On rights, draw the veil of ignorance

Some thoughts about religious freedom vs. LGBTQ rights.

Clearly rights sometimes conflict. It would be wrong to claim that a Christian B&B owner’s freedom to conduct business according to their religious principles (as they sincerely understand them) is not diminished when a court rules they do not have the right to turn away a gay couple. In such battles, someone loses and justifiably feels aggrieved. This is a messy business.

My view on this is informed by Rawls’s veil of ignorance. Say I am crafting laws governing housing and hospitality and have to decide whether a B&B owner has the right to turn away gay couples on religious grounds, but I do so behind a veil of ignorance — I do not know whether I will be the Christian B&B owner or the gay couple. What laws would I pass?

For me, because historical precedent and present reality reasonably demonstrate that the harm done to the LGBTQ community in England through discrimination is greater than that done to the conservative Christian community, the empathy encouraged by drawing the veil of ignorance leads me to err on the side of LGBTQ rights. I would rather be a Christian discriminated against in England than a homosexual discriminated against.

On the whole, in the civil sphere (e.g. offering a business service under the protection of the civil law), I do not believe religious freedom has primacy. Of course, as Sam Brunson’s post makes clear, mistakes are made in this messy new world, but I take confidence in the fact that they seem to get rectified.

We cannot of course properly fashion such an original position, but I think Rawls’s idea is useful. I live on a continent where the diminishing of the right of religions to discriminate has mostly been a good thing, and a good thing for minority faiths such as Mormonism. We can go back beyond Rawls to Kant: would I be willing to universalise my actions? Well, in the case of the imposition of religious beliefs on the personal rights of consenting, rational, law-abiding citizens, the answer is pretty much no. As a Mormon in Belgium, or a Christian in Iraq, you would not want it, so don’t do it yourself.

LGBTQ rights win, IMHO, and I am sorry for whatever discomfort that may cause. The thing is, that discomfort is probably not equal to the cruelty and bullying that our society has meted out to homosexuals, which is why I believe what I believe on this particular civil rights issue. With gay rights secured in the UK, if it goes the other way in the future and Christian conservatives end up being denied housing and employment and are otherwise bullied or violently persecuted, I will draw the veil differently. Until then, I am glad that the UK has the best gay rights record in Europe. It’s also a pretty great place to be a Christian. #FairnessForAll


  1. Good post, Ronan. Thanks.

  2. Hearty agreement.

    (Plus, I like using Rawls’s Veil of Ignorance. It reminds me I am capable of critical thought amid the flurry of packing lunches and ferrying kids.)

  3. John Mansfield says:

    I was under the impression from your other writing that you, RJH, find being a Mormon a significant social handicap. I even connected that handicap with the choice to no longer use your full name as in the past but only your initials on this Mormon-interest website. It’s good to have my misunderstanding corrected.

  4. Thanks, Ronan. I, too, like the idea of looking at this from an ex ante perspective, not knowing where I’d land. Today, ex ante (and assuming I’m in the US), I’d much rather risk discrimination as a Mormon than as gay, so it makes sense to put an extra thumb on the scale in terms of protecting LGBT rights.

  5. I will agree with you when there is somewhere those with religious convictions can go to practice their religion according to their conscience. Religions preaching against homosexuality has been around far longer than people preaching for it. It is logical to assume it’s going to take time for people to adjust.

    That is why I support state’s rights to vote on these issues. That allows different approaches to definitions of marriage and gay rights to be practiced in the microcosm, and gives space for everyone to decide what is most important to them. (And vote with their feet.) Time would then be able prove the right, as it did after the civil war, with no one’s rights being yanked from them.

  6. Yeah, thumb on the scales is probably right most of the time.

    Internet anonymity is a complicated thing and I wouldn’t make any assumptions. For some people (e.g. the FPR crew) it might have to do with flying under the *Mormon* radar. If there is social awkwardness for Mormons in the UK it doesn’t result in being turned away from hotels and doesn’t appear to prevent Mormons from participating positively in society. If there is awkwardness, it stems from both a perception of Mormonism that is largely self-inflicted and the historical dominance of the established church, the latter fact speaking *in favour* of the curtailment of religion in our civil lives.

    So, yeah, don’t worry about me. I mostly just prefer to be as private as possible on the internet. Pretty sensible, I think.

  7. Great post. It’s important to remember that rights sometimes do conflict, and I agree heartily that deference in favor of the more aggrieved party is the way to go.

  8. Do you like being compelled to dispense with your property in a manner you would not?

    Do you like being compelled to associate with those you would not?

    What then does the Golden Rule tell you about the laws you should write, vote for, or uphold?

  9. SilverRain, the 14th Amendment gets in the way of that. Your discomfort does not trump equal citizenship.

    “Time would then be able prove the right, as it did after the civil war, with no one’s rights being yanked from them.”

    You realize is took almost a complete century after the Civil War for equal civil right to be acknowledged, right? Even Edmund Burke would be appalled by that type of gradualism.

    (See, I mentioned Burke before even addressing Rawls. Crazy. I know.)

  10. Log, the categorical imperative (Kant) and the Original Position/Veil of Ignorance are ideal versions of the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule assumes that we are selfish (likely true) and that we cannot get past how we would want to be treated. Kant and Rawls hope for a type of impartiality. That unrealistic impartiality is likely a major flaw of Kantian social contract thinking.

  11. The golden rule tells me I wouldn’t want to be bullied or kicked out of an establishment for having been born different or for loving someone other people didn’t think I should love. It also tells me I wouldn’t want some other religion forcing me to comply with their beliefs when I believe differently. Which is why I’m against the state’s “right” to vote on whether to allow gay marriage. I don’t think we have the right to force our religious beliefs on others when their actions are not actually harming anyone. Consenting adults and all that.

  12. Your opening is mostly a straw man in the U.S. I don’t think that owners of inns have a statutory or constitutional argument against letting their rooms to unmarried couples, be they of the same or opposite sex. (Bi-sexuals?? Beats hell out of me how you can even tell.) One of the assaults on logic and meaning that our language is suffering these days is the argument that a baker or a photographer or a wedding chapel are places of “public accomodation”–a phrase borrowed from the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And suggesting that someone is suffering harm because a baker or a photographer refuses them service is sort of like my complaining that Tiffany’s is refusing me service because I cannot afford to shop there.

  13. The inn, however, is a place of public accommodation, no? That was a specific abuse targeted by the Civil Rights Act — that black people were being discriminated against by being denied accommodation at public hotels, motels, inns, etc. because of their race. So Ronan’s use of the inn as an example is actually directly on point. As you suggest, it is questionable whether bakers and wedding photographers fall into the category of providing public accommodation. However, they offer services in commerce in a society of laws.

  14. Oops, I see you are agreeing that in the US, inns are places of public accommodation so the owners wouldn’t be allowed to prevent a gay couple from staying there, even based on a “religious freedom” exemption.

    But do you think that is what Elder Oaks wants? For an inn owner to be able to deny access to gay people under a “religious freedom” exemption to the Civil Rights Act? From the news conference, it sort of seems like that is indeed what he wants.

  15. See the examples of “attacks” on religion posted in the Newsroom:


  16. Last Lemming says:

    I think you are misapplying Rawls. You are imposing a veil of ignorance with regard to one’s own station (Christian B&B owner vs. gay tourist), but not imposing it with regard to anything else. That is counter to Rawls, who imposed it much more broadly. Quoting from Chapter 24 of The Theory of Justice; “More than this, I assume that the parties do not know the particular circumstances of their own society. That is, they do not know its economic or political situation, or the level of civilization and culture it has been able to achieve.”

    So the “historical precedent and present reality” you invoke are unknown behind the veil. You don’t know whether everybody else will hate gays or Christians more. That makes for a much more difficult analysis, and I admit I have not fully thought it through myself.

    And of course you can make up your own rules to support your own choice. But you can’t claim that they are consistent with Rawls.

  17. To understand where our church leaders are coming from, one needs to read this address delivered by Elder Oaks 9 months ago: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/transcript-elder-dallin-oaks-constitutional-symposium-religious-freedom (pay attention to the religious freedom section).

    The primary concern for the Church is that religious beliefs are becoming an illegitimate basis for advocacy or action in the public sphere. 50 years ago, the district court in Loving v. Virginia could cite to the generally-accepted religious belief that deity had segregated the races as a justification for the ban on inter-racial marriage. Today, citing God in a legal brief gives you less than nothing. That is why the Church relied only on policy and scholarly evidence in its amicus briefs for Utah’s appeal of the SSM case; the Church never tried to argue “because God says …” And that is why some of the courts that overturned SSM bans explicitly discounted the majority-enactment laws as having no reasonable basis because the citizens were voting nothing more than their religious views.

    I sympathize with the Church’s concern. In a way, what’s happening in the U.S. is an extension of the secular dominance that swept Europe 100 years ago and led Nietzsche to declare “God is dead.”

    But despite my sympathy I disagree with the church’s view that religious exceptions should apply to businesses offering services to the general public. If a Mormon photographer can deny services to a gay couple, then a Muslim car rental company can limit rentals to only men, an evangelical day care can exclude Mormon and Jewish children, and an atheistic restaurant can force its busboys to remove religious necklaces and sacred underclothing while at work.

    Christ wisely taught that we cannot serve God and mammon at the same time. Individuals and businesses operating in the public sphere are on mammon’s ground. To allow purely-religious rationales to have primacy on that ground will necessarily require public officials to decide who’s god is correct – and the Mormon God will lose every time (except perhaps in the Utah legislature).

    The simply fact is that we live in a pluralistic, secular democracy. We do not live in the Kingdom of Deseret. And so long as that is the case, religious views will always be trumped in secular spheres. The principle espoused in US v Reynolds will carry the day – religious views can be held and taught, but when they conflict with the secular will of the people, they cannot be acted upon.

  18. symphonyofdissent says:

    I think this is a rather strange use of the veil of ignorance and I don’t find it all that persuasive. Between the individual forced to chose between her livelihood and conscience, and the individual who has to find another bed and breakfast to stay at with a wide range available, I’d be the later over the former.

  19. Well, I see civil marriage as a specific set of incentives to try keep those who create children legally beholden to them and each other, not as a legal seal of approval on a sexual relationship. I believe many rights granted by civil marriage should be available to any two consenting adults, and that the sexual relationship of those two adults is no business of the state’s. I believe that individuals should be free to act according to their own conscience in their public life as well as in their private life, until and unless it makes life impossible for others, and that most such cases should be taken case-by-case. I’m essentially in support of the rest of the “gay rights” package regarding housing, employment, etc., though I don’t think that an individual renting a room from their house should be forced to accept anyone they don’t want to live with.

    It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing, someone-has-to-pay. I’m aware that most people don’t see it all that way, but I disagree. Fortunately, I’ve been given a vote so I can vote according to my own conscience, even if it does no good in the wider public sphere.

    I will say bigotry is certainly being proven a sword that cuts more ways than one. This is an issue that is being used to vent spleen and excite hatred on both sides, and I predict we will all be sorry for it, years from now.

  20. I’ve never been a huge fan of Rawls or any other attempt to ground morality is some idealized scenario.

    “but I do so behind a veil of ignorance — I do not know whether I will be the Christian B&B owner or the gay couple.”

    I know that you aren’t trying to fully unpack Rawls to any degree at all, but I don’t think this is quite right. The issue is that you do not know whether you will be the B&B, the gay couple, *or anybody else* in the society in question.

    This leads to any other complication, in that Rawl’s also asks under which set of laws, the worst off will have it best: one where some few B&B’s are compelled to cater to a certain demographic, or one where a certain demographic will have to find other accommodations? John Harsanyi’s version, however, expects each person to maximize their expected utility from behind the veil of ignorance in that they are supposed to take into effect both the utility of being the B&B, the gay couple or any other person in society as well as the probability that we have of being that person.

    Harsanyi’s constrained maximization is not only very different from Rawls’ maxmin approach, but it seems far more motivated in that it follows from the assumptions of standard economic theory. I would also suggest that under Harsanyi’s version, it is not at all clear that the benefits to gay rights win out over the costs to religious freedoms since, even if the benefits to the gay rights do in fact outweigh the costs to religious freedom, there are far more religious people than there are gay people. In other words, the set up in the post mislead us into thinking that there was a 50/50 chance of us being in either party, when such is not the case.

    You could say that not all religious people want to discriminate, but not all gay people want to stay at such a B&B either. This is largely beside the point, however, since the main issue is whether this expansion of gay rights is worth this encroachment of religious rights? Are we more afraid of religion encroaching on lgbt’s or the state encroaching on religion? The answer is not at all obvious to me.

  21. On the inn: It’s a famous legal case in England that is often cited as evidence that religious freedoms are in peril, which is why I used it. I’m glad that it seems non-applicable to an American audience; now you know how we non-Americans feel in a church whose ethics seem almost entirely bound by the policy debates in Utah!

    On Rawls: I’ll concede to some of the complications asserted here. I find it useful as a crude starting point. In terms of not knowing “the particular circumstances of their own society” — this may be true, but we have to take a leap through the veil somewhere, and it seems reasonable to me to suppose that there are few societies imaginable where the Christian baker’s harm would be more than the homosexual’s, even if there are more bakers than homosexuals.

    Finally, this, I’m afraid, is complete bollocks, lacking in any empathy and reducing the pain felt at discrimination to the trivial: “[S]uggesting that someone is suffering harm because a baker or a photographer refuses them service is sort of like my complaining that Tiffany’s is refusing me service because I cannot afford to shop there.” There is so much wrong with this it tires me to even contemplate a riposte. Carry on, Mark.

  22. Dave K., but the district court in Loving (that cited God-ordained segregation as a justification for the practice) was wrong and the Supreme Court said so at that time. It’s citation to God was not justified then as now. It was not morally valid then, even if those who adhered to it claimed to do so because they believed God was a racist. What am I missing? Do you really think that is what our leaders are longing for — the pre-Loving days when people thought that they could simply cite to their belief that discrimination is mandated by God and expect that to not only be uncritically accepted but even to win the day in the district court?

    I certainly hope that our Church leaders are not so caught up in this current perspective of theirs that they are beginning to miss the forest for the trees — to fail to see that holding others accountable for religious beliefs that they do not hold by enacting those beliefs into legislation that effectively discriminates against them based on those religious beliefs is not particularly compatible with equal protection under the law (protection that benefits Mormons as much as any other minority).

  23. “the individual who has to find another bed and breakfast to stay at with a wide range available” — but what happens when the majority of B&B owners refuse to cater to such an “other”? that is exactly the scenario that black people encountered in the American south. MLK even referred to this directly in his “I Have a Dream” speech, mentioning black people travelling and not having anywhere to stay, having to sleep in their cars, because hotels turned them away because of their race.

    I don’t think it’s valid to assume that there is going to be a “wide range available” in the absence of anti-discrimination legislation or where such legislation contains a “religious freedom” exemption that allows anyone to simply disregard the legislation if they can claim that their religious beliefs prevent them from treating the “other” fairly and equally in our society built on commerce and law.

  24. martha my love says:

    “I certainly hope that our Church leaders are not so caught up in this current perspective of theirs that they are beginning to miss the forest for the trees ”

    And exactly how much clarity and vision do you believe you’ve seen since the church entered the political sphere in a major way in the early 90’s in Hawaii?

  25. Ronan,

    ““[S]uggesting that someone is suffering harm because a baker or a photographer refuses them service is sort of like my complaining that Tiffany’s is refusing me service because I cannot afford to shop there.” There is so much wrong with this it tires me to even contemplate a riposte.”

    I too am suspicious of this equation, but I was wondering if you could give a reason or two why the former does not slide into the latter? It’s not difficult for me to imagine a future person insisting that they really are being discriminated against because they were born poor and, through no fault of their own, are still poor. Again, I object to this as you seem to; I’m just having a hard time identifying a bright line that prevents one case from sliding into the other.

  26. Fail to see why Jewish folks should be forced to serve Neo-Nazis, or LBGT folks homophobes if they choose not to.

  27. Trond, you are correct that SCOTUS reversed the district court. I was simply pointing to the fact that a court at that time chose to cite God as an authority.

    As for the church today, at least as far an individual citizens’ voting is concerned, yes, I believe that is precisely what our church leaders are defending. Oaks believes that courts should give weight to a voter’s will even if the only reason for that will is religious conviction.

  28. “So the ‘historical precedent and present reality’ you invoke are unknown behind the veil.” — Last Lemming

    False. You may not know where you fit within that reality, behind the veil of ignorance, one would know a range of historical and sociological facts about society-at-large.

    Ronan’s usage of the veil is inconsistent with Rawls because the original position (which includes the veil of ignorance) only applies to the principles of justice. It does not apply to law or policy making. It is not particular suited or intended for applies ethics or applied normative analysis of policy.

    However, I think that Ronan is using the veil in a way that is true to the spirit of the veil. And I take such things seriously. :)

  29. Wasn’t it a part of many people’s deeply held religious beliefs and way of life to discriminate against people of color? That God made white man in his image, not black man, and gave him dominion over all things? Wasn’t the freedom to act on those religious beliefs nullified by the Civil Rights Act? You can’t have a carte blanche freedom to act upon all of your beliefs when they encroach on others’ freedoms.

    In discussions with my family about this, I bring up the fact that basically we can [insert any minority group here] while deciding if business owners can deny service. After the discussion most of them supported rolling back the protections of the Civil Rights Act so that each person could act in business however they pleased. Mormon? No gas for you here. Black? No food for you. Gay? You can’t live here. They said that was the only way to be fair. Huh?

    I’m with Dave K.

  30. You can’t have a carte blanche freedom to act upon all of your beliefs when they encroach on others’ freedoms.

    Does your “freedom” encompass a claim on my servitude, even if given involuntarily? (See: Thirteenth Amendment)

    To extend jpv’s hypothetical: MUST a Jewish photographer document a neo-Nazi rally for that organization’s quarterly magazine? MUST LGBT-friendly Mozilla continue to employ Brendan Eich?

    How about a prostitute, in a jurisdiction where that activity is legal–can she refuse to service a female who wishes to retain her services?

  31. I’m grateful for the Civil Rights Act’s protections against discrimination against black people, and that because of the Act, hotels cannot deny accommodation to people based on their race. We are a better, stronger people for it, even if this moral outcome had to be “forced” by a Supreme Court acting in the face of a recalcitrant, racist society that tried to justify segregation, discrimination, and racism by claiming that God mandated it, and by forcing that view on minorities through the tyranny of the majority.

    Ending that discrimination was morally right, it was good for commerce, and the principles underlying it benefits us as Mormons, even if, at the time, it restricted us as Mormons from discriminating in providing public accommodation and other areas addressed in the Act based on race to the extent that some of our people did so, and even though they might have tried to argue that their religion required it.

    But also note that the anti-discrimination statutes of this nature often already have exceptions for small business owners — e.g. in the case of housing, landlords with only a couple of units and who live in the same building.

  32. The TribTalk today with Oaks and Christofferson was great, I loved how they acknowledged neither side will get everything they want. Religious people will have to give some things up and vice versa. The refused to draw the line, and said that is for lawmakers to determine.

  33. Clark Goble says:

    I think you’re right that Rawl’s veil of ignorance is helpful here. While I overall have troubles with Rawl’s form of Kantian ethics it’s precisely in places like this that it’s at least helpful as a heuristic.

    For those of us who lived in areas without many Mormons and with some degree of persecution it’s interesting asking how we’d feel if people discriminated against us because we were Mormon. (Which frankly happened and I suspect still happens)

    That said, I bet even applying Rawl here we may come to different conclusions. For instance I think that at a certain level say Evangelicals should be able to discriminate against Mormons. I may dislike it. I may be hurt by it. I may think it wrong. But in many cases I think they should be allowed to do it. If, for instance, I wanted a wedding cake for my temple marriage and an Evangelical baker didn’t want to bake it for me as a Mormon I’d be angry but I think that’s something they should be allowed to choose.

    Thus it’s precisely because of Rawls that I sometimes draw the boundaries here different from my more liberal friends.

  34. Clark Goble says:

    Just to add, in case it wasn’t clear, I think Rawls does lead us to outlaw a lot of discrimination in the public sphere. I think housing and buying things like gas clearly fit into that public sphere. I’m not sure services like baking a wedding cake or photography does fit into that public sphere. My point is just even if we apply Rawls (whether as a heuristic or as a meta-ethical calculation) we may not all get the same answers.

  35. Some commenters seem to assume that the only reason a religion might conflict with discrimination law is because that religion teaches the particular kind of discrimination. But what if the conflict is simply because the religious reason for the choice is not something that can be examined by the law?

    For example, suppose I’m looking for a roommate, or an employee to run my store, and I choose among several applicants on the basis of objective, non-discriminatory criteria, but when I take my decision to the Lord, he tells me this is the wrong decision, and not to choose this applicant. Perhaps the Lord knows that this employee will back his truck up to my store and empty it, or this roommate will tie me up and have his way with me.

    Of course, if the rejected applicant is a member of a protected class and sues me, I cannot defend myself by saying I was inspired not to invite him into my home or business. (More likely, I will not even be able to afford to defend myself with any argument whatsoever, but I will be forced to settle to avoid the high cost of going to trial.) Thus my religious freedom has been lost, and not because I wanted to discriminate.

  36. Dr_Doctorstein says:

    FWIW, the first time I encountered Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance I thought at once of its incompatibility with Mormon beliefs about our first estate, in which we kinda do know something of the circumstances into which we will be born.

  37. Dr., could you please explain your thoughts on that a little further? I’m not following you.

  38. Clark Goble says:

    While I’ve heard many make connections between the veil of forgetfulness in mortality in LDS theology and Rawl’s veil of ignorance I think we have to be careful drawing too many parallels. They work in very different ways. Rawls after all is making a meta-ethical claim along a largely Kantian ethics. It’s also a kind of regulatory “as if” way of thinking. The Mormon claim is making a historical claim and the claim this was necessary for our progression. i.e. not an ethical claim at all but a functional one.

  39. To take a stab at a bright line for Jeff G.,
    Persons who otherwise provide services to the public betray the dignity and trust of the public when they refuse service to persons based on customer’s innate traits or deepest convictions, especially when the service itself is not impaired in its delivery by such innate traits or convictions. Immutable traits and convictions are the dearest constituents of human dignity. It is the gradual, Burkean, acceptance of homosexuality and sexuality in general as innately part of human nature, rather than punishable sinful behaviour external to the person, that has caused these categories to stand together with skin color and religious conviction as untouchable. It would take a bit of work yet for poverty to move into that category as well, and maybe it is too external to human dignity to belong there.
    Whether the breach in public trust that occurs when these dignities are flaunted is properly regulated by force of law or by mere market forces is a useful debate for society to have, and the answer could be either one.

  40. I’d like to see some responses to Lee C.’s comment. I’m no legal expert but are there no legal recourses to acts motivated by, how shall we say, spiritual/intuitive/non-empirical sources? Just make the best use of whatever legal defense happens to be handy, no matter how far from the actual motivation? The example does seem to illustrate the contraction of space in which we can act under divine inspiration. Are not religious believers hands tied? And to spin it further, perhaps somewhat far-fetchedly, perhaps the Lord’s [or Krsna, Allah, etc.] hands are tied, as there are no amenable legal categories under which an inspired act may fall, and thus he would refrain from issuing the warning in the first place. Thus both our and the Lord’s hands are tied in such a case. Not sure if this is what Oaks has in mind regarding embattled religion in the public sphere, but Lee C.’s example highlights a core difficulty for believers and the scope for inspired action.

  41. Dr, if you are implying that some folk agreed to be born into difficult circumstances in which they would in all likelihood be badly treated, that’s no excuse to them badly.

  42. “Dr, if you are implying that some folk agreed to be born into difficult circumstances in which they would in all likelihood be badly treated…”

    then you are also spouting lousy folk doctrine that needs to die an ignominious death as soon as possible. We know a lot less about the “First Estate” than the authors of Saturday’s Warrior would have you believe.

  43. Kristine, So we came to earth in complete ignorance of what difficulties life entailed? Clearly we were ignorant in that true knowledge comes from some sort of embodied experience. But I don’t think its folk doctrine at all to suggest we knew life would involve trials and death. I agree that’s no excuse to add to the burdens of others, rather it gives weight to the requirement to serve our fellow man.

    To the post, where there is no real harm done there is no crime. Hurt feelings aren’t a crime, but can be considered rude. Telling someone you disagree with their choices (where it’s a choice in absolute, or a choice to how you respond to the biological/sociological cards dealt to you) does not necessarily have to be rude.

    Is there another choice of accommodation or baker or photographer? If so, no serious harm. It’s the progressives who once again suddenly lose any degree of nuance and become hardline fundamentalists in their views. There are times when I would help someone and times when I would not. It’s frustrating to see a bunch of relativists essentially appeal to a Kant-like steadfastness when they are often so quick to dismiss it in other areas.

  44. Are you accusing me of being a “relativist”? On what evidence? The biggest relativists in Christianity/Mormonism are the Divine Command Ethics advocates. Most “progressives” around here tend to have views on gay rights which are pretty steady and built upon absolutist views of human dignity. They tend not to have been blown to and fro from, say, supporting marriage as gay therapy to not doing so, or opposing civil partnerships to supporting them (in preference to gay marriage), all in the space of a few years.

    And to this reduction of discrimination to “hurt feelings” I can only once again lament a basic lack of empathy as to what it is like to be part of a genuinely persecuted (as in historically imprisoned, tortured, bullied, and hounded) class of people.

  45. In the case of the B&B owner and gay couple, I don’t think it’s fair to make the decision based on which group has historically faced more discrimination in society. The wrongs society has committed against either group is not relative to this particular case. The owner themselves may not have persecuted LGBT people before, but according to this article it is right that they have to do something against their religious conscious as remedy for the wrongs historically brought upon LGBT people. To be punished personally for the things others have done is fundamentally wrong and illogical.

    In this situation, religious freedom is not respected whatsoever. Which makes sense for a society that continually downgrades religion. By saying, “The thing is, that discomfort is probably not equal to the cruelty and bullying that our society has meted out to homosexuals,” I feel like it’s not understand how deeply emotional religious beliefs can be. This isn’t just mere “discomfort.” And maybe that’s why so much of our society discounts religious freedom—they don’t see how religion could possibly mean so much or influence the character of a person completely. For some people, religion defines who they are; it influences every fiber of their being. It would be emotionally, spiritually painful to do something against what they believe. To discount that completely because LGBT people have been more historically persecuted is telling not only all religious business owners, but all religious people, that they do not matter. Their opinions mean nothing. What they believe means nothing and has no place in our society.

  46. If I owned a restaurant, I wouldn’t allow Mormons: lousy tippers.

  47. “Is there another choice of accommodation or baker or photographer? If so, no serious harm.”

    Sure, there’s plenty of seats on this bus. For you, they are all at the back.

  48. Lousy tippers and always with the passel of messy kids.

  49. AN,

    I admit that I don’t get it. You’re saying that your hypothetical B&B owners have never persecuted LGBT people in any way, and therefore should be allowed to bar them from entry to their establishment? After that occurs will they still have never persecuted LGBT people?

  50. Steve, and think of all the alcohol they don’t drink. On top of that, they want a million free refills of Diet Coke. Not worth the trouble.

  51. I appreciate the philosophical viewpoint, but the difficulty is where the rubber meets the road. This is the problem in crafting law. The example you cite, at least in the US, is fairly easy. A B&B, if it rents more than five rooms, is a public accommodation and subject to the Civil Rights Act. I would think the church would support extending this civil right to LGBT people. I think they should.

    The question isn’t employment, public accommodations, or housing though. The question is whether church officials have a right to teach doctrine and be protected from subpoenas and protracted litigation? Does a bishop have a right to refuse to perform a wedding for a gay couple? Does an employer have the right to discriminate against religious employees because of their beliefs about gay marriage?

    This is the real difficulty: not b&b’s or cakes.

  52. People have to make it about cakes though, Marc, because the fears you cite are simply unfounded.

    One of the irritating things about this debate is that it assumes that gay rights / religious freedom are somehow naturally opposed. There are plenty of religious people (and it will soon be a majority of them, I think) who support gay rights. Ironically, the gay marriage law in England prohibits the Church of England from performing gay marriages. My local vicar wants to perform them but cannot! So much for the religious freedom *not* to discriminate . . .

    (Once again I do not apologise for citing quirks in a legal system outside of the US. The Newsroom recently raised certain bogey men, all of them American, all of them irrelevant to more than half of the church.)

  53. Respectfully, I don’t think they’re unfounded. The subpoena example was mentioned in the press conference. People losing jobs because of their position on Prop 8 is a matter of record. I practice employment discrimination law. So I am not making stuff up out of thin air. Dilemmas like these are where the law is headed. B&B’s, at least in the US, were resolved over fifty years ago.

  54. Most of those examples are not entirely what they seem, as we intend to respectfully point out to the Newsroom in due course.

  55. Also, the gay marriage law in England does not prohibit the Church of England from performing gay marriages. It just exempts them from the law which would otherwise require them to perform gay marriages. This is a carve-out that was created when the law was passed…which I think provides evidence that the performance of marriages vis a vis gay rights is something the law needs to account for. So I don’t think my bishop example was unfounded.

  56. Clark Goble says:

    DCL, if that’s the standard why do we allow people to discriminate against each other for political beliefs? Or maybe I’m missing something because for most people there are fundamental aspects of their ideology independent of religion that fit your criteria. For instance when I was in San Francisco several years ago I got yelled and sworn at because I was talking with a friend about the GOP nomination process. It was stupid and I didn’t even get angry. Just sort of fit in with my biases about some businesses in that area I suppose. Yet I’d never want to say they shouldn’t be allowed to do that in their business.

  57. I am pretty familiar with the Houston preachers receiving subpoena example and the people losing jobs over prop 8. They are not fabrications.

  58. Clark Goble says:

    Ronan, while I think most fears are pretty overstated and a bit paranoid I think there are some legitimate concerns you’re downplaying. It’s not all cakes and photos. Just that those seem concrete examples. Yet it seems to me a much more reasonable worry is what groups government employees are allowed to be a part of. The story this week of California judges not being allowed to be part of the Boy Scouts seems a very valid concern. Especially given the Church’s scouting program. Would you consider that an example of this worry? If not, why?

  59. Clark, the BSA is not a religion. It’s a private club that discriminates against gays. No free exercise issues there.

  60. Clark Goble says:

    So you’re saying there’s not a problem if a judge is called within a ward to be the Bear Cub Den leader? (My calling)

  61. I can tolerate being called a relativist by Diary Queen, but I am shock that this comment was allowed to stay on the thread:

    “On top of that, they want a million free refills of Diet Coke. ”

    This attack on all thing sacred is appalling. This most be how respectable Mormons feel when I drop the f-bomb on a thread.

  62. *shocked

  63. Clark Goble says:

    To be clear, I don’t think it a big deal if a judge has to recuse themselves from certain callings. I just have a real hard time not seeing telling churches what callings they can call people to as anything but an infringement on religious liberties.

    In my eyes the real key areas aren’t the explicit religious or private business but the intermediate places like Scouts for LDS or hospitals or soup kitchens for Catholics.

  64. Dr_Doctorstein says:

    John F., Hedgehog, Kristine — I wasn’t trying to suggest or imply much of anything, merely to relate that I was struck by the similarity between premortal existence and the “original condition,” and the fact that what for Rawls was a hypothetical is in Mormon belief some kind of reality.

  65. Marc, Sam addressed the Houston subpoenas the other day in this post: https://bycommonconsent.com/2015/01/27/religious-freedom-in-houston/

  66. Yes, I saw Sam’s post. I agree with the post to the extent that, in the end, things turned out well. But I am not convinced that the issue is resolved. You have churches in Houston that had to spend money in legal fees, go public with the issue, and risk potential sanctions for not complying with a subpoena. All in an effort to keep their Sunday sermons private.

    It was not a random ambulance chaser seeking materials but the fourth largest city in America. So, I think it is still an issue of concern.

  67. I think its funny that the Mormon Church and other so called Christian Churches are so obsessed with the LGBTQ community. What percentage of the population even belongs to the community? They had to combine from L and G to increase their numbers to even be relevant as a group. Where is the threat? Why is it necessary for churches to manufacture devils everywhere? Why don’t the churches just leave them alone and focus on real problems like maybe stopping war or solving hunger or cancer?

  68. This issue is best understood in light of property rights. The B&B is the private property of the owner and the owners can manage it as they see fit as long as they do not violate the negative rights of others. The gay couple does not have the positive right to the B&B owners’ property anymore than the slave-owners had the positive right to the slaves’ labor. It is wrong to FORCE the B&B owners to allow someone onto their property that they of themselves do not freely choose to have on the property. Similarly, it would be wrong to BAN the B&B owners from having any particular person or people on their property that the owners otherwise would freely invite them onto their property. Such was the problem with the South and the Jim Crow laws. There was discrimination MANDATED by law, it was illegal NOT to discriminate!
    If a gay couple owned a private B&B and didn’t want to allow a Mormon as a guest for whatever reason, they would be within their rights to do so. The key is, just because you think something is bad doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be illegal, as long as no one’s NEGATIVE rights are violated.

  69. Clark Goble says:

    I think the easiest solution was one suggested on Slate by making people serve everyone when they make something public but not make them do something offensive. Seems to me this is a pretty good balance between the competing interests even if it wouldn’t satisfy everyone.

    I’m not sure property rights is sufficient to get at the issue since the real issue is what is required when you make something public. We clearly recognize limits on what you can do when you make something public. (Look at say restrictions on smoking in public places that don’t apply in private places; requiring liquor licenses for public but not private property, etc.)

    Bob, I honestly don’t think most are fixated on gay issues. I earnestly think Elder Oaks is concerned because he wants to do the right thing. But overall in terms of what the Church does this is pretty minor compared to helping the needing. (IMO – but I bet even during Prop 8 most Bishops spent more time dealing with welfare issues than gay issues in most Californian wards)

    The only issue is when people are forced to do something they feel is immoral and to what degree the state can specify what Churches do and individual conscience. I think that’s fair to worry about and can be worried about without infringing on our duties to our families or our neighbors.