Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Iowa Reps cite religious freedom to justify discrimination

Here is what the bill they plan to introduce in their House would allow:

It would be legal for an Iowa business owner who cites religious beliefs to refuse to provide jobs, housing, goods or services to people involved in a marriage that violates his or her religious convictions, according to a bill an Iowa House subcommittee will consider on Wednesday.

House Study Bill 50, called the Religious Conscience Protection Act, would allow a person, business or organization such as a charity or fraternal group to deny services without fear of facing a civil claim or lawsuit if they think doing so would validate or recognize same-sex relationships.

On its face this is ridiculous. Its obviously about gay marriage. But it would also allow a grocery store owner to say that married Catholics can't shop at her or his store because Catholics are evil according to her or his religious belief.

Legally it seems a bit more complicated since there is the 1st Amendment that allows for freedom of religion and freedom of expression. Since I'm not a lawyer I'm not going to argue the legal merits of the bill, which doesn't seem likely to pass. But I do want to look at some things that I find interesting.

First is the idea of religious belief. What constitutes a religious belief according to these Iowan lawmakers? Does atheism qualify? What about Whedonism, the belief that Joss Whedon is a complete badass? My life and morals are dictated just as much by Joss Whedon as many Christians' belief in their religion. So I'm not sure how they would define religious belief.

The other part is the marriage aspect of it. What does the fact that a couple is married have to do with someone providing them with a service? If your religious beliefs are that important why shouldn't you be allowed to deny things to single people or couples? How does the marriage of a couple affect someone else's freedom of religion, expression, speech, etc.?

The answer is that it doesn't. The act of one man marrying another man does not infringe on anyone's right to freedom of religion nor does it establish a religion. But if it does establish a religion in violation of the 1st Amendment I'm not sure how a man marrying a woman doesn't violate it also.

I will give credit to the people who drew this up because legally I'm not sure how I'd attack it. Though I'm sure there is a way. But aside from a legal point of view this is a ridiculous reading of the right to religious freedom. In fact its a bastardization of the right to give legal cover to those who want to deny things to others because they don't share the same religious beliefs.

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