By Mike Dishnow on October 25, 2015
Published in the La Crosse Tribune.
Nobody benefits from discriminatory society
Commerce and business interests affect all of us. When a religious belief extends into the public sphere it has the power to affect others. This has the potential to lead to discriminatory and biased behaviors toward those outside the fold. Discrimination has no place in commerce in the public sphere.
While one can argue that individual conscience and personal religious belief are protected under our Constitution, it’s more difficult to argue successfully that this is true when the “greater public” is involved.
When an individual or group is doing business, the purpose of which is to turn a profit — to gain from the buying habits or needs of the public at large — then the public is to be protected. It follows that discrimination toward shoppers and clients is suspect.
Religious belief is a personal choice. When one chooses to accept the beliefs and practices of a particular church, it does not extend to coercing others to accept them. Faith is individual in nature; it does not extend to business activities.
A nonbeliever operating a public print shop should not be allowed to turn away customers wanting religious materials produced. An atheist, Buddhist or follower of Islam should not turn away Christians from their bakery when the cake is for a Christian wedding and would feature a cross on the top.
If one enters the public sphere, intending to make a living or otherwise profit from the commerce of the public, one should be held strictly accountable to laws prohibiting discrimination and bias.
There are compelling reasons in a diverse nation, like the United States, to protect the public from discriminatory behaviors and practices. It is not just common sense and practical, it’s also the morally right thing to do.
Harmony is important. Without mutual respect and harmony in the public sphere, we risk more of the social unrest and disorder we have often witnessed.
History is not on the side of those who resist societal changes and seek to pass laws protecting the status quo. So-called “religious freedom laws” fall under this umbrella. People have the freedom to practice their religious views in the privacy of their homes and in their churches with like-minded people. It is unwise and counterproductive to attempt to extend these rights to the public sphere.
Change is the only reality, and generational change is ongoing. In the decades to come, these arguments will be long forgotten or seen as remnants of old and discarded prejudices. The younger generations, including the majority of those considering themselves evangelical Christians, support equal rights, regardless of sexual orientation, race or gender. They represent the future.
One only need listen to Pope Francis’ pronouncements to understand that even very conservative and traditional belief systems, like those of the Roman Catholic Church, are subject to change and evolution of thought. The church authorities often are the last to change, but change they do. Their viability as an institution depends upon it.
The vast majority of Catholics in developed nations support and practice birth control. Reality and the changing societal norms win in the long run. Do you really doubt that the “powers that be” will not follow suit in time? It might seem impossible now, but they will follow suit on the issue of gay marriage, too. This already has begun to occur in many mainstream Protestant churches.
Visit the antiquated views of the past, many of which were supported by Scripture and church laws and proclamations. Many were passed as “laws” in our nation’s states.
Forbiddance of interracial marriage.
Permission of slavery.
Statutes against various sexual practices between consenting adults.
Prohibition of alcohol.
One could go on and on naming deeply held convictions that have fallen into disfavor and cast away as antiquated and, indeed, immoral or unconstitutional. Younger generations see this as progress as it is happening. Eventually, all generations shake their heads and wonder how people could have been so foolish and unenlightened years ago.
It is healthier and wiser to adapt to the long-term view, to accept the generational changes that are becoming part of the fabric of our lives. Knowing when to “throw in the towel” is not a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary.