The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Religious freedom and gay marriage

According to a post by Rachel Lu on the Federalist website:

By decree of the great state of Oregon, the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa must pay $135,000 to the lesbian couple whom they “mentally raped” by refusing to bake their wedding cake. This was expected, but the final judgment, handed down last Thursday, came with another twist. Aaron and Melissa Klein have also been given a “cease and desist” order, which effectively decrees they must refrain from stating their continued intention to abide by their moral beliefs.

Let’s be clear on why this is so sinister. There are times when speech rights conflict with other legitimate social goods. The public’s right to know can conflict with individual privacy rights. Sometimes threats to public safety warrant keeping secrets. There can be interesting debates about intellectual property rights. These cases can get tricky, and we should all understand that speech rights necessarily do have certain pragmatic limits.

None of those concerns apply here. The Kleins did not threaten public safety. They violated no one’s privacy or property rights. Rather, the Oregon labor commissioner, Brad Avakian, wanted to silence them because the content of their speech. Presumably he was angry that the Kleins’ defiant stance had earned them a potentially profitable reputation as heroes for religious freedom. They were meant to be humiliated and cowed; instead there was a real chance they would land on their feet. So they had to be gagged to prevent that from happening.

If the First Amendment doesn’t apply to a case like this, it is meaningless.

Now if this is true, the judge (or the labor commissioner, if he was able to get the cease and desist order without a judge's action) has gone too far. Yes, the bakers are a public accommodation, and refusing to grant service to the lesbian couple is an offense that deserves punishment. Even though the size of the award ($135,000) would seem excessive to me, the damage can be evaluated and if a court thinks it appropriate I would not quarrel with that. However, if the Kleins are forbidden even to speak out and state their religious beliefs, I agree with Rachel Lu that this is beyond the pale, in light of the First Amendment's freedom of speech and religion clauses. While I believe that freedom of religion does not justify a company refusing to serve an intending customer, it certainly must be the case that the owners of the company do have the right to state their religious beliefs. And the customers (as in the case of the jeweler in Canada) must decide whether they still want to use the firm's services.

I have said that Obergefell does not infringe on religious freedom. And insofar as it makes bakers like the Kleins serve people, I still believe this. But actions like that of the Oregon judge seem to make the issue of religious freedom come in, despite what I said.

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