With increasing frequency, we are seeing individuals and institutions claiming a right to discriminate—by refusing to provide services to women and LGBT people—based on religious objections. The discrimination takes many forms, including the following:
- Religiously affiliated schools firing women because they became pregnant while not married
- Business owners refusing to provide insurance coverage for contraception for their employees
- Graduate students, training to be social workers, refusing to counsel gay people
- Pharmacies turning away women seeking to fill birth control prescriptions
- Bridal salons, photo studios, and reception halls closing their doors to same-sex couples planning their weddings
While the situations may differ, one thing remains the same: Religion is being used as an excuse to discriminate against and harm others.
Instances of institutions and individuals claiming a right to discriminate in the name of religion are not new. In the 1960s, we saw objections to laws requiring integration in restaurants because of sincerely held beliefs that God wanted the races to be separate. We saw religiously affiliated universities refuse to admit students who engaged in interracial dating. In those cases, we recognized that requiring integration was not about violating religious liberty; it was about ensuring fairness. It is no different today.
Religious freedom in America means that we all have a right to our religious beliefs, but this does not give us the right to use our religion to discriminate against and impose those beliefs on others who do not share them.