A Quick Explanation of “Religious Freedom” for These Conservatives Who Seem Unable to Understand What it Means

palin-cruz-bachmannWhile Arizona made headlines with its anti-LGBT bill that was passed by the state legislature (but ultimately vetoed by Governor Brewer) several other states have proposed similar types of legislation.

Conservatives who support these bills are masking them with the defense of “religious freedom,” while anyone with even a shred of common sense knows that’s complete garbage.

Just as conservatives didn’t seem to understand what “freedom of speech” meant during the Duck Dynasty/Phil Robertson controversy a couple of months back, they also don’t seem to understand what “freedom of religion” means.

Freedom of religion, as per our First Amendment, gives a private citizen the right to practice whatever religion they like during their personal time.  If someone wants to attend church 7 days a week, read the Bible every single day, pray at every meal and send their kids to a religious school – they’re absolutely free to do so!

However, a business is not allowed the freedom of religion.  While an individual might have a friend come over and pay them $5 per hour to do some work around their house, a business is required to adhere to certain labor laws which mandate that they pay workers a minimum of $7.25 per hour.

See, when you decide to open a business, your business doesn’t operate under the same Constitutional protections that an individual has.

As an individual, you can hang a Nazi flag inside your home and never once associate with someone who’s of a different race than you are.  But as a business, to discriminate against a customer based on race is illegal.

And don’t give me this, “Well, the Bible says homosexuality is wrong so it’s different than race” nonsense.  Decades ago, people argued “religious rights” when they were trying to segregate the races and keep interracial marriage illegal.  So yes, religion has been used to validate racism just as it’s being used to try to validate discrimination against homosexuals.

So let’s run through this one more time.  As an individual, someone can be as religious, sexist, racist or as hateful as they want to be in their homes and their private lives.  If all an individual wants to do is associate with straight, white Christians – that’s 100% legal.

But if someone wants to operate a business, they must operate that business within the confines of the law.  And guess what?  Laws prohibit discrimination.

Another quick example before I wrap this up.  Say a photographer opposes interracial marriage, therefore tells an interracial couple that they refuse to work their wedding based on their religious beliefs that the “mixing of the races is wrong.”  Is that illegal?  Yes.  Because a business cannot discriminate.

Simply replacing “interracial” with “homosexual” doesn’t suddenly make that discrimination legal.  Which is what these “religious freedom” bills are seeking to do – legalize homosexual discrimination.

Again, it’s real simple.  As an individual, you’re afforded all the religious freedom you want and you can personally discriminate as much as your ignorant heart would like.  As a business, you’re not allowed to discriminate – period. 

And yes, it’s really that simple.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


Facebook comments

  • Exactly. Christians are demanding the right to lie on their application for a business license that allows them to serve the public.

  • Tamra

    Yeah, blame the Christians. Tired of it. As an individual , “I am afforded all the religious feedom I want” and I can personally discriminate ” as much as my “IGNORANT heart wants”. Allen Clifton, you suck. Both from the business and individual standpoints your ignorant self posted! 🙂

    • Ann

      To your point of view he may suck because he used strong language, but he is right. Can you give a valid explanation why you think he is wrong? Show some facts. Not all Christians, but many far right Christians do use religion to justify discrimination, which that in itself is un-Christian-like. You don’t have to agree with someone to still be friends with them or do business with them. Whether you are against homosexuality or not, what is wrong with doing business with someone, business can just be business.

      • moe/larry & curly keys

        do u think scumbag tamra will actually pay heed to logic and facts?

    • Ann

      Even Jesus socialized with people whom he didn’t agree with the things they did, or that his Jewish religion said was against their religion. Jesus knew it was wrong to discriminate. Why don’t many conservative Christians see what he saw?

      • Terri Ford

        Because they don’t follow Jesus. They follow flawed leaders that throw away what Jesus said. They forget that Jesus told them to NEVER judge anyone for anything if they are following him. So in other words they call them selves Christians but there is no Jesus in their belief system.

      • moe/larry & curly keys

        “follow the yellow brick road”………..( money/ white trash elitism)

    • PRIME79

      Is this sarcasm? If not…sweet-pea we’ve been over this. Happened in the 60’s & 70’s when your kind were making the same claims about keeping interracial marriage illegal and keeping segregation legal in the name of your religion. No you can not discriminate as a business in America. No one cares what you do in your personal time, you’re really not that relevant.

    • pennyroyal

      methinks the meanness and ignorance is all yours, cupcake…

    • moe/larry & curly keys

      hey imbecile,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,he is tired of RELIGION: he himself is a Christian who doesn’t TRY to imbue REEEEE-LIGION into legislative politics. the CHRISTIANS are the ones TRYING this crap: NOIT jews,,,NOT muslims,,,,NOT Taoists,,,NOT Buddhists…. the white trash regressive scumbag JEEEESUS freaks
      ————- try reading the articl again b4 U again show your lack of knowledge

      • Dave

        Bunch of religious hypocrites trying out a Christian Taliban on the rest of us. You know, people who think for themselves. Most churches now go like this: 9:00 sunday school 10:00 preaching 11:00political indoctorination aka brainwashing. Not that I know for real. The last time I went to church, Metal Church opened for Anthrax in ’88.

      • moe/larry & curly keys

        digging your post!!!
        ( listen to mahavishnu orchestra) U will love it

      • Nikki Ourand Lambert

        Dude. That show was awesome.

    • Marilyn Olsen Scheffler

      Who else would you blame? Who is responsible for this type of crap going on in our country right now? I’m 74 years old and I have NEVER felt as angry and frustrated about the way people who want to have their beliefs are being treated. I have been made to feel that I am a worthless person because I don’t believe exactly the way a former friend thought I should believe. I just don’t get how one group of people can think that their way is the only way.

    • Emmy Dogg

      well i am tired of people claiming to walk in the footsteps of Jesus but spout bigotry and hatred, if that is you, reread the bible. you got it wrong

  • Alice Peterson

    Allen Clifton is right, but there is so much more. So yes, #1 is we want to prevent institutionalized discrimination. 2. Most major religions say that women are inferior to men. Some even go so far as to say women may not go out unaccompanied. If religions are allowed to rule the day, then women may as well give up their jobs and stay locked up at home. Sorry if you are unmarried, not sure how you will earn a living. 3. There is no way to prove faith is separate from just pretending. If you say you have faith, why should I take you at your word? How am I to know that you truly believe what you are saying (especially when it is so damaging to someone else?) 4. Just because you say something is sacred to you, does not mean it has to be sacred to me. Think cows, Hindu religion, or books, Xian and Islam.

  • Edward Krebbs

    Agree with article. However, must note Citizens United / Corporations are people could exert a pernicious effect here.

    • Raji the Green Witch

      I’ll believe corporations are people when one comes home from war in a flag draped coffin. Until then they are NOT people.

      • John Silvernale

        Best response I’ve ever heard on that issue! Thank you!!!

  • rossbro

    Cruz,Palin, and Bachmann are too stupid to understand. They can’t see beyond their bigoted noses.

    • moe/larry & curly keys

      and all three are financially capitalizing upon the stupidity of regressive white trash religious scum.

  • Jan

    I agree with you, Mr. Clifton. Wholeheartedly! I love your writing and look forward to reading your pieces daily. Thank you, and please keep it up! We need you.

  • radsenior

    Selective interpretation and preferential application by elitist exacerbationist!

    • Nikki Ourand Lambert

      Ridiculous rhetoric and annoying alliteration by illiterate idiot!

      “Exacerbationist” is not a word. The squiggly red underline should have tipped you off. The interpretation is not selective, nor the application preferential; the Bill of Rights applies to individuals, not businesses. Lastly, you should not use “elitist” as an insult, as it can be defined as you considering the other person superior to yourself.

      So, dictionary and Constitution, and you should be all set.

      • radsenior

        Got UR attention!

  • Kelli

    First of all, the AZ bill, already exists; Arizona’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (nearly identical to the federal law President Clinton signed into law in the 90’s) has been law since 1999. SB1062 was merely *updates* to the existing law by clarifying definitions AND adding provisions that if a business owner was citing freedom of religion they MUST PROVE a burden exists. The language of the UPDATES to the EXISTING BILL made no mention of LGBT persons or same-sex marriage. The travesty is people blindly believing the misinformation through social media and hack opinion writers rather than simply taking 2 minutes to log onto the Arizona Legislature’s website and read the bill for themselves.

    Second, Allen Clifton couldn’t be more wrong. A persons religious freedom does not end when they open a public business. No, they cannot and should not, discriminate in serving someone who walks into their business to purchase a product or service available to the public such as walking into a florist to purchase flowers or have an arrangement delivered. When CONTRACTING services, however, any business owner is, and should be, free to refuse service. This is called Freedom of contract, and/or Freedom of association, and/or Freedom of Religion. Business cannot discriminate because of specific classes but should be free to decline a request to contract services if the CONTEXT of the request requires them to express messages that conflict with their conscience or religious belief.

    Taking the authors example, the photographer wouldn’t decline service to a gay individual but declining the request to photograph their same-sex ceremony, can and should be allowed. Should the photographer be forced to photograph a nude wedding if nudity makes them uncomfortable? Should a print shop owned by an African American (or anyone) be forced to print KKK pamphlets? The examples abound.

    Jim Crow laws prevented people from associating or contracting to which I’m sure Allen Clifton is opposed. Yet, coercing people INTO associating and contracting is acceptable? Government should not mandate forced association nor prevent association. It violates freedom – period.
    Any one on this thread condemning the gay hair dresser in NM who refused to do the NM Governor’s hair because she believes marriage should be between a man and a woman?? Or is it just a one-way street?

    • John Spriggs

      So I should be able to refuse service to you because you are a idiot?

    • Emmy Dogg

      do you really wan’t your faith on trial because when you get sued, you will have to prove its against your faith

    • disqus_mmZU8TPsvi

      And getting rid of jim crow laws did force businesses into associating and contracting with people they don’t like. Which was Clifton’s argument. That using religion (as it was done to put jim crow laws into effect) is wrong when operating a business. A business is not an individual and has no freedom. It is suppose to serve the public. The entire public.
      Contracting doesn’t matter. It has no effect on any anti-discrimination law. The law doesn’t differentiate between a shop or contracting.
      I am not familiar with new mexico’s laws, but many states do not have discrimination laws. I know AZ is one of them, which means that according to the state, you could discriminate against anyone you didn’t like. Federal law does trump states when it comes to rights though.
      Skip Moreland

  • crazyscarytimes

    But wait, I thought that businesses are now considered “People” (Citizens United)–so they can be considered an individual. Businesses want the right not to provide birth control or abortions in the health plan coverage they provide for employees (they don’t want to be required to cover heath care services for their employees that are against “their” religious beliefs….

  • Vince Quackenbush

    @rossbro:disqus disagree. Cruz, Palin and bachmann are not “too supid to understand”; rather, they are too cynical to care.

  • Alexander

    Ive found an effective argument is to say “My bible says thou shalt not kill. Due to my strong belief in Christianity, I therefore refuse service to any and all veterans.” Conversation would be over.

    • vperry999

      Good argument, although wouldn’t that exclude the Christian right wing from being served in stores, hospitals and other services because they are normally the politicians who begin most of the wars that veterans come home from? Just sayin’.

  • Richard Rech

    also when congressmen are not allow to prefer one religion over the other, which they all seem to do

  • Jennifer Loper

    Funny, the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t agree with you.