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As a rabbi, I have the right not to officiate at a wedding if it does not meet my religious criteria. For example, if both parties are not Jewish, I cannot officiate. Does a florist or a baker legally have the same right to refuse to serve such a couple? Indiana and Arkansas approved amended versions of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act that raised such questions regarding refusing to serve same sex couples.

The question for the panel is: Does a for profit business have a religious privilege to refuse to serve individuals who violate norms of the owner’s religious principles?

I’ll use same sex marriage as the test case. Please know that I would conduct a same sex ceremony (as long as both partners are Jewish), but my analysis is from the point of view of those who hold a sincere, religious objection to such marriages.

Biblical verses condemning homosexual behavior do not apply to this question. Just because I might understand Leviticus 18:22 to prohibit me from engaging in a same sex relationship doesn’t mean that I am forbidden to sell cake to a couple who is celebrating such a relationship. I turn instead to Leviticus 19:14, “Don’t place a stumbling block before the blind,” which Jewish tradition understands to caution against taking actions that lead people to sin. If you believe that same sex marriage is a sin, then the essential question would be whether your action leads them to sin. A baker who makes a cake or a florist who decorates a table is not involved in the specific act, religious or otherwise, which creates the relationship. Therefore,
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I don’t think that the verse from Leviticus 19 must apply, and therefore I don’t think there is a religious privilege to refuse to serve such individuals.

Doug Van Doren, the pastor of Plymouth United Church of Christ, responds:

As a clergy, and looking at history, it is clear that sometimes individuals and groups need to be protected from overzealous religion. The Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, slavery (largely supported by Christian theology) and discrimination against women are but a few examples. One’s personal beliefs aside, it is simply anarchy if everyone gets to decide whom they judge to be worthy of being served. The title, “Religious Freedom and Restoration Act” implies that freedoms have been taken away. I can think of none! In the U. S.,
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one’s personal religious practice is safe guarded. However, when individuals are serving the public their individual discriminatory behavior, even if it is based on their religious beliefs, should not be supported by the state. Holding fast to one’s religious beliefs often is costly. If I cannot uphold my personal religious beliefs and serve the public, it is I, not the public, who should bear the cost.

Besides discriminating against those in the LGBT community, which is offensive enough, think of this scenario: What if I were to attempt to rent an apartment and the landlord knew I was Hindu. He might be savvy enough to know I would probably have a small meditation area with an altar. That altar might include icons of figures such as Shiva Krishna. To many people this would be considered idolatry. If the landlord has a religious revulsion toward such activity it sure seems likely that he could use this law to bar me from renting. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how far this could all expand.

I have to advocate in favor of religious freedom which is guaranteed by the first amendment. As much as the LGBT community wants to make this about gay rights, this is about religious freedom, not gay rights!
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If a baker refuses to make me a cake in the shape of a cross I take my business to another baker. Shaming, accusing, or discrediting the baker for refusing to bake my cake would expose a spirit/attitude of manipulation, pride, and control on my part not a spirit/attitude that promotes love, peace, and equality.

Although I agree that gays have rights like everyone else I do not agree with giving them the right to take away my religious freedom just because I disagree with them. I want the freedom to not bake a cake for them. Taking away this law that gives me religious freedom is like forcing me to agree, accept, and embrace their lifestyles and their values.

I am deeply saddened by the way so many of our politicians have come to fear the crowd more than God. This is no different than what Pilot did: “Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.” (Mark 15:15).

Ethics and Religion Talk is compiled and written by David Krishef,
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rabbi at Congregation Ahavas Israel in Grand Rapids. Krishef takes questions from readers and shares them with a panel of clergy, then provides the responses in collaboration with community engagement specialist Zane McMillin. The views expressed are those of the panelists and do not necessarily represent the official perspectives of their congregations or denominations.