FFRF: AZ Supreme Court’s LGBTQ decision objectionable

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The Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling today granting Christian businesses a right to discriminate against LGBTQ citizens is wrong and unprincipled — and provides Christians a favored status.

Breanna Koski and Joanna Duka, who own a calligraphy business in Arizona, didn’t want to serve LGBTQ customers asking for wedding invitations or announcements due to religious objections. So they sued the city of Phoenix, arguing that their business should be exempt from the local civil rights ordinance and should not have to serve LGBTQ customers for their weddings. This was essentially the same argument as the infamous gay wedding cake case, Masterpiece Cakeshop, but with invitations instead of cakes.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to make such a determination in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, instead deciding the case on peripheral grounds that essentially punted on the central issues. The Arizona Supreme Court took the bait and held in a 4-3 decision on Monday, Sept. 16, that, under the state Constitution, a business has both a free speech and a free exercise of religion right to turn away the gay couple: Phoenix “cannot apply its Human Relations Ordinance to force … Brush & Nib Studios … to create custom wedding invitations celebrating same-sex wedding ceremonies in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs.” In other words, a business owned by Christians or other religious fundamentalists has the right to violate the civil rights of other citizens. 

“This is a shocking perversion of religious liberty. The Arizona Supreme Court is weaponizing religious freedom,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. Adds Co-President Dan Barker, “Bigots now have a state license to hate. FFRF unequivocally condemns this ruling and will keep working to undo the damage.”

Christian Nationalists are taking cases like these to courts around the country arguing to judges that these are difficult cases, and that it is hard to draw lines. But it’s not. The lines are easy to draw, and we only need two.

First, there’s the line between action and belief. Christians are free to believe anything. But that does not give them a right to act on those beliefs. For instance, a parent who believes that God is telling them to murder their child — to use an example the U.S. Supreme Court employed in 1878 — has no right to kill that child. He or she can believe it, but cannot act on it. 

The second question is: Where to draw the line demarcating appropriate government intervention? This, too, is not difficult. One citizen’s religion ends where another citizen’s rights begin. The dissent in the Brush & Nib Studios case agrees: “Our constitutions and laws do not entitle a business to discriminate among customers based on its owners’ disapproval of certain groups, even if that disapproval is based on sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The dissent also points out that discrimination is a slippery slope, something FFRF has been asserting for a long time.

“This will not be limited to discrimination against LGTBQ Americans,” says FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel. “We’ve already seen racists and religious bigots around the country employing this same legal rationale for what the courts might view as more insidious discrimination against racial and religious minorities. The Arizona Supreme Court just gave such discrimination its stamp of approval.”

Christians and other believers do not have a right to violate the civil rights of other citizens simply because they are religious. And businesses owned by Christians and believers do not have a right to discriminate. The Arizona Supreme Court decision is wrong and immoral.

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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