Amendment I of the United States Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Last week the CEO and president of the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy, spoke on the Atlanta-based Ken Coleman radio show. His comments on gay marriage have attracted a backlash of attention across the country.
Mr. Cathy said, “I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.”
What has followed Mr. Cathy's remarks is an affront to religious liberty, and is cause for great concern about what precedents may be set from the threats. I will not pursue a discussion now on the topic of gay marriage. I will discuss religious liberty and invite a polite exchange on the issue.
It is not popular to voice a conservative opinion in this country. Mr. Cathy's defense of traditional marriage and Christian faith have earned a backlash of hate and criticism from different communities. Cities including Chicago, Boston, and Philadephia, and the elected leadership at the helm of those cities, have made it clear they will prevent Mr. Cathy's restaurants from opening new outlets in their boundaries!
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said, “Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago values. They're not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members. And if you're gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values.”
There are no public records of Chick-fil-A having ever discriminated against an applicant or employee for sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.
Let's say that again- cities do not want a Chick-fil-A because the CEO and President of that company has conservative values.
I have to ask the question, I believe the situation begs for it. How long until cities start protesting churches from purchasing land and putting up new buildings because the church has conservative values or does not permit same-sex marriages? How long until Mayor Emmanuel decides that Mormon values are not Chicago values and proceeds to block church growth? How much longer until it is required of churches to grant same-sex marriages, or be penalized or blocked from operating?
The First Amendment is a significant choice of words, “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It is the same law that gives us the right to establish a religion (which as Mormons and members of a church established in this country, we should be eternally grateful for), to exercise that religion, and to exercise free speech (Mr. Cathy's opinions shared on the radio), that allow anyone who disagrees to also be allowed to share their viewpoints. And if Mr. Emmanuel is able to block a church, or even a Chick-fil-A, in the future, it is this same law that grants us the right to bring our grievances to the government.
Another example out of Chicago, earlier this year the mayor cut off negotiations on a $300 million plan to renovate Wrigley Field in anger because of the conservative politics of Joe Ricketts, the billionaire patriarch of the family that owns the Cubs. Mr. Emmanuel is setting a precedent for himself and is not shying away from it.
I will consent that it is unlikely that a city will ever be able to Constitutionally block a church from establishing a house of worship. (It is considerably more likely that someone, somewhere will attempt to pass a law requiring same-sex marriages be performed, and it may very well happen at the Democratic National Convention this summer.) The threat may be there, but it is unlikely that preventing a church from building would actually happen.
However, it is not as unlikely that cities, individual politicians, etc., may more discreetly pass laws or find ways to prevent other activities from happening. For instance, determining that “faith-based groups” are no longer allowed to serve at a city-operated food kitchen, or stopping prayer in church-owned schools. It could easily happen and be defended by saying that the city didn't want to mix church and state.
In case I have not convinced you that these tests to religious liberty are not real, let me remind you that last month a judge in Germany banned circumcision. Why? It violates a newborn's rights. The German court held that a) all children have a right to physical “integrity” b) male circumcision is a permanent and consequential change to the anatomy c) neither the parents’ freedom of religion nor their right to raise their children trumps the child’s right to decide the fate of his foreskin once he’s old enough to do so. (Suddenly the Mormon belief of baptism at eight, or the age of accountability seems reasonable.)
But perhaps the most worrisome reason that the judge gave for preventing circumcision at birth is that it is permanent and irreversible, would limit the child’s own ability to decide what religion to join later on.*
How far are we from baby blessings (or christenings or infant baptisms in other churches) being forbidden in some jurisdictions because the act puts the child's name into the records of the Church?
The freedom to worship is not the same as the exercise of religion. Let me remind you about the Department of Health and Human Services. The current administration created a religious exemption to its mandate requiring employers to pay for contraception and sterilization that covers only churches. Church-affiliated or owned hospitals, schools and charities were not given the same exemption. The argument is easily made that this mandate does not prevent the freedom of worship. However, it is absolutely prevents the sincere free exercise of religion.
Teachers, parents, and professors have reminded generations of neophytes that you may have the right to say something, but that does not mean anyone has to like it. Defenders of gay marriage need to be reminded that we all have the right to express ourselves. If the good people of Chicago (and Boston, Philadelphia, and others) agree with their mayor(s) that they do not want Chick-fil-A in their neighborhoods because the fast-food chain does not share its values (may I remind everyone how often “blue” establishments are run out of towns for the same exact reasons, and it is a protected right under “redress of grievances”), that is their right. But the government (mayor) itself does not have the right to stop anyone, be it a church, or a chicken sandwich retailer, based on politics. The people have the right to an opinion and to speak it. The government does not have the right to decide what opinions the people may have.
The time is quickly coming when the issue will be forced on the American people- which is the more important right- the right to the free exercise of religion, or the right to same-sex marriage? Will religious liberty survive?