Sixty years ago, racial discrimination was running strong and rampant in many places in the U.S. In 1955, one young black lady refused to move to the back of a bus. Rosa Parks, who many consider to be the first lady of the civil rights movement, started a wave of similar instances where blacks refused to accept the racial segregation placed upon them by white Americans.
A 30 year old black Baptist minister picked up on Parks’ act of civil disobedience and soon became the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr. devoted the rest of his life to fighting the injustice of racial discrimination. Though his life was cut short in 1968, he was instrumental in getting America’s anti-discrimination laws passed.
The anti-discrimination laws were written to make it illegal to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of their race, color, sex or religion. Little did the authors of these laws realize that the ultimate result of the laws would end up making them anti-religious belief laws.
Now these same anti-discrimination laws are being used to force business owners to go against their religious beliefs. We earlier reported on Elane Photography of Albuquerque, New Mexico, when the owner refused to accept the job of photographing a commitment ceremony between a pair of lesbians. The owner, Elaine Huguenin politely informed the couple that she was a Christiana and it would be against her faith to be involved in the lesbian ceremony. Afterward, the couple said they felt degraded by the refusal and filed a lawsuit claiming they had been wrongfully discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.
Even though same-sex marriages or civil unions were still illegal at the time, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission ruled in favor of the lesbian couple and ordered the Huguenins to pay all of the couple’s legal fees. The Christian photographers appealed, only to have the New Mexico Court of Appeals uphold the Commission’s ruling, basically saying that anyone doing business with the general public must go against their religious beliefs if a customer asks them to.
This case is now heading to the New Mexico State Supreme Court. They will decide if a Christian can be forced to go against their faith based upon anti-discrimination laws.
In another case that really surprised me, a jury in California found Tehmina Adaya, a Muslim hotel owner guilty of religious discrimination. A Jewish group known as Friends of the Israel Defense Forces gathered at the same hotel they had met at two years ago. This time, Adaya, owner of Hotel Shangri-LA, instructed hotel staff to inform the Jewish group to vacate the hotel swimming pool and remove all of their signs and literature from the premises. The jury convicted Adaya of violating the California Civil Rights Act and awarded the Jewish group $1.2 million in damages. They have yet to rule on any punitive damages, but they may decide to order Adaya to pay more yet.
So where do we, as free Americans, draw the line of anti-discrimination and religious rights? Should someone be required to violate their personal religious beliefs as in the case of Elane Photography? Should a Christian, Jew or Muslim be compelled by law to participate in a same-sex ceremony of any kind when all three religions teach it is a sin? How do you balance the constitutional freedoms given to all Americans and allow someone of strong religious faith to not be forced to violate that faith?