Sunday, March 2, 2014

On Equality

An old friend of mine posted something on Facebook, which brought up the story of a barber who refused service to a woman due to religious reasons: he was Muslim, which barred him form touching any woman to whom he was not married. The teller of the story said this: “When we talk about rights in Canada we talk about rights [that require] someone to do things for you. I don’t see that as a right at all.” Although the story was from Canada, it was obvious that this was in reference to the wedding photographer in New Mexico and Arizona's Senate Bill 1062.

After considering the problem for a few days, I finally posted a response to the story:

Consider this perspective, if you will:

At some point, no matter what, the rights of one person will conflict with another's and, given that, at some point we have to give precedence to one right over the other. In this case, the rights in conflict are one person's right for equal treatment versus another person's right to practice their religion. From there, it's a question of value: which is more important, equality or religious freedom?

Of the two, I believe equality is not only the better choice but is also easier to enforce.

By better choice, I mean I value civil rights over religious rights. For instance, taken on their own denying a hair cut to a woman or wedding photography to a gay couple may seem innocuous on the surface, but it sets a precedent and paves the way for something like the (now thankfully vetoed) Arizona Senate Bill 1062, which allows not only businesses but government institutions to deny goods and services to people based on religious belief. Such a bill would open the door for denying not just luxuries like hair cuts and photography to a group of people, but also basics like car repair, groceries, and even housing. Being allowed to deny goods and services to any group based on "sincerely held beliefs" is an open door to all sorts of bald-faced discrimination, not just homophobia.

By easier to enforce, I mean that relatively speaking. Rights are difficult to enforce in general, but having a judge make a ruling on one standard (equality) instead of the near-infinite and often-contradictory standards of every religion makes for a legal system that not only runs smoother but is also easier for your average person to grasp.

I hope that makes sense. Also, I apologize for the necromancy of this thread; I needed to gather my thoughts on this issue before responding. Things like this are best not discussed in a heated manner, especially considering that the topic of religion is an emotional subject. I, too, was defensive at first, but much like any case of discrimination (gender, racial, sexual, for instance), the group in power (men, whites, straights, in those cases) should carefully consider the issue from the perspective of the other side and work through the knee-jerk, defensive response that always happens when a paradigm in their favor is threatened. One must consider a problem from all angles in order to truly understand it.


  1. I'm very thankful it didn't pass. I got friends in Arizona that I like to visit once or twice a year and I would hate to have to face any of that nonsense that that bill would have caused.

  2. Yeah, that was pretty much the same reasoning behind anti-discrimination laws in the first place. Businesses can no longer refuse service to black people simply because they are black, despite the fact that this is a straight-forward violation of their free speech.

    1. Well speech and actually doing something are two different things. It's one thing for a business to say they don't want to serve someone than to actually not serve them.

    2. Free speech has been interpreted for awhile now as freedom of many different kinds of expression, not just literal speech. Pornography and other kinds of performance art are protected under free speech laws, for example, even when the actual speech is minimal. Free speech also covers protesting - something that is clearly an action above and beyond the actual words they use.

      And of course the Supreme Court case Citizen United vs. Federal Election commission concluded with the decision that how a person (including a corporation) spends their money is an expression of their free speech.