SB 180, the bill intended to shore up religious freedom protections for business owners, is receiving harsh criticism from much of the media. Last week, the Kentucky New Era (KNE), a Western Kentucky newspaper, lambasted SB 180 through its editorial “Don’t give business prejudice a loophole.” It sounds good at first blush. After all, who supports prejudicial business practices? But after one better understands the issue, the headline doesn’t pass muster. The editorial claims SB 180 would “legalize discrimination against gay and lesbian Kentuckians—and perhaps others.” The bill does no such thing.
SB 180, which passed the Senate last week by a vote of 22-16, is a measure to protect the religious freedom of business owners who are being coerced by the state to service events (think same-sex weddings) they find morally objectionable. A person is not an event. A wedding is. And that’s primarily what SB 180 addresses. It protects the conscience rights of those business owners who believe participating in a same-sex marriage is sacrilegious. The KNE spins hypotheticals yet to materialize as reasons to oppose the legislation. Christian business owners who’ve had heavy fines exacted upon them don’t have such luxuries.
Consider Elaine Huguenin, a New Mexico photographer who was fined, $6600 for refusing to do a photo shoot of a lesbian wedding. Robert and Cynthia Gifford, a Catholic couple in New York, were fined $13,000 for refusing to rent their facility for a same-sex wedding. Oregon bakers Tim and Melissa Klein were fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman faces losing her business and entire life savings for refusing to provide a floral arrangement for a same-sex wedding. Here in Kentucky, Hands on Originals owner Blaine Adamson spent two years of legal proceedings for refusing to print T-shirts for an LGBT parade. Many more examples exist, but if there is any discrimination happening it is clearly against Christians who are operating their businesses according to their conscience.
Taking deeply personal pictures of a couple’s wedding ceremony is very different from selling film to a homosexual who wants to take pictures of that event. Baking a cake for a self-identified homosexual or lesbian is different from asking a baker to ice a wedding cake with celebratory messages of a gay union. Selling flowers to a homosexual is quite different from creating floral arrangements sprucing up a same-sex wedding often with messages celebrating that union.
We are not talking about individuals refusing to provide goods or services to homosexuals. The issue is over conscience rights and whether some citizens should be forced to accommodate and participate in an event that violates their religious convictions. It’s a distinction that some may not understand or even agree with, but it’s a distinction nonetheless. And one whose appeal is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which protects people from conveying messages in which they disagree.
According to the editorial “it is not appropriate for a business owner to impose his or her beliefs on customers who want to have access to a community’s full marketplace and not just part of it.” Absent a fixed moral benchmark such rhetoric is foolish and dangerous. Are we really to believe that business owners should acquiesces to every customer demand? Isn’t the Jewish deli owner imposing his or her belief when they decline to serve a Neo-Nazi sponsored event? Aren’t leaders in a Christian church imposing their belief when they refuse to allow a same-sex couple to wed in their sanctuary?
A balanced editorial would have reported that conservative Christians believe that marriage isn’t just people; it is a religious ceremony between two people of the opposite sex. Fair coverage would remind us that opponents of same-sex marriage were told for years that they would not be forced to approve of gay marriage. Live and let live, remember? Business owners were assured they’d not be required to accommodate gay weddings. Pastors were promised they’d never have to officiate one. That was then, this is now.
Deception masquerading as truth has reached its zenith and intolerance camouflaged as tolerance assaults First Amendment guarantees of freedom of religion. Crippling fines end business owners aspirations. Aggressive blacklisting marginalizes political opponents as bigots and drives them from the workplace. And a county clerk goes to jail for refusing to sign her name to a certificate decreeing marriages no one imagined possible or acceptable even a few years ago.
If this is our new found idea of freedom, may God unshackle us from our imbecility. In the meantime, SB 180 needs to pass.
Richard Nelson is the executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a nonpartisan public policy group. He resides in Cadiz, Kentucky with his wife and children.