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Diocese of Indianapolis issues pastoral letter on Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Diocese of Indianapolis issues pastoral letter on Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Bishop Catherine Waynick of the Diocese of Indianapolis responds to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law today:

That this is terrible for business is already being made exquisitely plain. That it is an embarrassment to ‘Hoosier Hospitality’ is undeniable. It is also an affront to faithful people across the religious landscape. Provision of a legal way for some among us to choose to treat others with disdain and contempt is the worst possible use of the rule of law.

For Episcopalians, whose lives are ordered in the Gospel of Christ and the promises of our Baptismal Covenant, it is unthinkable. We are enjoined to love God with heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love others as Christ loves us. We promise, every time we reaffirm our baptismal vows, to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.” We promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

The God we worship became Incarnate, and waded into the unfaithful realities of human life. We follow a Master who associated with sinful, unacceptable people, both Jew and Gentile, all the while challenging as hypocritical the religious leaders who held themselves aloof from the general populace.

As I write this letter to you we are approaching Holy Week and Easter – seasons of deep reflection and joyous celebration in which we rehearse the saving acts of God throughout human history and in the death and Resurrection of Jesus. We claim for ourselves the transforming, reconciling love of God in Christ; not as treasures to be hoarded, but as gifts to be shared with the whole world in the name of the Lord we serve and worship.

Please join me in prayer for all those who have experienced demeaning behaviors, and those who have chosen to treat them so badly. Both in our individual and our common lives, may we become faithful advocates for justice, and reconciling examples of the indiscriminate love of God.



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Barbara Ellen Muncy

I am commanded to love GOD with all my heart, soul and mind and to love my neighbor as myself. And who is my neighbor? Read the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 in the Holy Bible. Jesus told him ” Go and do likewise” love and blessings

Janet Atwater

Today is our 62nd wedding anniversary, heading out tonight to dinner to celebrate. I can’t imagine that our favorite restaurant would not allow our GAY son to join us for our special occasion !
This thought disturbs me. At age 84 I know that there have been many years in my life that there has been change for the good. This new law is not a change for the good.

Paul Powers

There’s also a fairly recent case where the Lexington (KY) Human Rights Comission ruled against a printing company that refused to print signs for a Gay Pride parade. And Kentucky has a law that’s similar to the one just adopted in Indiana.

Heather Angus

I guess I am in the minority here, but I have concerns about this. Everyone here is apparently in favor of allowing the law and the State to prescribe what individual business owners can and can’t do, without regard for the owners’ religious beliefs. That appears to stem from a laudable desire not to see gay people offended. I’m for that.

But hard cases make bad law. Suppose I own a bakery (which would be sad, because I can’t bake much), and I sell cakes. A member of the Church of Satan comes in and wants me to make a cake in the shape of His Satanic Majesty, with an inscription, “Satan Rules.” OK, I may giggle, but I’ll make it. Then an atheist wants a cake with the inscription “God is dead and we’re glad,” to be used at the latest Atheist Fest. A member of Westboro Baptist Church wants a cake for their coffee hour saying “God Hates F—gs.” A member of NAMBLA asks for cookies shaped like tiny gingerbread men, with a cake saying “The younger the better.”

See where I’m going? If a law for business allows no room whatever for conscience, and totally excludes religious belief as a consideration, are we absolutely sure we should be cheering that?

David Streever

I think the problem with the slippery slope in this case is that you’re comparing things which aren’t equitable; you’re taking a laudably ‘neutral’ viewpoint, but at the end of the day, a couple wishing to enter into a legal marriage which provides them with demonstrable benefits is *very* different from a group that is working to disenfranchise and hurt others. That couple is expressing a characteristic which science has concluded is immutable, as opposed to a behavior which WBC engages in (screaming vitriol at a funeral).

Refusing service on the basis of sexual orientation is refusing service on the basis of an immutable characteristic, like refusing service to people with dark hair or fair hair. In general, it’s hard to compare that type of discrimination (“No gingers allowed!”) with a conscientious refusal to print hate speech. (“I’m sorry Pastor Phelps but we’re not going to write a slur on a cake for you.”)

NAMBLA is advocating for the chance to commit molestation of underage children. WBC is advocating to take away the rights of individuals although seems to spend most of their money purely on expressing hatred.

When a group or person steps outside of practicing their personal rights & tries to take away the rights of a marginalized minority, it’s no longer doing anything comparable to an individual trying to enjoy the basic rights that the rest of us take for granted.

The law of the land in the other 49 states allows for people to express their conscience; have you heard of a bakery being shut down via litigation because they refused to make a cake with racist messages for the KKK? What about a CVS photo development lab that refused to print pornographic photos? Business can, and do, refuse all sorts of services all the time.

For me, this has little to do with not wanting to see people who identify as LGBT offended; I’m more concerned about a serious and strenuous challenge to laws protecting any minority class of people against long-reaching discriminatory acts. We live in a society where you can not survive on your own, and the State does not provide for you; we’ve outsourced that to a monetary system and capitalist transactions. Because basic requirements to survive are not provided by the State, but must be obtained at public businesses, it has been assumed for decades that public businesses would be that: public. Excluding an entire class of people based not on their actions but on their inherent qualities is a direct challenge to a free and open society, and if we allow it, we weaken our basic economic and political system.

Bro David

There is a case in Denver where a heterosexual baker refused to write an anti-gay message on a cake. She offered to bake and ice the cake for the customer and supply him with icing to write his own hate message, but he refused the accommodation and filed a complaint.

David Streever

Thanks for sharing that story; I suspect that the discrimination board will find in her favor! Mostly it sounds like the man was just a bully and trying to prove a point.

Stuart Schadt

In the diocese where I serve and I imagine in Episcopal dioceses across the country clergy are allowed to decline to bless same sex unions based on issues of faith. How is this different?

Helen Kromm

It isn’t different, at least morally. Legally, I suppose we can refer to the volumes of public accommodation law.

But you already know that Stuart, and I assume the question is rhetorical. And you ask solely to illustrate the hypocrisy that exists within the church. And unfortunately that hypocrisy exists, which I suspect you find as lamentable as I do.

Ann Fontaine

Stuart — it is different because the church is not a public business. Inside religions there are all sorts of rules. The main canon (rule) of the Episcopal Church is that there is to be no discrimination. If one refuses to marry or bless couples we are supposed to follow the same conditions for all couples. We are in a dilemma with this in the church and some of the legislation this summer will hopefully address this.

John Chilton

David and Ann, I don’t follow. First, what’s the difference between a same-sex couple having to drive 40 miles to find a priest who will marry them, and a black family having to drive 40 miles to a grocery store? Second, aren’t there dioceses today where the bishop permits same-sex blessings but says (to quote) “of course” no one will be forced to perform such blessings? Indeed, are there any that don’t allow clergy to say they won’t do these blessings?

I won’t be surprised if General Convention adopts marriage equality, but I will be surprised if it does not allow the clergy person to say I don’t do same-sex marriages.

Churches are different from businesses only because of the First Amendment. And even there, not that I like it, courts have ruled that religious convictions can exempt closely held businesses from some regulations.

David Streever

I don’t know how to explain my perspective better; I don’t agree (personally) with clergy refusing to perform marriage ceremonies that their Church approves, for that matter, but I do think it’s different.

I think that the two key differences are:
1. We live in a capitalist society where not being able to engage in the basic systems of capitalism create an incredible disadvantage.
2. There are no alternatives to capitalist transactions, but there are alternatives to religious ceremonies; those alternatives are provided by the State.

If the State provided a healthy existence for every citizen it wouldn’t be that different in my eyes, but as it is, people are required by our society & our economic system to participate in capitalism. They aren’t required to participate in religion. Barriers to entry regarding capitalist transactions can make life nearly unlivable, or force people to relocate, which doesn’t seem like part of a free/open society to me.

I hope that explains the perspective a little better. Again, I don’t think the individual priest is doing the right thing, and I’d love to see TEC change that policy. However, I don’t think it’s a case of legal discrimination in the same way that forcing individuals out of the basic economic system we live in is.

(Again, I’d reference Supreme Court arguments that ended racial discrimination by businesses; I think they explain why it’s against individual rights to refuse service on a basis as innate as race. I know some see sexual orientation as a behavior not a personal attribute, but I think they are wrong 😉 )

David Streever

I guess I’d add to, that a religious wedding ceremony in and of itself confers no economic advantages; the State recognition of the marriage is what is relevant.

In the same way that a club can set arbitrary membership standards (“The club for 7 foot tall people where only 7 foot tall people are admitted entrance”) so to can a Church set membership standards which are arbitrary from a secular perspective (faith in Jesus, baptism, monogamy, etc.)

I don’t think that public businesses which exist to sell goods & services to the public ought to follow the same rules as churches & private clubs; I don’t know of a legal ruling that reinforces that idea, but I suspect one exists….

David Streever

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the laws preventing discrimination against people in protected classes, but if you’re curious, I’d recommend reading those at length; they get into why certain types of discrimination are allowed but some are not. A classic example is stores that refuse to serve people of color. Imagine having to travel 40 miles to get groceries and not owning a car!

Beside just the difference in the type of discrimination and the effect (barred from buying food which leads to a de facto bar from living in a town vs barred from having a specific religious ceremony), we also have to ask how the judgement is rendered.

People have, historically, enjoyed a certain amount of privacy in their personal sex lives and their attractions to others. I’m sure that you’ve heard someone gossip about the sexuality of someone else–I know I have–and even lines like “They are married but that doesn’t mean anything.” When we acknowledge the difficulty in assessing another individual’s sexual orientation, and the privacy they should be able to enjoy in their orientation, it raises a huge difference between a clergy person not performing a same-sex marriage ceremony (it’s about the ceremony for an openly same-sex couple) versus a clerk at a grocery store identifying (Correctly or not) the sexual orientation of a shopper & demanding that the shopper return their groceries and walk out immediately.

Does that make sense? I see those two issues (personal privacy, basic expression of freedom in choosing where to live) as being an answer to your question.

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