What is Religious Freedom?

Ever since the Supreme Court decided that the Fourteenth Amendment applied to same-sex couples that wanted to get married, conservatives have sought to restrict the ability of LGBT people from receiving services from private companies. Conservatives want to discriminate, thus showing that they have fully absorbed the message of Jesus, against LGBT people by asserting the people with sincerely held religious beliefs shouldn’t have to do anything that contradicts these views. The time has come, therefore, to ask: what is religious freedom?

According to Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights: “everyone has the right to freedom of though, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”. Obviously this is not the authoritative definition but I personally think that it’s a pretty good one. Essentially religious freedom, in a philosophical context, is the right to believe what you want and to change what you believe whenever you want.
The point of contention between LGBT activists and conservative Christians in this definition is in the second half, specifically in reference to “religious practice”. The question morphs into whether religious freedom can be used to deny service in a private business to people. This is further muddied by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. LGBT activists could take this to mean that this restricts the free exercise of LGBT people’s religious beliefs, and conservative Christians could see it as applicable to them.
SCOTUS same-sex marriage celebrations
Equality activists celebrate after same-sex marriage bans are struck down by the Supreme Court (NY Times).
If only there was an institution that existed that could adjudicate such a dispute, a supreme institution of adjudication. Oh wait there is, and it provides a precedent to analyse what the approach to the issue should be.
This dispute is not about equal protection as provided for in the Fourteenth Amendment, as we are no longer talking about government supported actions. The issue of private businesses is in reference to the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution, and asks the question: does discriminatory practices constitute a burden on interstate commerce? Unfortunately for conservative Christians a similar case has already be decided which essentially answered the same question.
In 1964 the Supreme Court in 9-0 decision ruled in Katzenbach v. McClung that racial discrimination was a burden on interstate commerce, and this prevented private businesses from using race as a basis for denying people service. Given that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses have been interpreted as also applying to LGBT people, it would be strange for the Supreme Court to not to rule the same way as in 1964.
The question of religious freedom is a fairly straight-forward one. Religious freedom is the philosophical standpoint that says that everyone is free to believe whatever they want, and this includes views that are hostile towards the LGBT community. However, what it doesn’t allow is for these practices to oppress the liberty of other citizens. In the United States specifically the government cannot be used to discriminate against LGBT people and private businesses cannot deny service to LGBT people. Religious freedom applies to individuals and not to corporate entities. This freedom must be respected and preserved but it cannot be used as justification for discriminatory business practices.

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