The First Amendment of the Constitution states the following: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” There are many ways in which this amendment has been interpreted over the past 230 years. Some people believe the government shall not discriminate against someone based on his or her religious beliefs. Other’s believe this allows for the open practice of all religions. Yet, there are some who would believe that because there is no “prohibiting the free exercise” of their religion, they are free to practice it and implement their beliefs wherever and on whomever they chose. Many people believe this nation is a Christian nation and, as such, all laws should be based on the Christian Bible.
The interpretation of the First Amendment of the Constitution is bound to continue for years. Our founding fathers, whether they intended to or not, left much of the language of our most precious document vague. This vagueness has allowed great debates to take place in the halls of our capitol and around the dinner room tables in our homes. What makes this nation great is we are free to practice whatever religion we chose, if we want to. There are some people who chose not practice or do not believe, and that is also allowed. Yet, something terrible is beginning to happen, state legislatures around the nation are debating bills which, if passed and implemented, could allow for the wholesale discrimination of anyone who does not adhere to a certain set of values.
In Arizona this week, the state legislature passed a bill, the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, which would allow for businesses to turn away customers because of their “deeply” held religious beliefs. The bill is now awaiting the signature of Governor Jan Brewer, who has not said whether she supports the bill or not. This bill and others like it was passed in response to the growing number of states which now allow same-sex marriage. It is the belief of the Arizona legislature and others, that small business owners are being unfairly persecuted because they refuse to service to same-sex couples, based on their “deeply held” religious beliefs. These same lawmakers also believe that Christianity is under attack in this nation and they must move to protect their religion.
However, there is a problem with this bill and others like it: While the aim is to prevent a small business owner from being sued by a gay or lesbian couple for declining their business, there is nothing in the bill which says the business owner cannot turn away a Muslim or a Jew, because it offends their religious beliefs. This bill can give carte-blanche to small business owners to decline service to an unwed mother, to someone who is unemployed, to a person who has no religious belief whatsoever. All the small business owner has to say is that it offends their “deeply held” religious beliefs.
The great thing about this nation is how every single person is allowed to practice his or her religion without fear of prosecution or discrimination. This law does away with that. If a Jewish family goes into a bakery owned by a Baptist and orders a cake for their son’s Bar Mitzvah, the bakery owner can decline to make said cake because the customer is not Baptist and does not believe in Jesus Christ. While the law would protect the owner of the bakery, it would be discriminating against the customer. If a Muslim man went into a bank owned by a Catholic and asked for a small business loan; the bank could refuse service because the owner objects to Muslim religion. Signing this bill into law could open a Pandora’s Box of discrimination, all for the sake of religious freedom.
There is a great fallacy being perpetrated on the religious right these days; that they are being persecuted. Yet, no one is forcing them into hiding. No laws have been enacted which prohibit their religion. Gay men and lesbians, who wish to get married are not forcing these people to watch their weddings. Gays and lesbians do not have a plan to convert children to become satanists. In fact, the only people who are trying to convert others are the religious zealots who feign indignation at the way others live their lives. Declining service to someone because of his or her religion, sex, handicap and sexual orientation is discrimination; plain and simple. Signing this bill into law would allow for state sanctioned discrimination, based on religion. Now that goes against the First Amendment.