As the 2016 Presidential campaign gets underway, one of the initial issues, particularly for Republican candidates, appears to be “religious freedom.” The fact that this issue is becoming more and more politically volatile seems ironic, because it appears, from all the rhetoric, that everyone’s for religious freedom.
The problem is that an awful lot of socially conservative religious groups and their followers seem to believe that their religious freedom includes the freedom to restrict the rights of others and essentially force non-believers to conform to the standards of those conservative groups.
Drawing the line between one person’s free exercise of religious rights and others’ freedom of action is getting both trickier and more litigious, especially with regard to same-sex marriage. Some conservatives have opposed same-sex marriage on religious grounds, because their scriptures define marriage as between a man and a woman. Others believe that same sex marriage should be legally accepted, just as heterosexual marriages are, and it’s likely that the Supreme Court will rule on the issue this summer. But so long as the law does not require heterosexuals to enter into same sex marriage or mandate that clergy of a specific denomination perform same-sex marriages, how would the legality of a same-sex marriage infringe on the rights of believers who oppose such a marriage? The only thing it infringes on is their ability to dictate who others shoulder marry. There have also been several associated lawsuits dealing with the issue of whether providers of goods and services must provide such to same sex couples, especially, for some reason, wedding cakes.
In the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court held on a 5-4 decision that corporations privately held by a limited number of persons did not have to provide medical insurance coverage for contraceptives because that practice violated the religious beliefs of the corporate shareholders. I suspect that the decision will spur other “religious freedom” lawsuits because it sets a precedent, however limited, whereby plaintiffs can use the combination of economic power and religion to impose their beliefs on others – or at the very least, make them pay more to exercise beliefs at variance with those of their employers, or more than others employed elsewhere would pay.
Personally and practically, especially after having spent more than twenty years living in the semi-sovereign theocracy of Deseret, i.e., Utah, I am very leery of conservatives agitating for “religious freedom,” because that is almost always code for, “we intend to do our best to make you conform to our beliefs.” And in Deseret, the good old Mormon boys are very good at it, which might be why Utah has one of the greatest discrepancies between male and female wages in the entire United States, and why almost no state legislation can get passed without the tacit approval of the LDS General Authorities.
Voters should look closely at the “religious freedom” issue. I suspect what the conservatives have in mind isn’t going to make life easier for religious minorities, which is what religious freedom would seem to mean, but an attempt to impose “Christian” standards of some sort on everyone else… or at least to declare that the candidate would do so if the Supreme Court didn’t stand in his way… and by the way, all of those Presidential candidates hopping on the “religious freedom” bandwagon, at least so far, are men.