The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

Conflict between religion and the First Amendment

James Simpson

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The issue of gay rights is once again before the Supreme Court.

Next month, the justices will hear arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission on whether or not those in the wedding service industry may refuse to service same-sex weddings on the grounds of religious liberty.

While the desire to ensure equality is a compelling interest, the protection of religious liberty must take precedence.  

In this situation, there are two competing rights: the right to live according to one’s religious beliefs and the right to be treated the same as everyone else.

On one hand, denying a same-sex couple a wedding cake is treating a gay couple differently from a heterosexual couple.

On the other hand, requiring a religious baker to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding is forcing them to violate their core principles.

On the grounds of the First Amendment, imposing a law that forces someone to act against his or her religious beliefs is the more serious offense.

In the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court ruled that business owners could refuse to provide contraceptives to employees, as the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate substantially burdened the right of the plaintiffs to freely practice their religion.

Since applying the mandate to for-profit businesses like Hobby Lobby was not the least restrictive means of furthering the government’s interest, the Court ruled it unconstitutional.  

That case involved a similar situation in which religious liberty was pitted against another compelling interest: access to birth control.

Since the contraceptive mandate forced business owners to act against their religious beliefs, the Court struck it down.

In this case, the Supreme Court may take the stance that a person providing a service for a wedding is participating in the wedding and creating an expression that endorses the marriage. Forcing a devoutly religious person to do that would be an egregious violation of his or her First Amendment rights.

As there is no shortage of businesses that provide wedding services, if someone is turned away from one business, they should take their money to a business that is willing to participate.

While I would personally not agree with turning away a paying customer, under no circumstances should the government have the authority to force anyone to provide a service.

Just as everyone has the right to choose which businesses they wish to patronize, an owner of a private corporation should have the right to refuse service in accordance with his or her conscience.

Remember, the purpose of the First Amendment is to provide a shield from government tyranny. That shield must not be chipped away to spare people from hurt feelings.

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The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883
Conflict between religion and the First Amendment