I don’t really like the word “tolerance.” Toleration suggests putting up with something that is substandard or otherwise unfortunate in the interests of civil peace. I prefer something more along the lines of “live and let live.” You do your thing, I do mine. Neither of us may approve of the other’s choices, but we respect our mutual right to differ.

My distaste for the word aside, I found it fascinating that The Heritage Foundation–that once-respectable, currently rabid source of right-wing “policy” positions–has announced its approval of a recent proposal out of Idaho, citing it as an example of “tolerance.”

Rep. Raúl Labrador of Idaho has proposed a new bill that would protect “religious liberty” by issuing licenses to discriminate against gay people. (I know that’s bizarre, but work with me here, people!)  The “logic” of this measure is simple, if daft. Because evidently not being able to discriminate against gay people does discriminate against Christians, the bill provides that there would be no adverse consequences for any organization, business or individual who refuses to recognize same-sex marriage. The text reads as follows:

“The Federal Government shall not take an adverse action against a person, on the basis that such person acts in accordance with a religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

Under that language, businesses could refuse benefits to same-sex partners, hospitals could refuse visitation rights, landlords could refuse to rent to gay couples, and pretty much anyone at all could refuse services to LGBT people. Note too that this language isn’t intended to reinforce already robust Free Exercise protections that exempt churches and many religious organizations from compliance with civil rights laws. This language is far broader.

Why do I think that if they could get away with it, these proponents of “religious liberty” would grant a similar “license” to people whose religious beliefs included a distaste for Jews or blacks or Muslims?

In this profoundly upside-down view, after all, any and all anti-discrimination laws can be seen as invasions of my civil liberties. How dare the government tell me I can’t pick on people my religion tells me to dislike?

In what alternate universe is official government approval of  discrimination “tolerance”?


  1. When will the rightwing Christians get it? They don’t have to marry gays, or permit them to be members in their churches. (Who would darken their doors, anyway?).

    The public arena, however, in this country, is supposed to be a place of liberty and JUSTICE for ALL. Or is there something that I’m missing, here?

  2. The Free Exercise Clause means that government policies must accommodate religious beliefs. It doesn’t just apply to religious institutions. The Free Exercise Clause applies to everyone. Take the example of a wedding photographer whose religious beliefs see marriage between two men or two women as a sin. Do you really want the law to force that photographer to take pictures at a same sex wedding or face fines? No, the law needs to accommodate that person’s religious belief.

    I am not sure how you advance the ball of eliminating discrimination against same sex couples by initiating discriminating against people because of their religious beliefs. Why is discriminating against a person because of his or her religious beliefs okay?

  3. Paul,

    Couple of responses. The photographer’s shop would be considered a public accommodation . Civil rights law classified many businesses as such during the segregation fight specifically so anti black discrimination couldn’t be classified as exercise of religion. A place of business is not a church and shouldn’t be considered equivalent.

    Two, I suspect that this photographer has hired themselves out for non Christian weddings or even weddings where one or both parties had been divorced ? Did they ask about the virginity status of their clients? Or do their strongly held religious beliefs only really extend to gay people?

  4. Section 16 of the Virginia Declaration of Rights reads, “That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.”

    In 1776, while proposing his draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, George Mason proudly unveiled what would become Section 16…a statement on religious tolerance. Young James Madison challenged Mason and successfully had the clause amended, coining the phrase “free exercise.” Madison wisely pointing out that we each have a right to exercise our religion as we see fit not to merely tolerate those doing it wrong. That many religious practices, with no single sect dominating, would allow the greatest freedom of faith and the greatest possibility that false religion would be unable to tyrannize; the greatest possible protection against policy of limited and selfish and corrupted interest. A Federalist 10 of religious liberty if you will.
    Where is Madison today telling the dofus of Idaho that he does not get to tolerate those he disagrees with for he too is not above. Instead we must have the full discussion of religion, of value, of policy and of faith with the hope that progress and free exercise prevail. If you wish not to have a same gender marriage – then don’t!! and kindly leave those alone that wish to….don’t just tolerate… embrace free exercise….or at least stop making us merely tolerate you Representative Labrador. Besides no one is forcing any church to do anything, except perhaps admit that others, outside their doors, have different views; a right that the church keeps claiming for only itself.
    We really need James Madison today.

  5. By the way, that text also seems to imply that sex is only for married couples. Given the culture warriors obsession with unapproved sex this proposal also goes after a lot if straight people in the name of sex as well.

  6. Lets just remove the church’s (all of them) tax exempt status and be done with this nonsense. I can’t believe how laser focused these churches are on bedrooms and the privacy of everyone’s homes.

    I agree, live and let live.

  7. Pete, I read the text the same way. It seems that it could protect pharmacists, for example, who do not wish to dispense contraceptives to unmarried individuals (regardless of gender)because “sexual relations are reserved” for marriage. Didn’t we fight that battle years ago?

  8. The way it is written wouldn’t it also protect a landlord who refuses to rent to an unmarried, heterosexual couple?

  9. Paul asks, “Why is discriminating against a person because of his or her religious beliefs okay?”

    I don’t know. You tell me. Some believe – because of their religious teachings – that a woman who is raped should be beaten if she speaks out against her rapist.

    Some believe that it’s their religious duty – because of their religious teachings – to obstruct the ability of law-abiding citizens from getting legal medical care and medicines.

    Yet others believe in magic underwear, reincarnation, babies who walk and talk and speak at birth, water into wine, zombies, faeries and angels.

    Is religious belief worthy of “protection from discrimination” in the same way as age, race, national origin, color or disability? Religion is a choice. I didn’t choose my skin color or my national origin, my race or my gender. But I can certainly choose to be a Scientologist (or not). When people choose to believe bad ideas, is it my duty to respect those bad ideas?

  10. I tried to listen to Raul Labrador on a Sunday morning talk show today. Labrador may be a better place for him. Maybe they can understand him up there. He makes no sense! A license to discriminate against gay people? Really?

  11. In response to your final comment/question; I will borrow a term from Stephen King’s new book, “Doctor Sleep”. The GOP lives on “Planet Elsewhere”; in a world where discrimination is believed to be Christianity – and Christianity is the ultimate form of tolerance. But it is we who are expected to be tolerant – tolerant of their racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism, categorizing others as un-Christian who do not follow their rules or believe their beliefs. Their primary goals after ridding us of our biracial president is to control our sex lives and prescribe medical care for all women…sans ACA of course. We are still being held hostage by Boehner and Congress who have now blatantly stated their ransom for this entire country. Will President Obama tolerate this or will he blink?

  12. While I have a great deal to add to the discussion of religious freedom my team* of lawyers advises I would be in violation of several conflict of interest statutes. Frankly I think they are wrong…..if ANYONE should be exempt from laws on the grounds of Conscience (emphasis on the capital “C”), you would think that I should be.

    * actually just one…..they are pretty scarce up here.

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