At the Supreme Court, a Limited Victory for Religious Freedom

In a much-anticipated ruling, the Supreme Court decided that Colorado’s civil-rights commission violated the constitutional rights of Jack Phillips by fining him for declining to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. Seven justices agreed on this point, but the majority narrowly circumscribed its decision, which turned in part on the manifest anti-Christian bigotry expressed by members of the Colorado commission—thus making clear that the court might hold differently in related cases. Robert P. George explains:

Has the court discovered a constitutional right of business owners and service providers to discriminate on religious grounds against homosexuals or people in same-sex relationships? No. Not a single member of the court drew any such conclusion. Nor did it resolve the bigger question that this case raised: what does the Constitution require when such prohibitions on discrimination conflict with business owners’ religiously informed dictates of conscience?

This much, however, is clear: business owners and others have no obligation under the Constitution, nor can one be imposed by statute, to confine their religion to the private domain. On the contrary, they have the constitutional right to proclaim and to act on their religious beliefs in the public domain, including in the domain of commerce. If you are a Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu) business owner, you may run your business according to your religious principles, subject to legal regulations that are neutral (that is, not rooted in antipathy to your religious beliefs or those of your fellow citizens) and general in their applicability (that is, they apply to everyone equally).

But much remains unresolved. . . . Would the fining of Phillips have been acceptable based purely on a judgment that his refusal to cater same-sex celebrations constituted discrimination based on sexual orientation, and not on the basis of antipathy to Phillips’s beliefs? In a concurring opinion, Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, seems to suppose so. If she’s right, the message to state officials could be taken to be: “Look, guys, of course, you can punish the Christian baker. But just remember not to state your own moral or religious reasons or reveal your antipathy to the target business owner’s moral or religious reasons on the record.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch, in a concurrence joined by Justice Samuel Alito, challenged the Kagan reading of the ruling, noting that the commission had demonstrated its unconstitutional lack of neutrality not merely by the improvident words of some of its members but, even more decisively, by ruling in other cases in favor of bakers who refused to bake cakes for religious people who requested them specifically as statements of opposition to homosexual conduct or same-sex partnerships. If Phillips were guilty of discrimination based on sexual orientation, then surely these bakers were no less guilty of discrimination based on religion—another type of discrimination expressly forbidden by the Colorado law.

It is only a matter of time, concludes George, before the court will be forced to make a decision on some of these outstanding questions.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Politics & Current Affairs, Supreme Court, U.S. Constitution

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter