PORTLAND, OREGON- Religious freedom is the first freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution. It is a fundamental human right and is the right to express, think and act upon what you deeply believe. Religious freedom upholds stability in a diverse society. Wherever religious freedom is high, there is better health, more economic prosperity, lower income inequality and sustained democracy. Individual conscience rights and religious freedom protect the rights of all individuals and groups, whether religious or not.
Unfortunately, there are groups pushing the view that religion is purely a private matter and that religious voices or opinions or conscientious objectors should be silenced. Religion is more than just private worship. It involves public expression on moral and social issues. Religious freedom, our first freedom, needs protection as this Initiative intends to do in the 2014 election.
A growing trend of silencing can be seen where business owners of faith or with conscientious objections are being forced to compromise their individual conscience rights or face harassment, persecution, penalties levied upon them by the state, and the possibility of losing their business for declining to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies. Headlines have highlighted the personal conscience aspects of this silencing trend with penalties and lawsuits against florists (Washington), bakers (Colorado and Oregon), and photographers (New Mexico).
Teresa Harke, spokesperson for Friends of Religious Freedom said, “We are deeply concerned that even Oregon elected officials are becoming hostile towards religious freedom. In comments related to a business owner that declined to participate in arrangements for a same-sex wedding ceremony because of conscientious objections, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian said, ‘The goal is never to shut down a business. The goal is to rehabilitate.’ It is very troubling that Oregon elected officials believe people of faith or with conscientious objections need to be ‘rehabilitated.’”
Friends of Religious Freedom filed the Protect Religious Freedom Initiative today in order to safeguard religious freedom in Oregon and to allow conscientious objectors or persons with deeply held religious beliefs to decline to participate in same-sex ceremonies. Oregonians will have the opportunity in 2014 to protect religious freedom and individual conscience rights now and for future generations of Oregonians. We are confident that Oregonians will rally behind this cause to protect religious freedom and individual conscience rights.