Ruth Ann Dailey: Tolerance must be a two-way street, right?

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Should a musician who opposes abortion be forced to perform at a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood -- or a musician who supports abortion rights for the National Right to Life?

Should a Mennonite pharmacist be forced to supply drugs for a criminal's execution? (A state prison running out of lethal drugs? It could happen: I saw it on "The Good Wife"!)

Should an event planner who's, say, a progressive Jew be required to manage an anti-gay protest for the Westboro Baptist Church?

Should a Quaker be forced to go to war?

That last question is a gimme: Pacifists have long been granted exemptions from military service in deference to their deeply held religious beliefs.

But people have strong religious convictions on issues that range far beyond war.

Some of those convictions may strike you as distasteful, others as reasonable and good. How much should your reaction affect their rights?

Remember first hearing about "peyote"? Some states' punitive actions against Native Americans who used that drug in sacred ceremonies inspired the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" of 1993.

This was when the "war on drugs" was still applauded and as a nation we still deplored the destructive force of drugs in people's lives. Even then, two branches of government obviously felt that a constitutional right needed to be "restored" -- even if only for a tiny minority's use of psychotropics.

The legislation became law in 1993. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, however, that the law could not be applied to the states, many states passed their own version -- including Arizona.

Since then, our thinking on drugs has become more expansive, but our view of religious freedom has narrowed -- or become more easily manipulated.

Twenty years later, despite these laws -- and the U.S. Constitution -- some governmental entities have become increasingly aggressive in targeting religious dissenters, particularly in the matter of gay marriage and even in states where it is not legal.

That appears to be at least part of the motivation behind the Arizona legislation just vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer -- even though the law did not address any specific assault on religious freedom, and even though it rather tamely affirmed the right of dissenters to cite their religious rights as a defense should they be prosecuted.

However tame, the bill's language was so broad, apparently, that even conservative legal experts seemed to think it invited the widespread opposition it received.

But it most assuredly was not, as one Arizona gubernatorial candidate put it, "a solution in search of a problem." Anyone who thinks there's no problem here should try telling that to the individuals who've lost their livelihoods due to the fines, legal fees or boycotts they've faced for declining to participate in gay marriages.

The case that may soon move this issue to the forefront of the collective American experience is Elane Photography v. Willock.

In August, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin for declining to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony because it conflicted with their conservative Christian beliefs. The would-be client, Vanessa Willock, filed a complaint with New Mexico's Human Rights Commission, which then ruled against the Huguenins and assessed them Ms. Willock's legal fees.

In December, the Huguenins' attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. A decision on that request was expected in January but hasn't been announced.

In the meantime, we have the Arizona debacle. Clearly the momentum is on the side of same-sex marriage and against anyone who has qualms about it. But is the best way to end discrimination to create a new class of people to persecute?

Should government be able to force you to participate in an action with which you, due to religious conviction, profoundly disagree?

As a devout Christian who's argued for the rights of gays to live with equality and respect, I'm disappointed that gay advocates would demagogue this issue.

And I'm disappointed that libertarians and traditionalists fail to embrace a clear, elegant solution to the conflict. As I've argued many times before, we should separate the role of the state from that of the church (or synagogue or mosque) by having the state regulate "civil unions for all" while leaving "marriage" to the sacred realm whence it sprang.

Powerful interests prefer the ongoing conflict -- either because it makes for better fundraising or satisfies their pathetic need for total affirmation.

But their victims are the gays who lack legal rights in some states and people elsewhere like the Huguenins who've lost their religious rights and their businesses. What a needless embarrassment.


Ruth Ann Dailey: ruthanndailey@hotmail.com

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