees it. And everyone is entitled to their own rage, as well as their own religious beliefs. But like religious beliefs, no one is entitled to impose their rage on someone else. That’s the law.