The Conversation

Religious Freedom Battles Go Beyond Arizona and Wedding Cakes

The religious liberties versus government battles began long before state legislature like Arizona began considering bills to protect business owners' religious freedoms or bake shops refused to make wedding cakes for same sex couples. Almost two years ago an uproar started among liberal city mayors when Chick fil a CEO Dan Cathy discussed with a news outlet that he supported traditional marriage. As a result of Cathy's personal stance on the issue, mayors in Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco declared that the the successful restaurant chain was not welcome in  their cities.

A Kentucky T-shirt company declined to do business with an LGBT group in April of 2012, The New American  reported, because the owners claimed that doing so would conflict with their Christian beliefs:

The official discrimination complaint filed with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission reads: “On or about March 8, 2012, members of the GLSO were told that our Pride Festival t-shirt printing quote would not be honored due to the fact that the t-shirt company is a Christian organization. We were told that our t-shirts would not be printed. We believe that we have been discriminated against in violation of Local Ordinance 201-99, based on sexual orientation.”

A number of religious liberty cases happened long before and only a few years after Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same sex marriage via the state Supreme court in 2004.  In June 2008, National Public Radio compiled a list of such cases:

Adoption services: A same-sex couple in California applied to Adoption Profiles, an Internet service in Arizona that matches adoptive parents with newborns. The couple’s application was denied based on the religious beliefs of the company’s owners. The couple sued in federal district court in San Francisco. The two sides settled after the adoption company said it will no longer do business in California.

Wedding services: A same sex couple in Albuquerque asked a photographer, Elaine Huguenin, to shoot their commitment ceremony. The photographer declined, saying her Christian beliefs prevented her from sanctioning same-sex unions. The couple sued, and the New Mexico Human Rights Commission found the photographer guilty of discrimination. It ordered her to pay the lesbian couple’s legal fees ($6,600). The photographer is appealing.

Wedding facilities: Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association of New Jersey, a Methodist organization, refused to rent its boardwalk pavilion to a lesbian couple for their civil union ceremony. The couple filed a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. The division ruled that the boardwalk property was open for public use, therefore the Methodist group could not discriminate against gay couples using it. In the interim, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection revoked a portion of the association’s tax benefits. The case is ongoing.

Youth groups: The city of Berkeley, Calif., requested that the Sea Scouts (affiliated with the Boy Scouts) formally agree to not discriminate against gay men in exchange for free use of berths in the city’s marina. The Sea Scouts sued, claiming this violated their beliefs and First Amendment right to the freedom to associate with other like-minded people. In 2006, the California Supreme Court ruled against the youth group. In San Diego, the Boy Scouts lost access to the city-owned aquatic center for the same reason. While these cases do not directly involve same-sex unions, they presage future conflicts about whether religiously oriented or parachurch organizations may prohibit, for example, gay couples from teaching at summer camp. In June 2008, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the California Supreme Court to review the Boy Scouts’ leases. Meanwhile, the mayor’s office in Philadelphia revoked the Boy Scouts’ $1-a-year lease for a city building.

Medical services: A Christian gynecologist at North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group in Vista, Calif., refused to give his patient in vitro fertilization treatment because she is in a lesbian relationship, and he claimed that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. (The doctor referred the patient to his partner, who agreed to do the treatment.) The woman sued under the state’s civil rights act. The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in May 2008, and legal experts believe that the woman’s right to medical treatment will trump the doctor’s religious beliefs. One justice suggested that the doctors take up a different line of business.

Psychological services: A mental health counselor at North Mississippi Health Services refused therapy for a woman who wanted help in improving her lesbian relationship. The counselor said doing so would violate her religious beliefs. The counselor was fired. In March 2001, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit sided with the employer, ruling that the employee’s religious beliefs could not be accommodated without causing undue hardship to the company.

Housing: In New York City, Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a school under Orthodox Jewish auspices, banned same-sex couples from its married dormitory. [At the time, New York did not] recognize same-sex marriage, but in 2001, the state’s highest court ruled Yeshiva violated New York City’s ban on sexual orientation discrimination. Yeshiva now allows all couples in the dorm

The battle in Arizona only indicates the issue is becoming more heated and will likely find itself in other areas sooner rather than later.



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