Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By Christine Emerson
Observer Staff Writer 

Congressional Dems and GOP Battle Over First Amendment

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece, had offered the gay couple any service other than a wedding cake.


Dems and GOP Battle Over First Amendment in Congress

A bill, dubbed the First Amendment Defense Act, introduced on June 17 by Representative Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) would protect individuals who maintain that marriage is between a man and a woman from being penalized by the federal governments. It is being lambasted by House Democrats as "anti-LGBT Legislation." The bill is still in committee and has not been released to the House for a vote - but the accusations are already flying.

"What the bill's supporters wish to sell as protecting religious freedom is in reality a license to discriminate," Ted Lieu (D-California) stated in a press release today. "H.R. 2802 does not protect the First Amendment – the bill distorts it. I urge the cancellation of this hearing."

The actual bill, in an official summary, "Prohibits the federal government from taking discriminatory action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2)

sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage."

The 'discrimination' that the government may not take against a person who holds a religious belief about one-man, one-woman marriage is to alter tax treatment, disallow charitable contributions, deny federal grants, contracts, certifications, or employment or otherwise deny benefits under federal programs.

While the bill appears to be a reasonable protection for those who hold viewpoints opposed to popular politically-correct opinion, Lieu's staff argues that it allows any individual, regardless of religious affiliation to discriminate against LGBT people. For example, "a homeless shelter that is a federal grantee might deny services to a man in a same-sex marriage because it [the shelter] believes that marriage should only between a man and a woman."

Federal grants, meanwhile, are given to all sorts of organizations with which some minority groups disagree. For example, federal money goes to Planned Parenthood and the giving of abortions, acts that are an outrage to some Americans. Federal grants also go to organizations that only help women or only help blacks - organizations that thus discriminate against individuals on the basis of sex or race. It is unclear why discriminating on the basis of same-sex marriage would be any different to Lieu.

In his press release, Lieu claims that, "It is fundamentally misguided to suggest that religious liberty is under attack because LGBT Americans want to exercise their right to love whom they choose."

But it is not clear that religious liberty is secure, nor that the only issue is people wanting to love each other.

Dems and GOP Battle Over First Amendment in Congress

In August, 2015, a Colorado appeals court ruled that a baker could not refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple based on his religious belief. The court did not agree that Masterpiece Bakery had a First Amendment right to his religious convictions regarding one-man, one-woman marriage. Regarding the ruling, ACLU lawyer James Esseks, said almost the same thing as Lieu: "...[R]eligion can't be used as an excuse to discriminate."

The case, and similar cases with similar outcomes, made it clear that personally held religious convictions would not be tolerated by the government. Jeremy Tedesco, attorney for Masterpiece Bakery, said, "Government has a duty to protect people's freedom to follow their beliefs personally and professionally rather than force them to adopt the government's views."

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece, had offered the gay couple any service other than a wedding cake.


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