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Bishop Benfield speaks out in Arkansas

Bishop Benfield speaks out in Arkansas

In the wake of Arkansas House Bill 1228, and Act 137, which would prohibit local governments from enacting anti-discrimination ordinances, Bishop Larry Benfield in the Diocese of Arkansas continues to speak out against discriminatory legislation in the name of “religious liberty”:

It is important to remember that the dust has not indeed settled. The governor’s office has contacted my office to see what next statement I might be making. My reply has been in the form of a letter to the governor, asking him to do three things:

  1. Issue an executive order to prohibit discrimination in state agencies on the basis of sexual orientation.
  2. Seek the future enactment of legislation to prohibit such discrimination by employers throughout the state.
  3. Speak in favor of the effort to repeal Act 137 through a voter initiative.

As I said in the letter, discrimination is immoral, especially when done in the name of religion. There is a theological underpinning to this statement, an underpinning that is especially appropriate to bring into the conversation during Easter season. Those post-resurrection appearances in the New Testament so often involved seeing the resurrected Christ in the form of some of the most unlikely of people, for example, gardeners and travelers on dusty roads.

When we see the resurrected Christ in our own age, it is often in the form of the most marginalized of people. I hope that when we speak out against discrimination, we do so not just as a good business decision, but as a theological issue: we want the world to see the risen Christ and thus experience resurrection in their own lives. When we do so, Easter starts making a lot more sense.


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Paul Powers

It depends on how the particular statute or ordinance defines “public accommodations” and whether the person seeking goods and services is in a protected class under that statute or ordinance. Typically, a newspaper would not be considered a public accommodation as far as advertising is concerned. It can’t charge different rates based on the advertiser’s race, sex, national origin, etc., but it can refuse ads based on content.
Assuming a motivational speaker is considered a public accommodation (which would be unusual), she probably couldn’t be required to deliver a particular message because that would be compelled speech, and unlike the case of a baker putting a message on a cake, the listeners are likely to assume it’s the speaker’s own opinion that’s being expressed. Again it depends on the specific facts and the applicable statute or ordinance.

Paul Powers

I agree with JC Fisher that requiring a baker to put on a cake a message she finds objectionable is more problematic. That very issue is before a court in Northern Ireland, where the Equality Commission is suing a bakery that refused to bake a cake with the message “support gay marriage” (Northern Ireland is the only country in the UK that hasn’t legalized same-sex marriage yet).

i don’t think the answer is clear cut. A message on a cake is a form of speech, but it’s speech for hire. The words are from the person who ordered the cake, not from the baker. When people see a bakery cake with “Happy Birthday, Bob!” written on it, they’re not likely to assume that the baker even knows Bob, let alone particularly cares whether his birthday is happy or not.
Whether in a particular case compelling a baker to include a message they find objectionable depends on the specific facts and on the law in that place.

Philip Snyder

In other “speech for hire” cases, can a speaker or printer refuse “speech for hire” jobs? Can a news paper or TV station refuse to run an ad it finds objectionable? How about a person who makes his living giving motivational speeches? Can he refuse to be hire by an organization he finds objectionable or refuse to speak to motivate people who support a position he is against?

Christopher Johnson

Dave? You’re killing me here, man. “Discrimination” is one thing. Having the state put a legal gun to your head and force you to participate, directly or indirectly, in something you consider to be a violation of your religious principles is something entirely different.

Learn the distinction, Dave. You too, “Bishop.”

David Allen

First things first, if you were speaking to me, the name is only David, never Dave. It’s Spanish and pronounced Dah•veed.

Yes, folks have made the same lame arguments with every class of discrimination against others that has come up on the long road to freedom.

♫ We shall over come. We shall over come. We shall over come some day. Oh deep in my heart, I do believe, that we shall over come some day. ♫

David Allen

After having won desegregation and the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, should African Americans and their friends, families and allies have allowed the last few holdouts maintain their firmly held beliefs and segregated lunch counters, busses, etc.?

No and in spite of that, there is still much to do 50 years later about on-going racism in the USA.

Bro David

Philip Snyder

David – actually the gay activists HAVE overcome. Gay marriage is now the law in most states and is gaining in popularity. (Remember that popularity is rarely a good gauge of what is right/wrong.) The RFRA and laws that allow conservative Christians to not have to provide goods or services to specific functions/events is nothing more, really, than the terms of surrender in the Culture Wars. You have abortion on demand for any reason and up to the birth of the baby. You have no fault divorce. You have the hook up culture which is not putting men at serious risk of being labeled a rapist several months have a drunken hookup. You have gay marriage. All conservative Christians want is to be left alone and not have to participate in your victory. But rather than leave this small group alone, the culture warriors are walking over the battlefield and shooting the surviving enemy soldiers.

Philip Snyder

Discrimination is NOT immoral. We all do it all the time. It is called “choice” and making value judgments. We find one preacher better than another and that is “discrimination.”

Discrimination based on a classification of a person when providing goods or services at a specific location is immoral. But, then, so is requiring a person to violate his/her conscience in demanding those goods or services. If a person believes that gay marriage is sinful, then requiring that person to violate his/her conscience to provide material support to that event.

Tolerance was supposed to be a two way street. But now “tolerance” is “you must accept me and my beliefs, but I don’t have to accept you and your beliefs.”

I find the idea of a “protected” class to be antithetical to “equal protection under the law.”

David Allen

Is your opinion here just based on sexual orientation or do you also believe that the other protected classes should be abolished? Should a business licensed by the state to sell goods and/or services to the public also be able to discriminate against a black couple? A mixed race couple? A handicapped couple? A couple where one or both have been divorced?

BTW, you wouldn’t have a problem if we discriminated against you and no longer allowed your comments at Episcopal Cafe? You wouldn’t consider it immoral to candidly no longer allow your opinions here?

Bro David

Philip Snyder

JC – I could live with that. You come into my shop and purchase a wedding cake and decorate it yourself. Or you come into my shop and purchase flowers and arrange them yourself. No one is required to leave his/her shop to perform services. You cannot require a baker to come and set up your wedding. You cannot require a photographer to photograph your wedding (unless you do it at his studio). You cannot require someone to attend a function they consider sinful/morally wrong.

But you can commission a cake in their store and pick it up there. You simply cannot require them to do any writing or pictures on it – you can do that yourself.

JC Fisher

I wish we would stop equating the artifact of *baked goods* (ie. a cake) w/ SPEECH. Put another way, if the baker will just bake the ever-lovin’ CAKE already, Adam&Steve can put the two little plastic grooms on it. A cake is a cake is cake. “God Hates F@gs” (or even “God Loves Gays”), whether printed on paper or frosting, is something different.

[Yes, if *I* were the baker, I would bake a cake for a Klan gathering. Any words on it would have to be put on by them.]

Philip Snyder

My opinion is based on the freedom of religious exercise and the right to not have to accept a custom job if you don’t want it – for moral/ethical reasons. So, I would allow a black baker to not be forced to bake a “White Power” cake or to bake the confections for a KKK/Aryan Nation or other all white group’s convention. I would not require a gay baker to bake a cake for a National Defense of Marriage meeting nor a Muslim photographer to accept a job photographing North Carolina’s Whole Hog cooking competition.

As I have said many times, if you come into a store, you should expect (and receive) service. If you ask the store to come to you, you should not be able to require the proprietor to violate his/her conscience or religious faith.

Or are you THAT eager to put, into your mouth, a cake that was baked by someone who finds your behavior sinful and is only baking it because of the threat of bankruptcy, fines, and/or prison?

David Murray

Glad to see yet another Bishop speaking up on this matter.

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