Monday, April 6, 2015

'Would You Like a Pizza To Go With That Gay Marriage in Indiana?'

'Can you make that a double cheese
please?'
Setting aside the seriousness of the debate over religious freedom and individual freedom for a moment, has anyone given much thought to the circumstances in Indiana that brought the nation to its knees this past week?

A Christian family owns Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana. They offer prayer with anyone in Walkerton who wants to come into Memories Pizza with any personal issue. They are known for being a workplace ministry and no doubt have helped hundreds of people over time in that small town of 2200 people.

An aspiring intrepid 'investigative reporter', no doubt, walked in to ask them about their reaction to the recent passage of the state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) signed by Indiana Governor Mike Pence.

From the Washington Post:
“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” Crystal O’Connor, one of the proprietors of Memories Pizza, told ABC 57 on Tuesday night.
To be clear: No one has reported that Memories has actually denied service to anyone.'
Let's stop right there for a moment.

What sort of weddings are going on in Indiana anyway? Is it typical of any couple, gay or straight, to order boxes of pizza for their wedding ceremony in Walkerton, Indiana? What about a wedding cake and some fries to go with that? Why did this reporter even go into a well-known Christian-owned pizza place to ask about catering a gay wedding in the first place?

Memories Pizza has never denied service to any gay couple who might have ever walked into their pizza place.

This was a hypothetical question posed by the aspiring Woodward and Bernstein reporter for a station that probably said as a tease in a deep voiceover to the evening news: 'Tonight. You may think small town bigotry no longer exists. But it does. We found it in Walkerton, Indiana. More at 6'

So this is another case of hyped-up and over-blown media-incited and activist-fueled 'strife in America' amplified by social media and the speed of sound over the airwaves and on the internet based on a hypothetical situation answered by a Christian pizza shop owner in a small town in Indiana.

This is what has happened to 'news journalism' in the age of social media? Have the J-schools at major universities been shut down for the past 20 years?

What is all this furor in Indiana about anyway? What is 'RFRA' and why are we even talking about 'religious freedoms' in America anyway?

It all started with people wanting to smoke peyote for their religious ceremonies. Believe it or not.
'In Employment Division v. Smith (1990), two American Indians who worked as private drug rehab counselors ingested peyote as part of religious ceremonies conducted by the Native American Church, and they were subsequently fired. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the firing, with Justice Antonin Scalia saying that using a religious exemption in conflict of a valid law “would open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.”
A near unanimous Congress passed RFRA in 1993 and President Bill Clinton signed the law. RFRA said that “governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification” and “the compelling interest test as set forth in prior Federal court rulings is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests.'*
We were up there working in Congress in 1993 when President Bill Clinton signed the bill after it has been introduced by then-Congressman Chuck Schumer of New York and now-deceased Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, both ardent liberal Democrats. This is hardly a vestige law of the Moral Majority and Jerry Falwell as many today seem to believe.

We remember all the debate over this issue but it came down to one very important element of our constitutional democratic republic, one that seems to have been overlooked more times than not in recent years: the conflict between the religious freedom of one person or group versus the individual freedom of another person or group. In the case of RFRA, it is more specifically targeted to what the government does to force one person of religious faith to do something contrary to that faith.

Freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly are all balled up in the First Amendment with freedom of the press. The Founders didn't tell us which had more or less importance nor did they tell us what percentages of each goes into each conflict that might arise in America over the next 238 years. They basically said 'they are all equally important, none more so than the other three'.

Here's the best summary we have found yet on this subject that might shed some better light on this complicated issue than some breathless commentator on MSNBC or FOX News you may have been watching lately.

RFRA is simply a way for a person or business to challenge any government action that forces them to do something that might violate their personal religious beliefs. As Obamacare has already proven in the Hobby Lobby case, the passage of any legislation may have the unintended consequence of forcing a believer of any faith to do something they strongly believe is contrary to their fundamental beliefs.

Think of RFRA cases as being akin to a 'conscientious objector' who did not go to war after being drafted because they were a a Quaker or a member of another completely pacifist religion. If the federal government all of a sudden passed a law saying every Jewish prisoner had to eat the standard prison fare that included pork on a daily basis, then those Jewish prisoners would have an outlet to file a grievance against such a mis-guided law through RFRA.

Our society strives for tolerance. That does not mean we have to accept the beliefs or social mores of any other person as if it were our own, does it?

There is a difference in being tolerant of gay marriage and the state forcing a person to take part in a gay marriage ceremony. Isn't that the issue here? This pizza joint doesn't deny service to gays. Gays can come in and eat as much pepperoni supreme pizza as they want on all-you-can-eat night with the best of them.

However, forcing an individual to take part in a wedding ceremony takes the concept a step further than mere commerce, yes? If they don't want to participate in a gay wedding religious ceremony, does the government have the means and the power to force them to do so against their will?

There are tons of examples where we could go list the potential lawsuits that could arise unless we return to some sort of sanity in our public discourse and media coverage.

  • Jewish rabbis being asked to officiate at atheist weddings ('Why not? It is 'just' a wedding and we like the ceremony after!' He should be forced to officiate at our wedding!' you could hear the atheist couple exclaim);
  • Southern Gentiles asking Muslim butchers to cut pork for their pit-cooked barbecue ceremony after Bubba and Jessie's wedding on Saturday evening; 
  • Christian photographers being asked to film a Jewish bar mitzvah with non-kosher equipment.

Wonder if a gay photographer would not agree to shooting an evangelical revival tent meeting for the simple reason that he/she doesn't agree with Christian evangelism and their view on gay marriage? Should a gay photographer be forced to photograph the religious event if they don't want to?

Let's say Kim Kardashian and Kanye West walk into a Christian photographer's office. They want pretty intimate pictures of them together so they can (for some reason) post it on social media for all the world to see. Is a Christian photographer who may be unwilling to take such explicit photos beholden to take the job just because they asked him/her to do the photo shoot despite his/her personal religious beliefs against such photos?

There are those on the liberal side of the spectrum, and some libertarians as well, who would argue that if there are ANY exemptions to broad-based laws, that some people may be denied service in one form or another from time to time.

What is their alternative? That every American be forced to believe the same beliefs, walk around with the same belief structure, hold the same political views, read the same literature and say the same things as every other person in America?

Care to guess what the outcome of that effort would be? A nation of atheists who would agree to the lowest common denominator of acceptable personal and civic behavior who don't argue with anyone because that would upset the social order. Sort of like in Soviet Russia not too long ago.

What we need now more than ever is a way that we can recognize the different faith structures, political beliefs and socio-economic we all have in this pluralistic democratic republic we have here in America...and celebrate it, not incinerate it.

Professor John Inazu of the Washington University School of Law is writing a book called 'Confident Pluralism' in which he tries to parse out these differences and suggest ways in which we can all live together despite our differences.**

As Richard John Neuhaus of the Washington, DC-based Ethics and Public Policy Center said:

'We do not kill one another over our disagreements about the will of God because it is the will of God that we not kill one another over our disagreements about the will of God.' ***

Some of this debate over religious freedom versus discrimination is common sense. A gay couple about to be married would not choose to ask a fundamentalist minister of a Christian church, Jewish synagogue or, God forbid, a Muslim mosque to perform their wedding ceremony full-well knowing that they were against the idea of gay marriage in the first place. They would go to a minister of a sect or denomination that agrees with them on the issue of gay marriage.

That is sort of the political marketplace of religion nowadays it seems. There is almost always a house of worship that agrees with you on some part of or all of your political beliefs. At least in America, that is.

We don't have to be exactly the same in every regard to be Americans, do we? Isn't part of the allure and charm of being an American the fact that we are all different and we bring many cultures, religions and beliefs to our common life together?

We can all agree to disagree in a civil and non-disagreeable manner, yes?

We have to learn how. Perhaps Professor Inazu's book will show us the way.

* from the National Constitution Center

** From the book, 'Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference' by John D. Inazu, Associate Professor of Law and Political Science, Washington University in St. Louis due out this year

excerpt from his lecture at Duke University's Christianity and Scholarship Forum:

'Americans like to talk about unity: we see ourselves as E pluribus unum (“out of many, one”), “one nation, indivisible,” and in pursuit of “a more perfect union.” But much of our actual existence is characterized more by difference and disagreement than by unity. We lack agreement about the purpose of our country, the nature of the common good, and the meaning of human flourishing. Our differences pervade our backgrounds, preferences, moralities, tastes, and allegiances. And our differences will likely only increase—due to increased immigration, a proliferation of beliefs, and a continued fracturing of a previously imagined unity. 

That leaves us with a practical problem in need of a political solution. Rousseau proposed one answer to that problem: “it is impossible for men to live in peace with those they think are damned.”  I’ll offer a different possibility: Confident Pluralism. Confident Pluralism insists that our shared existence is not only possible, but also necessary. Instead of the elusive goal of E pluribus unum, Confident Pluralism suggests a more modest possibility—that we can live together in our “many-ness.” That vision does not entail Pollyanna-ish illusions that we will overcome our many differences and live happily ever after. It forces us to pursue a common existence in spite of our deeply held differences. Confident Pluralism will not give us the American Dream. But it might help avoid the American Nightmare.'

*** from Neuhaus Feb 1996 article, 'Why Can't We All Get Along?'

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