‘Whatever happened to religious freedom?’

An academic and expert on the American Constitution has questioned the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling and posed the question: “Whatever happened to religious freedom?”

In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Dr Roger Pilon, a professor of government who teaches at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., outlined the injustice of forcing “private individuals and organizations into associations they find offensive”.

His warning echoes that of the four dissenting judges, who branded their colleagues’ ruling as self-conceited and arrogant.

Christians punished

Dr Pilon wrote that in the ruling last month, Justice Anthony Kennedy “merely mentioned in passing that religious adherents would continue to be free to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ their beliefs. Conspicuously absent, as dissenting justices noted, was any mention of the ‘exercise’ of those beliefs”.

He referred to recent cases where Christians have been punished for choosing not to provide services for same-sex weddings because it would violate their closely-held beliefs.

The academic highlighted the news that bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein were ordered “to pay a lesbian couple $135,000 for ’emotional damages’ because the Kleins, citing their religious beliefs, had declined to bake a cake for the couple’s wedding”.

Step further

Dr Pilon then wrote: “How did we get to this point? Freedom of association—the simple idea that people are free to associate, or not, as they wish—certainly isn’t what it once was.”

“The question at hand”, he argued, “is whether and how modern anti-discrimination laws limit the constitutional and statutory right to the free exercise of religion”.

Speaking about the Kleins, he added: “If a same-sex couple had walked into that bakery hand-in-hand and ordered bagels, they would have been served without objection.

“But it is a step further—and an important one—to force religious business owners to participate in a same-sex wedding, to force them to engage in the creative act of planning the event, baking a special-order cake for it, photographing it, and so on.”

Freedom

Dr Pilon concluded that if a society is unable to tolerate different views, it “will not long be free”.

Last month, one of the dissenting Supreme Court judges, Samuel Alito, warned that the ruling could lead to people who do not support same-sex marriage being treated as “bigots” by governments, schools and employers.

He said: “It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.”

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