by Casey Mattox
Alliance Defending Freedom
April 22, 2016
Someone asks you to attend and participate in his religious service, joining in or standing reverently as hymns are sung, prayers are offered, sermons are preached and religious rites are performed. But the service does not worship God as you choose to. In fact, parts of the service blaspheme your God. He offers to pay you, but you respectfully decline and wish him well.
So he goes to the authorities and demands that the government punish you for your resistance. The Attorney General takes you to court, demanding that you pay large fines. You may be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys fees. Ridiculous, right? Would never happen in America.
Of all of the principles the left is suddenly willing to sacrifice on the altar of same-sex marriage – free speech, free exercise of religion, the rule of law, the right to vote, etc. – perhaps the most surprising and least reported is that it is now effectively demanding compulsory participation and support of religious services. The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State are perhaps best known for their stand for “separation of church and state.” But today these organizations and their allies oppose Religious Freedom Restoration Acts and any other conscience protection for those who do not wish to participate in a same-sex wedding. They would have the government fine – even potentially imprison — those who will not participate in certain religious services.
While the anti-conscience activists pretend that conscientious objectors are declining goods or services because of sexual orientation, every case disproves that characterization. These creative professionals serve all persons. They object only to facilitating and celebrating a particular event that would require them to advance a message contrary to their religious convictions.
The left had historically mocked suggestions that any pastor would ever be forced to perform a same sex wedding in violation of their faith. But the mask is slipping. See the hysterical response to a Georgia law that would have done little more than protect pastors, churches and other nonprofit religious organizations from hosting and solemnizing a same-sex marriage. Indeed, the left has already attempted to force a pastor to perform a same-sex wedding that would violate his faith. And within hours of the Supreme Court’s decision finding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, activists were urging termination of tax exemptions for churches that decline to perform same-sex weddings.
Not every same-sex wedding is a church wedding, but some are. If Christian videographers, wedding coordinators, musicians, and other creative professionals – let alone pastors themselves – are required to provide their services for same-sex weddings, some will even have to be physically present, even participating in religious worship where they believe the prayers prayed, hymns sung, and scriptures read in support are actually blaspheming their own God.
The opponents of RFRA and like religious freedom protections are still quick to deploy their “separation of church and state” cliché, but one side is demanding that the state fine people for declining to participate in a religious service. It isn’t mine. It’s the ACLU and its allies who are ready to use the power of the state to compel unwilling people to participate in religious services.
One might object that no one is being forced to actually participate in a religious service or to pray. They are simply being required to be present and respectful while others pray. But this is not how the same organizations leading the fight to punish dissenters from their new orthodoxy have historically understood government compulsion to pray. In Lee v. Weisman these same groups successfully argued that a prayer offered in the presence of students at a graduation ceremony “coerced” them into participating in a prayer. Students would feel social pressure to:
“. . . stand as a group or, at least, maintain respectful silence during the invocation and benediction. This pressure, though subtle and indirect, can be as real as any overt compulsion. . . . There can be no doubt that for many, if not most, of the students at the graduation, the act of standing or remaining silent was an expression of participation in the rabbi’s prayer. That was the very point of the religious exercise. It is of little comfort to a dissenter, then, to be told that, for her, the act of standing or remaining in silence signifies mere respect, rather than participation. What matters is that, given our social conventions, a reasonable dissenter in this milieu could believe that the group exercise signified her own participation or approval of it. Finding no violation under these circumstances would place objectors in the dilemma of participating, with all that implies, or protesting.”
The Christian wedding videographer would face these same “social conventions,” but in a full religious ceremony, and facing thousands of dollars in fines if she refuses. And a floral artist, photographer, or musician is there specifically for the purpose of advancing the message of the ceremony even if they do stand silently through the prayers. Rather than defending those who object to participating in these particular religious ceremonies, the ACLU and its allies are using the power of the government to fine and prosecute religious dissenters.
Of the same-sex marriage agenda, Erick Erickson has coined the phrase, “You will be made to care.” But in some cases this is insufficient. You must participate. Even if the left must use the power of the government to fine you if you refuse, you will be made to worship their god.