Commentary: Is religious liberty a civil right?

Indiana’s turmoil over freedom of religion illuminates the growing conflict between religious liberty and sexual rights. The most obvious and valid concern growing out of the legislation is that homosexuals could inadvertently be denied some basic civil right. For this reason, the battle over sexual rights is often presented as a continuation of the civil rights movement. But is that a fair comparison? And if it is, shouldn’t the goal be to solve the impasse without anyone losing their rights?

Think about it a minute. What constitutional protections were lost by whites when they were fully extended to African Americans? By men when women were extended those rights? With the battle over religious liberty and sexual freedom however, rights enshrined in the Constitution are in fact being denied in favor of recently discovered sexual rights.

Consider the case involving homosexuals seeking wedding services from a Christian photographer. The photographer was willing to photograph every part of the wedding except the actual ceremony and offered to pay for another business to do so. Cries of discrimination rose up immediately. The only right truly denied, however, was legitimization of the lifestyle. Their rights at the worst were delayed but not denied. The weddings were held with cakes and flowers and photos. This offer from the business which seemed suited to both needs was rejected and the photographer sued. No wonder some evangelicals see the issue as an intolerant ultimatum; accept homosexuality — without reservation. In fact ,one Obama administration official is on record as saying there is no instance where religious rights trump sexual ones.

In an effort to address this logjam, some have suggested that faith should be restricted to the privacy of church and home. But would that suggestion solve the dilemma? The answer I think is no, and here’s why.

First, proponents of the home/church restriction fail to understand that Christians are commanded to glorify God in both their public and private lives, and to do everything as if it were being done to the Lord Jesus himself. Servicing a homosexual wedding, therefore,  violates some Christians’ consciences. Other Christians wouldn’t hesitate to comply because they see themselves providing a product or service, not endorsing a lifestyle. They would use the opportunity to build a caring relationship by which to show the error of the lifestyle.

For those Christians who oppose any participation in homosexual weddings, being ordered to do so violates this obligation to glorify God in everything. This objection rises from the view that homosexuality is “sinful.” While we might not use that term, all of us find some things to be reprehensible (like discrimination against homosexuals) and would refuse to participate in or condone such actions. Pacifists find warfare reprehensible and are exempted from military service on that basis. Why should Christians be denied that same privilege?

A second question lurks in shadows on the other side of the debate, however. Can aggressive homosexuals be satisfied with that restriction? Can they rest knowing people of faith are freely teaching their children in the privacy of their homes, churches, and religious schools that homosexuality is a broken lifestyle? If the answer is no, then the suggestion of keeping faith in the church and home is a pretense at best. Beliefs issue forth in the lives we live. The only way to eliminate the belief entirely is to ban every voice of dissent whether private or public, through what appears as intimidation.

I’m not suggesting intimidation is the intention of most homosexuals. But it does exist. The failure of this approach however, is that you’re never sure who’s really on your side. In Indiana, “Angie’s List” quickly announced plans to cancel a business venture there. Subsequent reports suggested the decision was based on the state’s failure to offer sufficient incentives to secure the project, followed by the CEO’s resignation. Was he truly concerned about homosexual rights, or merely using them? How can we know?

After announcing his presidential bid, Marco Rubio gave a nod toward inborn homosexuality. Is he a true believer, or is he worried about the backlash? In a sensual culture where personal worth is calculated by sexuality, am I being accepted and valued? Who can I trust when intimidation seems to be the necessary instrument of bringing about acceptance?

One thing is certain. Judicial fiat from the left or legislation from the right will never silence the debate. Only reasonable people willing to graciously disagree can do that.

William Shifflett is an Edinburg resident.