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Forest, Virginia, United States
A long time ago, my sophomore English teacher, Father William Campbell, saw something in my writing and predicted that I would someday become a newspaper columnist. He suggested the perfect title for my column--"Leaves of the Palm." Now that I have a little extra time on my hands I've decided to put Father Campbell's prediction to the test. I'm going to start using this blog site not just to reprint opinion pieces I've published elsewhere but to try to get more of my ideas and opinions out there. Feedback is welcome. To find out more about me, please check out my Web site: www.EdwardFPalm.com (Click on any of the photos below for an enlarged view.)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

My Column for September 20, 2015

ED PALM | Religious liberty vs. religious bigotry

It was Samuel Johnson who is reported to have said that “only a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” I’m pleased to report that I’m not that kind of blockhead. Truth be told, however, this gig doesn’t pay all that well. It’s mainly hearing from readers that keeps me going. I find it especially gratifying to hear from readers who like and approve of what I have to say, of course. But I also appreciate hearing from those who consider me a blockhead, my paltry compensation notwithstanding.

The most vehement objections I inspire, bar none, seem to come my way whenever I touch on the topic of religion. A case in point is the comment I made last month in response to the Iowa set-to between Ted Cruz and the openly gay actress Ellen Page. Cruz suggested that denying goods and services to gay couples intent on marrying can be justified in the name of religious liberty. Page observed that there is a fine line between religious freedom and religious bigotry.

One reader — a born-again Christian whose faith I respect and admire — posed a question that has helped me to refine my own position on gay marriage: How can those who support gay marriage justify imposing their will on those who don’t?

The answer, it seems to me, is that people who serve the general public may not discriminate against anyone on the basis of race, color, creed, ethnic origin, gender or sexual orientation. That last category is a recent addition, but as I understand it, each of those categories is now a matter of settled law.

The cause célèbre, of course, involved the Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding. A cake is just a cake — a commodity — and it was not going to be put to any illegal purpose. To my mind, providing that cake would not have constituted an endorsement of gay marriage, much less actual participation in the event. And in the end that baker’s stand cost him much more than a sale. A Colorado judge determined that he did discriminate against that gay couple. He’s facing up to a year in jail.

Likewise, I cannot see that providing flowers for, or photographing, a gay wedding constitutes participation in the ceremony. The actual participants would be the gay couple, their attendants, and the officiant. (I didn’t write clergyman or woman because there is another distinction I’ll address anon.) Again, the florist would merely be providing a commodity and the photographer a service, both of which are ideologically neutral.

Regarding that officiant, a clergyman or woman whose denomination does not recognize gay marriage cannot be compelled to marry a gay couple. A justice of the peace or judge conducting a civil service, however, is a different matter. He or she is bound by the civil law, which currently holds gay people to be a protected class.

This same reader suggested that forcing merchants and service providers to participate in gay weddings is analogous to requiring a Jew or Muslim to deal in pork. That depends on the nature of the business.

A religious Jew who owns a kosher meat shop, or a Muslim who owns a halal, cannot be compelled to stock and sell pork — provided that he owns the business and that he clearly bills the shop as a kosher or Islamic establishment. Should either business fail and its owner go to work for Safeway, however, he would have to sell whatever Safeway stocks, pork included. Safeway, after all, is in business to serve the public in general, not just those who would recognize Jewish or Muslim dietary strictures.

As I’ve admitted before in this column, despite my Catholic upbringing, I don’t consider myself to be a Christian. But theology remains an interest of mine, and I do know enough about Christianity to recognize a glaring irony among Christians adamantly committed to reversing the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage. Christ is reputed to have consorted with publicans and sinners and to have enjoined us to “judge not that ye be not judged.” I suppose he realized that he was more likely to win hearts and minds by engaging with people than by excluding or shunning them.

Fast forward to today, and like it or not, we live in a secular, pluralistic society. Allowing Christian merchants and service providers to impose their religious scruples on society in general is a slippery slope. It would be tantamount to the establishment of religion — which the First Amendment expressly forbids.

That’s the way it seems to me at least. As for me and my pay, not to worry. The love of money may indeed be “the root of all evil.” But the Sun has seen to it that I can afford only a venial sin or two.

Contact Ed Palm at efpalm@centurylink.net.

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