Ignorance on Display

Yesterday’s Indianapolis Star devoted much of its editorial real estate to the same-sex marriage debate. The paper took an editorial position in favor of recognition–an immensely encouraging sign of sanity I never thought to see in my lifetime–and also ran an “editorial dissent” that was a model of respectful disagreement.

Then there were the letters, most prominently a screed from Ryan McCann of Indiana Family Action. It would be hard to find a more perfect example of civic ignorance.

McCann trots out the Right’s usual list of dangerous incursions on “religious liberty,” including the claim that pastors will “come under legal attack” for refusing to marry same-sex couples.

Read my lips: the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment absolutely protects pastors and churches from officiating at weddings incompatible with their theologies. Period. Full stop. Anyone with even a modicum of constitutional knowledge should know better than to make or credit such a bogus claim, and it is a sad sign of how widespread civic ignorance is that the Rabid Right continues to parrot it.

McCann then bemoans the consequences for “small businesses” that refuse to serve same-sex couples (or, one intuits, gay customers generally) for reasons of religious “conscience.” He utterly fails to understand the difference between a church and a doughnut shop, which may tell readers more about his theology than he intended.

When a merchant opens a commercial enterprise, and advertises “come one, come all,” there is an implied transaction with local government; the government provides  streets and sidewalks allowing customers access the business, police and firefighters to ensure its safety, and–in some cities–adequate public transportation to enlarge the pool of potential  customers. In return for those services–necessary in order for a retailer to thrive– government asks that the owner pay his taxes, clear snow from his sidewalk, and honor that “come one, come all” invitation.

Catholic shopowners don’t get to refuse service to divorced and remarried customers; Jewish merchants don’t get to reject people who munched on BLTs before browsing the merchandise. Business owners whose “sincere beliefs” include a healthy amount of racism no longer get to turn away African-Americans. (Indeed, McCann’s letter echoes earlier laments from Southerners whose “liberty” to discriminate against black customers was being infringed by those hateful civil rights laws.)

So yes, “open for business” probably means open to anyone who wants to buy your cupcakes.

On the other hand, if your God tells you that gay people are all sinners headed for hell, your pastor and your church can continue  to operate on that theory, and the nasty old government can’t touch you.

You are protected by the Constitution that you evidently read as selectively and uncomprehendingly as you read that bible you keep thumping.


  1. Whenever I encounter these “religious freedom” arguments, I push back by asking just the sort of queries you raise. May a Catholic owned business refuse to serve a divorced woman? Can the business refuse to hire or choose to fire her because she is divorced. Can a Hindu owner of a 7-11 refuse to serve non-vegetarians? Can a Jewish doctor refuse to treat a patient that has shrimp or pork in his bloodstream? Can a Muslim doctor refuse to treat a patient with alcohol in his bloodstream or a woman who isn’t properly veiled? And the only responses I ever get are in the nature of “but that’s different” or “but why would they want to”. Essentially, those making the “religious freedom” argument are either totally lacking self-awareness of the world around them and/ or they really do want a theocracy.

  2. When the first Catholic parish is successfully sued by Baptists for refusing to conduct a big cathedral wedding sacrament for them. then I’ll worry about religious liberty in Indiana.

  3. It’s only their religion they’re thinking about, too, because there are denominations that would happily marry a same-sex couple, but are prohibited from doing so by the law. How come they’re willing to tolerate that infringement on religious freedom?

  4. Why are we still letting these politically active boobs hold their tax exempt status?
    I wish we would tax the pants off of ALL these folks
    Tax the property
    Tax their income’
    Tax all of it

  5. My Kitchen Stove held me up to Religious Ransom the other day. The oven would not work; it was showing an error code 5ab. I pressed the cancel button and nothing happened. I went to the circuit breaker panel and cycled power, still 5ab. However, my wife discovered by searching the Internet that the code is really Sab, which is short for Sabbath, the oven is disabled from operation on the Sabbath.

    Is my stove protected by the first amendment?

    Can a Jewish stove refuse to cook for a gentile?

  6. I really get tired of the lack of historical understanding of the whole concept of marriage and the conflation between the historical concept of marriage as a voluntary legal contract and the additional concept as a religious consecration(John Calvin’s Marriage Ordinance of Geneva) or as Sacrament (in the Catholic tradition per the Council of Trent 1563).
    Under English Common Law marriage was a voluntary contract and the Church of England had additional requirements if you were a member.

    In the U.S. our legal system emerged out of English Common Law and marriage was recognized as a civil matter with legal contractual obligations. The diverse churches had their own additional practices. Under civil law you have to obtain a license from the appropriate governmental body. You don’t obtain the license from a religious authority. At the conclusion of the marriage ceremony your license can be signed by civil authority or religious authority. Mine was signed by my Lutheran pastor.

    What most people don’t realize that for most of human history and pre-history is that marriage was an arrangement that occurred between families, tribes, fiefdoms, kingdoms, etc. for a variety of purposes that had to do with relationships, business, genetic diversity, etc.

    The one man/ one woman concept is based in culture and tradition, both of which have changed and evolved over time. We now recognize a variety of relationships and our civil law system will change with with it. The diverse Churches will continue to adhere to their own practices with their own members. However, our civil legal system will eventually recognize the diversity of relationships of those who wish to enter into the legal contract called marriage with all it’s rights, privileges and responsibilities.

  7. Once again the SCOTUS has done it again and ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby. Unbelievable that we live in a religious state(s of America).

  8. The Rabid Religious Right will do whatever they can to keep their base active, through tortured logic. They seem to want to interfere as much as possible to impose their Religious Beliefs on the State. When Creationism was shot down in Public Schools they tried Intelligent Design.

    Some Religions and Churches have institutional discrimination. i.e., woman are second class. I grew up a Roman Catholic. Woman are not allowed to be Priests. People will point to various passages in the Bible affirming this second class status or simply fall back on “tradition”. I suppose if these Religious Institutions want to enshrine discrimination within their organization they are free to do so. However, keep your narrow minded thinking within your group – do not tell the rest of us what we have to believe.

  9. Thank you, Sheila Kennedy. My family has been in Indiana since 1820. I feel that it’s my home, but I often don’t feel at home among my fellow hoosiers.

  10. I have only visited Indiana a few times on business. Sheila’s blog has me now pretty well informed as to at least the politics of your ‘hood. I wish you were more unique. You seem to me to be merely caught by the same contagion that brought many states to their knees. A media serving and spread infection that inflicts those esposed with the belief that they are special and entitled. Entitled to a superior portion of freedom.

    If it ain’t for everybody, it ain’t freedom.

  11. Post button push editing.

    “Esposed” , is, in the case of my post above, an illegal alien escaped from the gang of such floating around in my loosely organized post mature head. Spelled with an “x”, it is more conventional to be sure as well as much more effective in service of my message.

  12. Thank you Sheila for your eloquent article. The Radical Right are blinded by their false idols. The Bible addresses that , too.

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