To the Christian, a job is more than a job; it is a calling. Whether as a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker (or even a lawyer), we are to use the gifts God has given us for His glory. It is a grand opportunity and responsibility.
And the government has no business interfering with this faith-driven view.
In recognition of this important concept – applicable not only to Christianity but other religions as well – last week, the Arizona Senate and House both passed landmark legislation protecting the religious freedom of small business owners.
Over the last several years, Christian photographers, bakers, florists and others in wedding-related occupations have faced lawsuits and criminal penalties all across the country for declining to provide their goods and services for same-sex wedding ceremonies and receptions. These actions have cost people their livelihoods as they face daunting court costs, fines, negative press and even boycotts for refusing to compromise their faith.
Though these individuals are ostensibly free to believe whatever they want to believe at home, they are compelled to shed those beliefs prior to clocking in. Thankfully, this imposition on individual conscience has not gone unnoticed.
Along with Arizona, legislators in Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee have all introduced legislation that acknowledges a business owner's right to conduct his business in accordance with his religious beliefs. Arizona's legislation became the first to get to the executive branch level.
Governor Jan Brewer has thus far refused to comment on the bill. Arizonans are hopeful she will take national leadership in protecting the rights of Christians and others with strong religious objections to same-sex marriage, but she is encountering significant pressure to do otherwise.
Same-sex unions are not recognizable as marriages in Arizona; in fact, the citizens passed a referendum barring the prospect in 2008. The proposed law merely allows a religious objector to avoid participation in something that is already considered illegitimate in the state. But this reality does not keep homosexual advocates from crying foul and labeling the law as discriminatory. The Senate Democratic leader in Arizona, Anna Tovar, was among the first to criticize the bill, claiming "many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation."
Summoning up visions of Jim Crow laws and separate drinking fountains, Senator Tovar presumes no one will actually read the bill. The text reveals that it clarifies the existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act to include individuals and businesses – in addition to churches – as parties protected under the law. Nothing in or about the bill suggests a business can refuse service to someone because of the person's espoused sexual orientation.
And the loose charge of harmful discrimination, echoed by numerous members of the media, is dripping with irony. No same-sex wedding has ever been called off because a vendor declined to partake in it. No reception has been canceled or postponed. No same-sex couple has been forced to rely on memories due to lack of a willing photographer. There always seem to be a cake to slice and a bouquet to throw at these events. On the other hand, Christian vendors who have the temerity to beg off involvement in these same-sex gatherings are ostracized and made to suffer for taking their faith seriously at work.
As Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough articulated during the Arizona Senate debate on the bill, this law is geared to stop – not facilitate – inequitable treatment. "This bill is not about allowing discrimination," Yarbrough said. "This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith."
Now that the bill has passed, Gov. Brewer has a decision to make, which should be made by the end of the week. If her choice turns on an aspiration to curb real, invalid discrimination, she will sign the bill into law.