Column: President Obama Is Wrong About Religious Freedom

President Obama spoke last week to a gathering of DNC LGBT activists and affirmed what has evolved into his position on the relationship between religious freedom and gay rights:  the former must always conform to the latter. Religious freedom is nice and all, but gay marriage licenses trump it every time. That, and remarks from Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) claiming that religious beliefs should remain within the four walls of a church make for a concerning pattern in which religious freedom is getting the boot with little thought of the consequences.

“We affirm that we cherish our religious freedom and are profoundly respectful of religious traditions.  But we also have to say clearly that our religious freedom doesn’t grant us the freedom to deny our fellow Americans their constitutional rights,” Obama said,  “And that even as we are respectful and accommodating genuine concerns and interests of religious institutions, we need to reject politicians who are supporting new forms of discrimination as a way to scare up votes.”  Senator Baldwin also piped in with her own interpretation of the First Amendment:  “The First Amendment says that in institutions of faith that there is absolute power to, you know, to observe deeply held religious beliefs. I don’t think it extends far beyond that.”

Those thoughts scare me. That viewpoint concerns me; not the message of equality and tradition because I understand our evolving society, but the careless disregard for the very idea that birthed our nation.

Senator Baldwin, especially, might want to reexamine the text of the First Amendment, because – spoiler! – it makes no mention of religious institutions or our freedom being restricted to such buildings. The Constitution doesn’t require that we keep our faith hidden in the pews of churches; on the contrary, the First Amendment enables us to take that faith with us beyond the walls of that church and not fear public retaliation in response. The First Amendment is not a restriction on people and a liberator of government– it is the opposite:  a restriction on the government and a liberator of people.

That group of “people” includes both the Christians whose faith prohibits gay marriage and the individuals whose belief allows the practice. The First Amendment protects both groups equally and does not give deference to either opinion.

For President Obama to unilaterally declare that today’s America should prefer some rights over others is a dangerous slope, the end of which will find us wondering where our country went as we look on in horror at the effects of such a lack of values. And in fact, this goes a step further because of the apparently missing constitutional right that the Court discovered in Obergefell v. Hodges. As Justice Scalia pointed out in his dissenting opinion, “It would be surprising to find a prescription regarding marriage in the Federal Constitution since, as the author of today’s opinion reminded us only two years ago (in an opinion joined by the same Justices who join him today): ‘[R]egulation of domestic relations is an area that has long been regarded as a virtually exclusive province of the States.’”

States’ rights is such a novel concept, I know, and a little hard to grasp. How could we possibly think that our omniscient federal government could misinterpret the Constitution and read into it a provision that expands their scope of power! That’s simply ludicrous.

There should absolutely be a balance between religious freedom and equality. A majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage, and since government is a secular institution by nature, it should reflect the values of the people at large.

Kim Davis was an elected county clerk, but when her job description morphed into one that is required to follow the new national law, regardless of its constitutionality because it has already been decided, she is required to follow suit. Unfortunately, the Court doesn’t confer with the people before interpreting the founding document and issuing a judgment. And unfortunately for Kim Davis, her personal faith does, to a certain extent, get checked at the door when acting in a profession that requires she follow the standards of the government and not necessarily the Bible. She should never be penalized for holding that faith alone, but as a government employee, she is obligated to perform the duties of the government without filtering them through her own conscience. She is free to act in a profession that doesn’t violate her faith; but in today’s society, fighting the powers that be in such a manner as she has only makes all of those who hold the same faith look crazy. Work to change hearts and minds rather than attempt to fight this battle in an area that will never allow you to gain ground. Baby steps.

However, there is a line which government cannot and should not cross when dealing with religious freedom. When the owner of a privately-owned business is charged with discriminating against a gay couple for refusing to violate his beliefs, we have a problem.

Jack Phillips owned this cake shop without government assistance, and thus should be allowed to operate his business however he sees fit. If his faith prohibits him from providing goods for certain people because of his beliefs, he should be allowed to refuse that service. There are other cake shops that would gladly provide the service, and one would logically assume that a gay couple would rather purchase goods from a shop that seeks to provide them with that product.

Why the need to force a business to unwillingly serve you? Why not let them refuse the service and either provide service to a different clientele or go out of business as a result of their “bigotry”?

Sorry, President Obama, but religious freedom cannot be trumped by a federally-created right that should have been left to the states. A balance is necessary between public opinion and religious liberty, and the former has no authority over the latter. Allow the people to work this issue out for themselves instead of imposing an overreaching federal agenda that is clearly working toward the stated goal of fundamentally transforming the makeup of the United States.