Commentary: What would Jesus do about ‘religious refusal’?


The Supreme Court is about to decide whether religious freedom is a license to discriminate. This deeply troubles me as both an American and a Christian pastor.

The high court in December will consider the case of a Colorado business owner who refused to sell a cake to a same-sex couple. In that case, Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the owner has cited his religious beliefs as exempting him from a nondiscrimination law that requires businesses to treat everyone equally.

I and other clergy across Texas are among nearly 1,300 faith leaders who have signed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that it is wrong to allow businesses to discriminate under the guise of religion. Many signers in this state are part of Texas Believes, a growing movement of religious leaders who support full equality for LGBT people.

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This case could affect far more people. Allowing businesses to pick and choose which laws they will obey would roll back discrimination protections for virtually anyone.

Earlier this year, two other faith leaders with Texas Believes – a rabbi and an African-American minister – wrote about how religion has been used in our history to justify discrimination against people like them.

Consider the possible consequences if the Supreme Court allows a special right of religious refusal to obey nondiscrimination laws. Some extreme religious sects teach white supremacy and anti-Semitism. Should business owners who hold such religious views be given a pass to post signs proclaiming “Whites Only” and “No Jews” at the shop entrance?

Likewise, would be it be acceptable for a restaurant owner to refuse service to people simply because their religion is different from his or hers? Should a factory owner whose religion teaches that women must not work outside the home be allowed to fire or refuse to hire women who do?

Most Americans would rightly answer “no” to those questions. That’s because we decided long ago as a nation that those who do business in the public marketplace must treat everyone equally.

That’s an important civic and legal principle in America. But more fundamentally, it’s a moral imperative. Discrimination is simply wrong.

The stories of my faith are about radical acceptance and compassion. In them, Jesus reached out to people who society has marginalized and lovingly brings them back into community. Over and over, we are taught to move from places of narrowness to spaciousness, from exclusion to equality. Simply put, we are taught to love as we have been loved. So, as people of faith, we must challenge these attempts to discriminate against the LGBT community, especially under the guise of freedom of religion, so all of God’s children can be treated equally with respect and dignity.

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Texas does not currently have a statewide law protecting LGBT people from discrimination, though some cities do, including Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Plano. Those laws allow LGBT people to live their lives with less worry that they will be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes or refused service simply because of who they are or whom they love. But this Supreme Court case puts those protections at risk.

Religious freedom is a fundamental right for all. That’s why we protect it in the Texas and federal constitutions.

But protecting people from discrimination threatens no one’s religious freedom. Indeed, treating others as we would like to be treated affirms a central teaching of many religions, including my Christian faith.

As a pastor, I pray that the Supreme Court won’t turn back the clock in this country.

Walters is pastor at Presbyterian Church of Lake Travis.



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