A recent letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Reverend Eric Andrae of First Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how religious liberty protects the community. Reverend Andrae suggests that business owners should be allowed to refuse service when “morals and sexual behaviors” are part of the sales transaction.
Or should an African-American chef be under legal threat and compulsion to provide catering for the Ku Klux Klan’s post-rally refreshments, too? And should a kosher or halal grocer be forced to slaughter a pig and provide pork for my wedding reception, also? Of course not. Let’s be fair, respectful and truly tolerant.
Let’s take a closer look at this comparison.
First of all, the KKK is not part of a protected class – refusing to provide catering to a KKK event because you oppose their beliefs is legal. The KKK can’t sue another citizen for refusing to serve them under those circumstances. The KKK does, however, have a right to public services – the right to assemble, speak, etc without interference from the government. That’s an important distinction – government cannot deny services to the KKK (like parade permits, police protection) but private citizens and business owners can make whatever choices they want in regard to the KKK.
So it is a false comparison to say an African-American chef refusing services to a KKK event is the same thing as Christian caterer refusing services for an LGBT event. It is not a slippery slope at all. Protecting people based on sexual orientation or gender identity does not open the door to protecting the KKK.
Second, a kosher or halal grocer would not offer pork in their services because of their religious beliefs.They aren’t refusing to provide pork to certain people – they not offering pork at all.
Non-discrimination laws don’t require any business to change their services or products. They require that whatever services or products are offered are available to the general public, including people who are in protected classes. If you sell food, you have to sell it to people of any religion or ethnic group or marital status. You don’t have to add items to your menu to serve these classes, but you can’t deny them existing food options based on their class.
See the difference?
As a business owner, you have the right to determine what products and services you will offer based on whatever criteria you want to use – including your personal religious beliefs. As a member of the public, you have the right to access what products and services you want based on whatever criteria you want to use – including your personal religious beliefs.
What you can’t do is discriminate against people. You can’t refuse to serve people based on religious beliefs. That’s how the interests of everyone are protected. It is akin to the Golden Rule – treating people with fairness and like you would want to be treated. If you go into a restaurant or a laundromat or a bookstore, should your personal religious beliefs or your martial status or your racial identity have any bearing on the business owner’s decision to serve you?
Barbara Soloman wrote a response letter that captures the essence of this point:
So, back to his question, why should the private lives of your customers even matter? When shops are open to the public, should shopkeepers really be able to pick and choose whom they serve?
Reverend Andrae makes another false claim in his letter.
How quickly some — once their views have gained majority status — forget their own previous plight and dismiss the voice and trample on the rights of the current cultural minority position.
I can assure the good minister that as a member of the LGBTQ community – my plight is not “previous” and certainly not forgotten. My views are not reflected in majority status – not while my trans sister of color are being butchered in the streets across the nation, not while my LGBTQ elders are afraid to access senior citizen services because of their identity, not while poverty and crime and addiction and unemployment and poverty and family rejection are running rampant in our community. Not while young queer people of color turn to “The Stroll” on Liberty Avenue for food/shelter/acceptance because there are no alternatives, no other funded programs to help them.
I am not (yet) familiar with how his church serves the LGBTQ community. But based on his extensive education and his work with students at dozens of local colleges, it is clear that Reverend Andrae should understand the simple math – Christians are not a cultural minority in Pittsburgh or Pennsylvania. Not even a little bit.
Christians are not a minority, Christian values are a dominant voice in the dialogue in this region on almost every voice and Christians are full citizens. Reverend Andrae can write a letter – even with these inaccuracies – and he will not face losing his job. LGBTQ residents of Pittsburgh don’t have that luxury. The irony is that his letter is factually wrong and perhaps even intentionally misleading, but he still won’t be fired or reprimanded – because he’s Christian.
Reverend Andrae has a lovely ministry in an affluent neighborhood in Pittsburgh with vibrant community programs. He’s made his position clear on how LGBTQ people should affiliate with his church and that is fine. No one outside of his church is forcing him to change his beliefs or his practices. He can patronize an array of businesses. He has access to tens of thousands of students and an entire radio station.
He does not have to perform my wedding, welcome me to his church, hire me in a pastoral role – he can reject me fully as a lesbian and face no legal repercussions. And any decision on his part of validate and recognize my worth as a human being is a personal choice he makes, guided by his own conscience.
He’s not part of a cultural minority. There’s no slippery slope. So why does he use that position to prevent me from simply being able to patronize a bakery or keep my job?
If you have a response, please take some time to write your own letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, please.