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Religious Rights and Wrongs

Concerning Arizona’s bill allowing businesses to use religious beliefs as an excuse to refuse service (in particular, to gays). You know, I’m all for allowing people to exercise their valid religious beliefs.

However, bigotry, hatred, and intolerance are simply not valid religious beliefs. And any religion that practices such beliefs should lose their tax exempt status. After all, what would Jesus do?

UPDATE: If you think your religious freedoms are under attack, but other people think they aren’t, here’s a simple test to find out the truth.



  1. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Personally, I think it’s more the politicians then the religious folks on this one. As I understand it the fellow who sponsored the bill fancies a run for governor since Brewer is stepping down. I guess he’s trying to whip up the fringe to support him.

    I really think Brewer will veto this, at least I hope. AZ has had enough black eyes in the last 4-5 years, although I do respect the right of each state to self legislate.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink
  2. Hassan wrote:

    How/what venues you suggest for religious people to show their disgust with homosexuality? I understand that people say I or we (people of faith) have no right to enforce our morality on others, but on the other side homosexuals and their supporters have been pushing their morality on us.

    All faiths (specially Abrahamic faiths) condemn homosexuality. Only very recently few modern jews and christians have changed their stance. So when you are saying you should take away the tax-exempt status because you do not like the faith? So all of US should follow religion of Iron Knee or else lose tax-exempt status? This is called forcing your morality!!

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink
  3. Iron Knee wrote:

    Very funny!

    I’m not asking for any special rights. Anyone who believes homosexuality is a sin is perfectly free to not commit any homosexual acts. They are also welcome to start a blog where they can express their views (with or without hatred!). And they can have the same tax exempt status as I enjoy (which is none).

    Nobody, whether religious, gay, or whatever, has the right to impose their moral beliefs on others unless there is a compelling (and widely accepted) social benefit.

    My understanding of Abrahamic faiths (which may be faulty) is that while they may condemn homosexuality, they modified this by pointing out that it is the job of God to do the condemning, not people (“Let he who is without sin…”). And while the Bible may condemn homosexuality, it also condemns eating shellfish or pork, tattoos, certain haircuts, gossiping, remarriage, and lots of other things. Does that mean that we should attack people who eat shellfish? Or that we must put to death any children that curse their parents, anyone that works on the sabbath, or women who lose their virginity before marriage?

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink
  4. Hassan wrote:

    Sorry, you said tax exempt status for religions that consider homosexuality as a sin should be lost (just like you?). So any church/mosque/synagogue/temple that teaches that should have tax exempt status revoked??? Am I understanding that correctly?

    Yes your understanding of Abrahamic faith is faulty. Not all sins are at same level. Some are more heinous than others. Eating pork is not same as murdering which is not same as raping which is not same as homosexuality etc. Nonetheless, all are sins.

    I am with you on freedom of religion. No religion should dictate US constitution, which guarantees gays should not be able to enforce their ideology on us to accept them as normal.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink
  5. westomoon wrote:

    Many years ago, when I was in charge of what was then called “EEO” at my workplace, I had to have a talk with a guy who just couldn’t refrain from abusing his women colleagues. He explained indignantly that his behavior was traditional for his culture, and that it counted as protected religious freedom, so he should not be required to change it.

    I told him then that his religious freedoms were absolute until they harmed someone else, at which point they ceased to be protected.

    Seems to me that’s the line that has been crossed in Arizona — as I understand it, that law also protects the right of public employees to refuse service to someone their religion disapproves of.

    So, depending on who’s on shift, the fire department could refuse to put out the burning house of, say, a Moslem. And the Arizona law says that’s their right. An ER clerk could refuse to do intake processing on someone their religion disapproves of, or the ER doctor on duty could refuse to treat them. And their religion might disapprove of unmarried women, or meat-eaters, or soldiers, or Moslems.

    Hassam, you do understand that a considerable portion of what’s called “evangelical christianity” thinks that Islam is Satanic in origin, right? In this country, it’s okay for them to believe that, but not to harm Moslems because of it. Simple. No one is asking you to regard homosexuals, or drunk drivers, or loose women as normal. They’re just telling you you can’t hurt them because of your beliefs.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  6. Jon wrote:

    Tax exempt status being a way for citizens of these United States to indirectly subsidize private organizations with which they may or may not agree, perhaps it’s time to get serious about discussion of why ANY person or organization should have tax-exempt status.

    Whether they’re ones I support or agree with or not, churches and other “charitable organizations” use the same public resources the rest of us use, including infrastructure, and there is no legitimate reason they should be exempted for paying their fair share of those services and infrastructure.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink
  7. Jon wrote:

    Same resources as the local bar, is what I should have added. And bars are not generally granted tax exempt status.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink
  8. Jon wrote:

    Same as the local bar, is what I should have added, and the local bar gets no tax exemption.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink
  9. Hassan wrote:

    WESTOMOON, I agree no one should be hurt, nor I am calling for anybody to be harmed. I just want my first amendment right of expressing condemnation of homosexuality and not recognizing the “marriage” as something normal.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink
  10. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Hassan does bring up a valid 1st amendment issue that I have seen emerging in this era of caustic political discourse and that is voicing ones opinion. By this I mean if the opinion is shared by a group then it’s ok, just free speech. But if a segment disagrees with an opinion then they attack it, dissmiss it as crazy or retaliate. For free speech to work it has to be allowed whether we agree or not. We can debate it, but again it is not obligatory or necessary for the speaker to justify, quantify or defend their beliefs unless they choose to.
    I saw Anderson Cooper going at the sponsor of the AZ bill, who wouldn’t engage his unrelated questions, and Anderson just seemed to think this was unacceptable and basically assumed that the St. Senator was obliged to answer his questions on a different subject.
    It’s just like when the POTUS just wants the right to shut up or when the right wants to shut up the left. Dis-Civil Discourse gets us nowhere.

    Bottom line HASSAN is free to hold what ever beliefs he chooses and like what was said it’s perfectly fine as long as no actions are taken or threats made.

    Along those lines we had a discussion about the 1%ers in an earlier blog and then a ran accross this news piece.

    This absolutely crosses the line from free speech to hate crime. This is the danger when our 1st amendment media voices are taken as orders by individuals who obviously don’t understand what a civil society really is.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
  11. westomoon wrote:

    Exercise those rights privately, Hassan,including within your religious activities, and you’re American. Engage in hate speech, insult people to their faces, or refuse to conduct a commercial transaction with someone, and you’re not.

    If you want the State to back your right to condemn people for their sexual orientation… may I recommend Saudi Arabia. Or Iran. Russia won’t do, because they also dislike Moslems, and Uganda might be a bit uncomfortable for you too.

    Gotta say, you amaze me. Are you thinking that you’d be able to buy food, fill your car’s gas tank, get medical treatment, or even a haircut, in Arizona? Unless you’re a blue-eyed blonde Protestant Christian who just happens to be named Hassan, your own odds would not be great.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink
  12. wildwood wrote:

    Jon I agree with you. It’s past time to have a discussion on doing away with tax exempt status for religious properties and incomes.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  13. John wrote:

    Quick question… I hear many people use wording like Hassan. Talking about gays ‘pushing their morality on us’.

    How is asserting that you should have the same rights and freedoms as everybody else, ‘pushing morality’?

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  14. PatriotSGT wrote:

    WESTOMOON- on your comment “refuse to conduct a commercial transaction with someone” and you’re not American?
    As an American have refused to conduct commercial transactions and it’s not illegal, maybe not business smart but not illegal. If I don’t want to serve you, you have the freedom to go anywhere else you want. You don’t have to give me your money. What I can’ do is say it’ because of race, religion, gender or age. But if you don’t look like the kind of customer I want to serve o I’ve had issues wit you I the past I can ban you. If you refuse to leave I can have you arrested for trespassing.

    Also, sounds like you are in the judgment business yourself; “Are you thinking that you’d be able to buy food, fill your car’s gas tank, get medical treatment, or even a haircut, in Arizona? Unless you’re a blue-eyed blonde Protestant Christian who just happens to be named Hassan, your own odds would not be great.

    So is your condemnation and judgment different then what you’re complaining about or the same thing? There is plenty of diversity in AZ, heck they’re half hispanic.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 5:00 pm | Permalink
  15. ebdoug wrote:

    As far as tax exempt: The IRS is now going after the Tax Exempt to limit the deduction. Right and left are not happy. Let’s hope the IRS succeeds. Easy enough to say “The first net 25K you report is tax exempt. The rest isn’t.”

    As far as the law in Arizona, Southern Poverty Law Center is going after them. I support Southern Poverty Law Center because they oppose any bigotry like the Arizona law.

    As far as Doctors and nurses go, I’m one of the non believers, but I had to help in an abortion where I could watch the baby moving for three days inside the mother until it was killed. I will never get over that. I was not asked to help again.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Permalink
  16. Iron Knee wrote:

    John, I think you hit the first crux of the matter. I believe it is not up to me to judge people if their behavior or beliefs don’t hurt me in some way.

    But the second crux is that we do judge people. If someone told me that I have to accept pedophiles, murderers, or serial rapists as acceptable and cannot insult them to their faces (like Westomoon says), I would have a problem with that.

    So there is a gray area. For example, going naked is not considered acceptable, and a business can legitimately refuse service to someone who is not wearing proper attire. But what if the naked person belongs to a religion that requires them to go naked. Is their nakedness actually harming other people, or does it just offend their puritanical upbringing (remember that the puritans were a religion). (Maybe nakedness is too extreme an example. How about wearing shoes? A business can refuse service to barefoot people, but there are religions where monks go barefoot.)

    (Changing the subject) Personally, I think making religions tax exempt violates the separation of church and state, since it requires the state to decide which religions qualify. I would be much happier if churches qualified the same way as any non-profit organization. If a church is primarily a charitable organization, then they can be tax exempt. Otherwise, no.

    And Hassan, you did misunderstand me. I didn’t say a religion that considers homosexuality to be a sin should lose their tax exempt status. In fact, let’s say you run a restaurant. It would be your right to put a big sign up in your restaurant that says “Homosexuality is a sin”. And I would even defend that right. But it is not your right to refuse to serve someone just because you believe they are homosexual. As some people say, hate the sin but love the sinner.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink
  17. Hassan wrote:

    WESTOMOON, are you suggesting that if I engage in certain speech that you do not agree with, I should be stripped of my American citzenship? And are you seriously suggesting that state should not protect my speech and if I want to say things against homosexuality I have to move to other countries? It would be like I telling you that if you think America is not liberal enough go to Norway.

    Yes, I do realize people are amazed with one minority condemning another minority. The liberals have successfully managed to convince black christians that they should support gays because being black is just like being gay. Similarly same effort is being done to muslims and other minorities.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 7:42 pm | Permalink
  18. Hassan wrote:

    John, and Iron Knee, there are some issues that are individuals and some are communal. They affect the whole society. It is strong held religious belief of many Muslim/Christians that murder/rape/adultery/fornication/homosexuality are social issues. Of course christians no longer consider adultery and fornication bad anymore.

    So on one hand, homosexuality is bad as is, the issue of marriage is one level above. So people who committed acts of homosexuality had all the rights as anyone else. So there was some level of tolerance, that you do whatever you want in you privacy, please do not bother us with it. With marriage the issue comes that the entire nation has to submit that this is not abnormal, and recognize the relationship as legitimate. So this is where the issue of morality being enforced comes in.

    The issue can be solved if federal government gets out of business of marriage all together. No tax filing status of married. At state level, this can stay, and each state can do what it wants. So Texas and Arizona may not recognize gay marriage, and some other states can. Or states may opt to ignore marriage status all together as well. So if there is a Church of Homosexuality, they can marry gays as much as they want, as long as rest of society does not have to bothered with it.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 7:55 pm | Permalink
  19. Hassan wrote:

    Iron Knee, I was always under assumption that church/mosques file non-profit organization. All the mosques I been to are filed as non-profit organization, and they do not speak about politics, or specially stay away from endorsing party or person in election. They just announce that elections are coming, kindly participate. Nothing much.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 7:57 pm | Permalink
  20. Iron Knee wrote:

    Well, luckily for us, Governor Brewer vetoed the bill. Thank the lord! 🙂

    The best part is Rush Limbaugh’s reaction. He said on his show that Brewer was “being bullied by the homosexual lobby in Arizona and elsewhere.” There’s a funny comic in that, and I hope someone draws it.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 8:45 pm | Permalink
  21. Hassan wrote:

    Sad day, does it mean a christian baker must make cake for gay wedding or can he still refuse it?

    Friday, February 28, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink
  22. David Freeman wrote:

    Not so sad. The Christian baker is still free to hate the gays and even say so.

    These issues of whether a business can deny it’s services based on race, religion, gender and disability were settled many years ago despite the same tired arguments being used against gays today.

    Let it go. Have some empathy. These people are not hurting us and are not restricting our religious freedoms any more than zoning laws and building codes.

    Friday, February 28, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink
  23. Hassan wrote:

    DAVID FREEMAN, serving individual gays at restaurant is different than being forced to make cake for their wedding.

    BTW, I have once lost job as a software consultant in one consultancy company because I refused to work for Harrah’s as a client as it goes against my religious conscious of not helping evil. Also I refuse any job offers from Bank, because nothing can be more evil than bank (in this country at least). But anyways, whoever leaves something for sake of God, He replaces it with something better. All praise to Him Alone. So far gays have not affected me personally, but I fear for the people of faith who are. I am luckily not in business that will be affected with it.

    Friday, February 28, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink
  24. Michael wrote:

    Let me first point out that NOTHING about baking a cake is religious. Taking photographs is NOT a religious act. Serving food to people in a restaurant is NOT a religious act. Selling kitschy arts and crafts items is NOT a religious act. All of these are SECULAR ACTIONS being performed in a public, pluralistic society. Sure, the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker are free to find marriage equality disgusting. Just as they are free to cling to bigotry regarding Islam. Just as they are free to disapprove of interracial marriage. Just as they are free to think that trickle down economic advocates are absolute morons.

    BUT… What they do not have the right to do* (see next paragraph) is to leverage their business to ACT on those beliefs. A Jewish baker has no right to refuse service to Christians to serve at their wedding. A Christian who owns a fabric store has no right to refuse a purchase from a Muslim who wishes to use the material to sew a hijab. A Pastafarian photographer has no right to refuse to take pictures of religious ceremonies that fail to adequately praise His Noodly Appendage.

    FURTHERMORE… This entire discussion is a red herring. Absolutely NONE of this is relevant. The key here is that we can talk about “right to refuse service” in the abstract, but that’s not actually at stake here. Under existing AZ law, a Christian baker CAN refuse service to a gay couple, and they CANNOT be sued for it. Actually, the baker could be sued, but the baker would win (and recovered legal fees in the process). The reason is because such lawsuits must have a LEGAL basis. In states where such lawsuits have occurred, such as NM, those states had laws that made such discrimination illegal. AZ HAS NO SUCH LAW. There is no legal remedy for a gay person in AZ who has experience discrimination.

    What this law would have done is expand the right to discriminate. It wouldn’t be about bakers refusing to serve cake for a gay wedding. It would have legally enshrined the right of, say, a car salesman to tell a gay person to get the hell out of their showroom. It would have allowed a restaurant server to tell a gay person to leave because they didn’t like them. And to top it all off, if the gay person did attempt a lawsuit for harassment, they could have faced punitive damages in addition to legal fees.

    This law was never about protecting religious freedom. It was about legally encoding second class status for gays and lesbians.

    Friday, February 28, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink
  25. Hassan wrote:

    Michael, I think it is now crying over spilled milk for me. The train has left the station. There is nothing I can do to change this tide (for now). So any further comment (like below) will be mere educational.

    Michael, I am not sure which religion you follow, so we can talk about that (from its sources). At least in our religion an acceptable act can become unacceptable based on circumstances and vice versa. For example eating pork is forbidden as a standard. But if it is matter of life and death, then it becomes acceptable to consume it enough to survive (if nothing else is available).

    Similarly, it is very important for us to earn money in a legal/ethical way. Also it is very important for us not to promote evil. So for example, if I am a rat poison seller, a guy walks in to buy it, I will sell it without issue. On contrary if a guy walks in and tells me his plans to kill people using it, I cannot sell it to him anymore knowing this fact. My money earned on that transaction will become unacceptable. And also I would be considered accomplice in the murder.

    Similarly, me and my business partner whenever we take on a software projects, we make sure we are not helping evil knowingly in it. So for example if the software is to build something Microsoft Office, there is nothing wrong with it, because it is general product and a purchaser can use it for good way or bad way, we do not know. But if the software was something specific to help bank, we refuse to do it (or not bid).

    Hence if I am baker, and a guy walks in to buy cake, I will sell it to him, without asking anything. If a guy walks in and say, deliver a cake to location xyz for wedding, I will do that, without asking anything further. If a guy walks in and say, I am gay, and I want a gay cake on my gay wedding. Then making cake for him will be sinful (well, unless there is fear that government will punish us, then we have a choice. Preferable would be to stand firm and deal with the consequences. But not doing so, will still be acceptable, as long as we hate the fact that we are doing it).

    Friday, February 28, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  26. Hassan wrote:

    I guess this is Christian side of the things:

    Friday, February 28, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink
  27. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Great conversation, I am learning a lot. Thanks All!

    Friday, February 28, 2014 at 7:05 pm | Permalink
  28. Michael wrote:

    Hassan, your post at 25 was perhaps the best, most nuanced argument that I have seen you make here, and it is an excellent point.

    First, let me say that I will not disclose my religious background in this context. It’s not that I’m particularly secretive about it. Rather, it’s that I feel bringing personal views into a discussion of how to create a balanced law is inherently problematic. It makes it easier to dismiss others’ points because they adhere to a different ideology. When we are talking about how to craft laws in a pluralistic society, we must do what we can to make them objective and fair to all–not just fair to the majority.

    I understand your point that the context of a business transaction matters, but there is a slight difference regarding the baker: the question of harm. In the case of selling rat poison or software, there is a clear and objective harm involved. Absolutely no one will argue that using rat poison to commit murder is bad. The context involves aiding in the commission of a crime.

    Regarding the baking of a cake for a gay wedding, there is no clear notion of harm. In your view there is, but in my view there isn’t. In fact, in my view, there is more harm in denying the sale. It is an attack on the dignity of that gay couple. It contributes to a persistent fear that they have that they will face future incidents, some of which may be more serious. For instance, they may be afraid to tell their doctor about their homosexuality for fear that the doctor may withhold life-saving care. It contributes to their (justified) fear that they can be fired at any point solely for being gay.

    When crafting laws for a pluralistic society in which people hold differing values, the most sound approach is to apply Kantian deontological analysis: Ask what would be the consequences of universalizing the action. In the case of a baker, should the baker be legally allowed to refuse service based on the context in which it will be eaten? This is ethically problematic, because it allows a baker to say no to Bar Mitzvahs, military “welcome home” parties, etc.

    Not only that, universalizing the action means expanding the right for contextual objections beyond just bakers: A psychologist working on a suicide prevention hotline could refuse to help a caller because that person had used drugs. A doctor could refuse to write prescriptions for a patient if the doctor objects to the circumstances in which the patient became ill. If every pharmacist in your town is Catholic, then you have no way to acquire legally prescribed birth control. Hindu teachers could refuse to teach any scientific information that conflicts with the Vedic creation myths. The end result is that universalizing the action of contextual objections for private services is bad for society as a whole.

    So, in short, the point is that no law can or ever will be perfect. Writing sound legislation requires balancing competing interests. In the case of the baker, there simply is no way to completely protect the baker’s right to conscience in a way that would not have devastating side effects. In the more general case, yes, our laws MUST (morally and legally due to the First Amendment) show deference to protect the right of individuals to freely practice their religion. However, individuals also have the Constitutional protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that means individuals have the right to fully participate as equal members of society. If one person’s right to religious exercise is in direct conflict with another person’s right to liberty, the law will inherently pick a winner and a loser, and should be crafted in a way to minimize the actual harm. That means the baker loses.

    Not only that, again, the baker discussion–in relation to the AZ law–is tangential. Under existing AZ law, such bakers already can refuse service. The proposed law was doing nothing for the baker. The proposed law would have expanded the right to discriminate to ANY business owner based on ANY religious objection. The repercussions of such a law would have been significantly more devastating than the supposed harms that it was alleged to be addressing.

    Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink
  29. Iron Knee wrote:

    I think an important point is being made here. The wing-nut religious right is very good at firing up their base (I am not including all religious groups, just the political ones). They take an issue like this and frame it like it is about religious freedom. Even though AZ already has laws to take care of that.

    The Arizona law was not about religious freedom, it was about using people’s fear and bigotry to gain political power. To me, that is the real sin.

    Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink