Thursday, April 9, 2015

Do Unto Others

Holy Week is exhausting! Emotionally and spiritually it’s a very intense journey. Physically there are a lot of services that require stamina (up and down, up and down). Easter morning arrives amidst the Alleluia’s – as much for religious reasons as in gratitude that the week is done! Other faiths have different services at different times of the year that are of importance to them and have their own challenges. People who do not believe have other paths. The freedom to worship – or not – how one chooses is a bedrock principal in the United States. I am a person of faith who happens to be gay and who also passionately believes in the libertarian principals of individual rights. These aren’t contradictory. They’re consistent.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” begins the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Not only is freedom of religion first out of the gate, it is the first and second item covered in the document establishing the nation, underscoring the level of importance the issue was to the founders.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is a 1993 United States federal law that "ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected that was passed a Democratic House and Senate and was signed by President Clinton. The Act states that the “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” In 1997 RFRA was found to be unconstitutional if applied to states. As a result states (now 30) passed their own versions of the bills.

Indiana’s version of the bill included similar language (“governmental entity may not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion…”) as in the federal version. The big differentiation, however, is that their bill takes advantage of the 2014 “Hobby Lobby” decision and defines a "person" to include any individual, organization, or company/business – either for-profit or not-for-profit.

The shorthand narrative that took over the media during Holy Week was that businesses in Indiana were given the legal right to decline service to anybody based on their religious beliefs. The law technically didn’t permit that, rather allowed businesses to use their religious beliefs as a defense in case there was ever a court action. LGBT concerns were immediately validated when a local Pizza shop answered “no” to a hypothetical question about whether they would cater a gay wedding. This was cat nip to a hungry media that thrives on “what if’s.” When does one’s right to believe that gay marriage is bad infringe on one’s right to marry whom one loves? When one is in business.

Business owners agree when they choose to open their doors to abide by certain standards and rules in exchange for the right to benefit from commerce. Local, state and federal rules govern a wide array of operations of businesses – everything from fire code to making sure that the workplace is safe and insuring all get equal service. If you don’t like the exchange of abiding by society’s/government rules in order to sell your service or product, don’t open the business.

A core principle in American trade practice, governed by a variety of laws, is that businesses can’t discriminate against customers. Owners have the right to “refuse service” provided that reason doesn’t fall into a list of discriminatory reasons. That list is different by city and by state making the issue more complicated. In general: A person who has imbibed alcohol to the point of excess can be refused service. Likewise a minor can’t be served because government and society say you have to be of a certain age. A person of a particular look, ethnicity, background, etc. could not be refused service for who they are or what they believe.

America is home to a wide range of religions. There are the “mainstream” denominations, but there are many others less well known that are classified as exempt by the IRS for religious purposes.

  • ·      The Church of Scientology is one of them. The Church uses the practice of “audits” for its members to “re-experience painful or traumatic events in their past in order to free themselves of their limiting effects. … Another controversial belief held by Scientologists is that the practice of psychiatry is destructive and abusive and must be abolished.”
  • ·    Mormons for many years were anti-caffeine – so much so that coffee and Coke weren’t available in areas where there were large populations of Mormons. The Church clarified its policy in 2012.
  • ·     Wiccan’s draw upon a diverse set of ancient pagan and 20th century hermetic motifs for its theological structure and often includes the ritual practice of magic.

There are websites that list “weirdest” religious beliefs. What’s “weird” to one is the truth to another. Taken in bits and pieces or out of context, any religion will have its oddities and eccentricities. (He gets up and walked out of a cave after dying?) So long as one’s belief’s do not infringe on the rights of another, or harm another – the core of libertarianism – people are welcome to pray to whomever or whatever they so desire.

If an individual doesn’t like another person for who they are, that’s their individual right and choice. It’s what makes America great – the right to differ. Too often the right to differ is being censored thanks to political correctness and group think conformity – something I’ve blogged about previously and will again no doubt.  The differentiating factor is what happens when there is a polar opposite belief. Now it’s complicated because the Supreme Courts has declared that a business is now considered a person. When the person takes action as a company they are not expressing a personal opinion, but instead are taking an action that hurts another and creates an unfair and unequal environment. When Government permits that – either by court ruling or legislation, the right to differ is no longer an individual issue, it’s enshrined into law and practice.

There is no way to legislate common sense or common decency. Politicians have been trying for centuries…and failing. The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity is based on the idea that people should treat each other well. In my religious tradition “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” comes from Matthew 7:12 in The Bible. The same concept exists in most religions including the three mentioned above: Scientologists, Mormons and Wiccans. Treating others as you want to be treated is missing in a system that gives the power and authority of individuality to a corporate entity. It's impossible to due unto others then the other is an entity and not a person.

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