Religious Freedom Does Not Equal Freedom to Discriminate


The recent state-level “religious freedom” bills in Arkansas and Indiana, which initially included language which would protect businesses from law suits for refusing service to LGBTQ customers on religious grounds, provoked massive opposition. This came on the heels of the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision which allowed a company to refuse to provide birth control to its employees through their health plan on the grounds it would violate the owners’ religious beliefs.

Protesters came out on the streets in significant numbers in both states. A national boycott including canceling of planned conventions and concerts was being organized. Many businesses, including Walmart and NASCAR came out against the bills, worried it could hurt their business by creating negative PR.

This reflects a real change in public opinion across the country on LGBTQ rights, with growing support from broader sections of the population. Even within the Republican Party there is a shift on marriage equality with the more reactionary social conservatives on the defensive, at least on this issue.

Pressure from the public and a section of big business has forced both the Indiana and Arkansas governors to retreat, with a provision to ban businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ customers being added in Indiana and the Arkansas governor refusing to sign the bill until it is amended to be more in line with federal religious freedom laws.

Even so, the bill in Indiana as currently proposed would still allow religious institutions and religious non-profits to discriminate against LGBTQ people and an even more explicitly discriminatory religious freedom bill is in the works in Louisiana which will also require resistance.

All the attacks of the right against LGBTQ people must be resisted. Socialists believe in the right of religious communities to practice their faith. But owning a private business does not give you the right to discriminate using the cover of your religious beliefs.

The Supreme Court will soon issue a major ruling on marriage equality.  But even if marriage equality were to become the law of the land, the movement must continue to end all other forms of discrimination against LGBTQ people, including workplace discrimination which remains rampant in many parts of the country.

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