NEW CASTLE, March 29, 2015 — The U.S. Constitution created a system that prevents personal and cultural differences from tearing the country apart by providing an unbiased system to resolve conflicts. The system demands that, when the Constitution protects the rights of conflicting groups, a balanced legal solution, which respects the rights of both groups, is formulated and adopted.
It is when groups of people define themselves by conflicting differences that the cold, calculating logic of the legal system is needed to resolve disagreements over public policy in order to discourage widespread social unrest and retaliation.
In Roe v. Wade, for example, the Supreme Court sidestepped the moral implications of abortion by stating that privacy rights translate into some abortion rights, while still giving government the authority to regulate abortion.
Controversy over legal protections of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects business owners if they refuse to provide services to LGTB individuals, is another example of such a conflict.
The act affirms, “ [the] State action shall not burden a person’s right to exercise of religion….” This “includes, but is not limited to, the ability to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by one’s sincerely held religious beliefs, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.”
Clearly, those seeking access to the legal and social benefits of the institution of marriage, which may also be a religious institution, are going to conflict with religious individuals who have long believed homosexual behavior is immoral and marriage is solely a religious institution.
Although the Indiana act, which represents backlash from legal action that forces businesses to serve LGBT individuals, may well need to be clarified in order to properly protect the rights of religious individuals and the rights of gay individuals, the basic issue of that statute is whether businesses can refuse to support practices that they find morally offensive. The implication of this current controversy also affects in what, if any, circumstances businesses can refuse to provide services and products to a particular group of customers.
Where the controversial Supreme Court case Citizens United ruled businesses have some form of First Amendment rights, the individual rights of business owners are undeniably protected. In turn, businesses have always had the right and responsible to set their own business policies and practices. They do not, however, have the right to mistreat employees and customers based on their own prejudice.
Because government must provide equal protection under the 14th Amendment for all U.S. citizens, the government cannot support businesses, which operate under the consent of local, state and federal government regulatory bodies, and business policies that violate the rights of customers and employees.
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On the other hand, government cannot violate the rights of individual business owners by compelling them to violate their own individual freedoms in order to operate as a business, i.e., earn a living through their own property.
In regards to the Indiana act, critics have questioned whether Christian business owners can refuse to allow a Jew or Muslim into their businesses. While Christian business owners cannot be legally forced to provide services and products that serve Jewish and Islamic ceremonies, business owners cannot bar Jews and Muslims from entering their stores or buying items.
Similarly, Jewish and Muslim employees cannot be denied a job, denied a promotion or fired based on their faith. It is when their behavior, when representing the business, conflicts with the policies of the business owners that the business owners have a right to correct that behavior. Customers who behave or make requests that violate the policies and beliefs of business owners can also be refused to service.
Looking at the controversy surrounding the religious beliefs that conflict with the so-called birth control mandate of the Affordable Care Act, it is questionable as what services can be denied based on religious objections. Medical professionals and businesses that deny contraceptives and blood transfusions based on their religious beliefs, for example, can harm the physical wellbeing of individuals. Consequently, business owners cannot use their right to religious freedom to harm customers and employees.
Furthermore, Neo-Nazi and KKK members, as a bold example, may be allowed to enter a business and utilize their services, but they do not have a right to demand specialized services of a business that violate the policies of the business or beliefs of the owners. To clarify, it is when these individuals ask businesses to support their offensive practices and messages that business owners are protected by their constitutional rights.
Where denying the placement of a black and white figurine on wedding cake would be not be protected under the First Amendment as such discrimination is solely based on prejudice, not religious objections, a cake-decorating business has every right to refuse to support the practice of gay marriage by refusing to depict a gay couple on a cake.
Certainly, LGBT individuals deserve as much protection from the law as everyone does, but business owners cannot be compelled to support the practices, beliefs, and behavior of everyone who enters their business.
Christians, as a major religious denomination, do not have the right to impose their views on others. Christians cannot force Jew and Muslim businesses to provide Christian services. Consequently, gays as a minority group, whether defined by behavior or biology, do not have such rights either.
With that in mind, retaliatory measures by businesses like Angie’s List, which seek to economically punish the Indiana government for protecting the religious rights of individuals and individuals exercising their religious freedom, are not only discriminatory, as well as hypocritical, they likely violate the Constitution. As such, the state and federal governments may well have an obligation to take legal action against these businesses.