Court victories for "gay rights" are often a defeat for other rights, most notable the freedom to associate or not associate – but largely for people who with traditional religious convictions, hardly a group that includes the national media. The Washington Post’s Jacqueline Salmon reported on Friday that religious people are increasingly losing in court. Left unaddressed: will America head in the same direction as Canada or Sweden, where religious charities or even sermons inside churches become grist for inspection by "human rights commissions" objecting to a "bigoted" religious orthodoxy?
Salmon’s story balanced out liberal and conservative advocates, but its list of court defeats might raise in conservative minds that old liberal concern about a "chilling effect" on freedom. Salmon began:
Faith organizations and individuals who view homosexuality as sinful and refuse to provide services to gay people are losing a growing number of legal battles that they say are costing them their religious freedom.
The lawsuits have resulted from states and communities that have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. Those laws have created a clash between the right to be free from discrimination and the right to freedom of religion, religious groups said, with faith losing. They point to what they say are ominous recent examples:
-- A Christian photographer was forced by the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission to pay $6,637 in attorney's costs after she refused to photograph a gay couple's commitment ceremony.
-- A psychologist in Georgia was fired after she declined for religious reasons to counsel a lesbian about her relationship.
-- Christian fertility doctors in California who refused to artificially inseminate a lesbian patient were barred by the state Supreme Court from invoking their religious beliefs in refusing treatment.
-- A Christian student group was not recognized at a University of California law school because it denies membership to anyone practicing sex outside of traditional marriage.
"It really is all about religious liberty for us," said Scott Hoffman, chief administrative officer of a New Jersey Methodist group, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which lost a property tax exemption after it declined to allow its beachside pavilion to be used for a same-sex union ceremony. "The protection to not be forced to do something that is against deeply held religious principles."
Later, Salmon added a little more detail to the fertility doctor case in California:
Battles are increasingly including private businesses. Last August, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of Guadalupe Benitez, who is a lesbian, when she sued the North Coast Women's Care Medical Group after doctors said their religious beliefs prevented them from artificially inseminating her.
We were devastated," said Benitez, 37, who has been with partner Joanne Clark for almost two decades. Sexual orientation "should never have been an issue," she said. "The issue was that I had a medical condition."
The court ruled that North Coast Women's Care did not have a free-speech right or a religious exemption from the state antidiscrimination law.
"Gay rights groups" are quite determined to make religious objections to homosexuality illegal: "In their role as a participant in the marketplace, they are being required to do that in a non-discriminatory way," Brian Moulton of the Human Rights Campaign told the Post.
Conservative advocates counter-argued:
"People seem to say that if you enter the world of commerce, you lose all your First Amendment rights" to free exercise of religion, said Jordan Lorence, senior counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal organization that has represented several businesses. "They . . . have become nothing more than vending machines, and the government can dictate the conditions under which they dispense their goods and services."
Salmon pointed out that even when traditionalist groups win, they can lose in the public-relations arena. Being ostracized by the "human rights" campaigners can cost public support and donations:
Even when groups opposing homosexuality have prevailed in court, they have gone on to face other setbacks. The Boy Scouts of America won a lawsuit in 2000 because it did not allow openly gay Scouts or Scout leaders. Since then, some private charities have refused to support the Scouts, and some local governments have yanked free use of facilities and other benefits. In Philadelphia, the city is demanding that the Scouts pay $200,000 in annual rent for a building that they had been using rent-free. The dispute is in court.
Some scholars also point to Bob Jones University, which lost its tax exemption over a ban on interracial dating and marriage among students, even though it claimed that those beliefs were religiously grounded. Some legal analysts suggest that religious groups that do not support gay rights might lose their tax exemptions because of their politically unpopular views.
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who supports same-sex marriage, said the Bob Jones ruling "puts us on a slippery slope that inevitably takes us to the point where we punish religious groups because of their religious views."