Quote of the Day:

Should a gay Episcopalian be forced to cater an ex-gay convention? Just asking . . .

–Terry Mattingly

Some commentators have seen the increasingly shrill fight over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act as the latest manifestation of the culture war.

It is indeed, but not in the way usually claimed. This battle is not over gay rights, which are protected by law in the U.S. This fight is over religious liberty, which is increasingly under attack.

Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not mean that businesses could suddenly stop serving people because of their sexual orientation, but you'd never know that brom the brouhaha.

Press critic Terry Mattingly at the Get Religion blog describes what the law does deal with: “rare acts of conscience.”

RFRA does not overrule public accommodations law and so a restaurant could not turn away a gay couple. However, in rare instances a restaurant owner might be able to cite religious scruples as a reason not to cater a gay wedding. She would consider herself in effect a participant by catering the event, an act that she regards are morally questionable.  

Most businesses in the U.S. will happily cater gay weddings. In fact, most would be thrilled by the extra business.

Must, however, people who have religious reservations about gay marriage be coerced by law to violate their consciences? Religious liberty is a bedrock American value, enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

Opponents of the RFRA generally don’t want to say, “No, I don’t think you should have the right not to violate your conscience,” so instead they quickly veer into rants about bigotry.

The press has by and large aided and abetted this.

We rarely quote religious blogs at Inkwell, but press critic Terry Mattingly does such a brilliant job of laying out the issue that I am going to give him the floor:

A wise journalism professor once told me that it always helps, when trying to think through the implications of a controversial story, to try to imagine the same story being seen in a mirror, in reverse.

So let's say that there is a businessman in Indianapolis who runs a catering company. He is an openly gay Episcopalian and, at the heart of his faith (and the faith articulated by his church) is a sincere belief that homosexuality is a gift of God and a natural part of God's good creation. This business owner has long served a wide variety of clients, including a nearby Pentecostal church that is predominantly African-American.

Then, one day, the leaders of this church ask him to cater a major event – the upcoming regional conference of the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays. He declines, saying this would violate everything he stands for as a liberal Christian. He notes that they have dozens of other catering options in their city and, while he has willingly served them in the past, it is his sincere belief that it would be wrong to do so in this specific case.

Whose religious rights are being violated? Can both sides find a way to show tolerance?

This is, of course, a highly specific parable – full of the unique details that tend to show up in church-state law and, often, in cases linked to laws built on Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) language. It's clear that the gay Christian businessman is not asking to discriminate against an entire class of Americans. He is asking that his consistently demonstrated religious convictions be honored in this case, one with obvious doctrinal implications.

Is there any sign that reporters covering the RFRA madness in Indiana and, eventually, in dozens of states across the nation are beginning to see some of the gray areas in these cases? Is there a difference between a catering company hanging out a sign that says "no black Pentecostals served here" (or no gays and lesbians served here) and the leader of this same company asking for some form of relief when facing a violation of his or her deepest religious convictions?

I don’t expect the progressives to give up and stop distorting this issue, though. It is too valuable. Even if there is only one pizza parlor in the whole of Indiana that would not like to cater a gay wedding, this is a useful issue. Progressives already are trying to say RFRA amounts to a new Jim Crow, an absurd idea ably debunked by Jonah Goldberg.

But the issue is not going away.

What contraception—about which the Republican party doesn’t give a fig—was in 2014, RFRA may be in 2016.