Protecting religious freedom in Oregon


by Dan Lucas

Oregon’s Protect Religious Freedom Initiative is in the news again. The initiative is to protect Oregonians from having to participate in same-sex ceremonies if doing so would be against their religious beliefs or conscience.

Reuters ran an article on the initiative on Sunday, and reported that the initiative would create an exemption to Oregon’s laws that prohibit discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation. That’s a fair description of the legal mechanism, but more accurately the initiative would add to the many existing religious exemptions to ensure that someone wouldn’t have to participate in a same-sex ceremony if it was against their religious beliefs or conscience.

Serve versus Participate

The key to understanding the initiative is the difference between serving customers and participating in something. As the Reuter’s article notes, in Oregon “it is illegal to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation.”

One of the Reuters’ commenters expressed fears that the initiative would lead to businesses refusing to serve Jews, blacks, divorcees, Catholics, Atheists, Chinese Buddhists and Democrats. It’s a false fear. The initiative doesn’t allow businesses to refuse to serve someone because of their sexual orientation – it allows people to choose to not participate in a same-sex wedding.

The Sweet Cakes bakery example is a good one. Sweet Cakes didn’t refuse to serve the lesbian couple. In fact, as I noted last September “The bakery had previously sold a wedding cake to the same lesbian couple when the wedding cake wasn’t for a same-sex marriage, and the bakery does sell their cakes to gays and lesbians, just not for same-sex marriages.” The bakery just didn’t want to participate in a same-sex wedding because doing so was against their religious beliefs.

Similar cases have arisen with florists in Washington and wedding photographers in New Mexico.

The lines that will be drawn will be around defining “what is service” and “what is participating”.

Right of conscience especially needed in Oregon

In the Reuters article, a lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom working to protect religious freedoms used the term “right of conscience.” Working to protect our religious freedoms, our “right of conscience,” is all the more important because we are in Oregon.

It shouldn’t be that way. In addition to the protections of the free exercise of religion in the First Amendment, Oregon has extremely strong protections of religious freedom in the Oregon Constitution – especially Section 2 and Section 3 of Article I:

Section 2. Freedom of worship. All men shall be secure in the Natural right, to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences.—

Section 3. Freedom of religious opinion. No law shall in any case whatever control the free exercise, and enjoyment of religeous [sic] opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience.—

However, decades of one-party domination have resulted in courts and state agencies that are willing to run roughshod over Oregonians’ “rights of conscience.” For example, at the national level there is the Hyde Amendment that prohibits using federal taxpayer money to pay for abortions. But in Oregon, thousands of pro-life taxpayers are required to pay state taxes – which are used to pay for almost half the abortions in Oregon.

One-party domination has also resulted in statewide elected officials being willing to abuse their power to help get other statewide candidates elected, so they can go on to use their state agencies to violate Oregonians’ “rights of conscience.”

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