Legislation pertaining to sexual orientation is often justified by the claim that it protects citizens’ liberty. Advocates of this type of legislation do so with the intent of using the state to enforce the belief that homosexuality and other sexual choices are natural moral acts. Groups that support laws such as the “Fair Education Act” (in California), which uses the schools to teach that homosexuals were crucial to the development of California and the United States, or the legalizing of same-sex marriage, claim these maximize freedom. Specifically, the enforcement of sexual orientation legislation violates the religious rights of some while creating advantages for others.
One principle that guides the interaction of religion, law, and politics maintains that governments should not use their coercive power in matters of one’s religious conscience. That is to say, governments should not compel citizens to affirm or deny religious beliefs through word or deed. Moreover, the state should not create an environment in which religious citizens have to withhold or violate their beliefs to act as free and equal citizens. Yet, this is exactly what sexual orientation legislation does.
Nowhere has this become more apparent than in the academy. Schools have become a battleground for the minds of young students. Many secularist groups work hard to keep all religious claims out of the curriculum while same-sex marriage advocates work hard to use the schools to teach students a new sexual morality. California recently passed into law the Fair Education Act (FEA), which requires history teachers to instruct their students about the contributions of gay, lesbian, and transgendered people to the development of California and the United States. This law forbids the use of textbooks that exclude homosexual contributions. Further, it also prohibits instructional material that reflects adversely on people due to their sexual orientation. With this law, the state of California infringes on the religious rights of at least five groups of citizens: publishers, history writers, teachers, parents, and students.
The FEA mandates what must be contained in history books. Some publishing companies are run by people who disagree with the morality of homosexuality based on their religious convictions. Yet, even though they produce secular textbooks, they are either required by law to put in writing words that affirm the homosexual lifestyle or else they will be excluded from consideration for purchase. On the other hand, publishers who support sexual orientation laws stand in a favored position by the state, gaining a competitive advantage in business and in the spreading of their ideology.
This FEA also shuts certain religious historians out of the conversation. The requirement to include contributions from homosexuals creates a litmus test. Many religious citizens perceive the fulfillment of the law as an affirmation of the homosexual lifestyle. To affirm the homosexual lifestyle violates their religious convictions. The religious citizen cannot merely abstain from commenting on contributions to the improvement or detriment of society. She is either required to place a stamp of approval on the lifestyle as a whole or not be in the business of writing history for education purposes. Even still, those whose religious worldview approves of homosexuality will find themselves at home within the new curriculum. This type of legislation creates a situation where one type of citizen is either being forced to endorse a lifestyle she does not agree with or be unemployed, and another type of citizen is granted a license by the state to endorse her form of ethics.
Teachers who are religious are especially vulnerable to legislation pertaining to sexual orientation. Public school teachers are required to teach the curriculum that is determined by state officials. The state predetermines the content to be examined, the questions asked, as well as the appropriate answers to be considered correct. The curriculum is enforced through teacher evaluations and standardized testing. Teachers that disagree with the new curriculum are placed in a position to obey either their religious conscience or the state law. Teachers that speak out become vulnerable to legalized retaliation. After all, the law states that teachers must comply with the curriculum. If they refuse to teach that which has been prescribed by the law, then they can legally be dismissed. With the enactment of these types of laws, the state creates an environment that is unwelcoming at best to religious citizens and a hostile workplace at worst. Sexuality orientation laws create job descriptions that implicitly state “citizens whose religious commitments do not allow for the endorsement of homosexuality need not apply.”
Sexual orientation laws also create enmity between many citizens and the state-run schools. The legalization of same-sex marriage in many states causes many parents concern. While on the one hand, the schools can help support the ethical training of those who support same-sex marriage, the schools can also undermine the ethical training of those who oppose it on the other. This places children in the position of making a choice of who to trust, their teacher or their parent? This can cause strife in the home, since children often perceive their teachers to be experts on that which they teach. Because of disagreement with the brand of morality public schools endorse, many parents have taken on the extra financial burden of sending their children to private religious schools. Thus, while citizens who believe that homosexuality is not immoral have public school systems that are more closely tailored to their religious and ethical views, other religious citizens must pay an added expense to protect their children from indoctrination.
Most of all, laws concerning sexual orientation affect students’ religious rights. Compulsory education creates a captive audience. While some parents may choose to send their children to private schools, others will not or cannot. Religious students that believe homosexuality is immoral are taught from kindergarten to twelfth grade that the homosexual lifestyle is morally acceptable. Moreover, they are taught that those who think otherwise are factually wrong, bigoted, or both. Worst of all, lessons that comport with legislation such as the “Fair Education Act” coerce students, with the power of the gradebook, to violate their religious beliefs in writing.
College students and professionals are also prone to unfair treatment due to sexual orientation laws. Recent legislation has been passed to ban conversion therapy. Because of this, psychologists are prohibited from treating homosexuality as a disorder that can be treated. This puts counselors and counseling students in a risky situation. Counselors who treat homosexuals are at risk of being sued by homosexuals that perceive them as trying to “convert” them. On the other hand, if the counselor refuses to treat a homosexual client, she risks being sued for discrimination. Moreover, schools can serve to weed out potential counselors who hold religious views that are morally opposed to homosexuality. Two court cases come to mind with this, Ward v. Wilbanks and Keeton v. Wiley. These two cases were brought to the courts by two different students that were in two different graduate programs. In both cases, the students were faced with dismissal from their programs unless they were willing to counsel homosexual students, which meant affirming the homosexual lifestyle. In Jennifer Keeton’s case, she was subject to dismissal unless she fulfilled a lengthy remedial plan than compelled her to affirm the morality of the homosexual lifestyle. In both cases, the schools appealed to the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics, which requires counselors to put aside their personal religious beliefs when counseling.
Sexual orientation legislation has also affected the religious freedoms of business owners, which has placed some in the position of violating their faith or going to jail. The last few years have been replete with examples of religious business owners having to fight for their religious rights in court. In Craig and Mullins v. Masterpiece Cake Shop, a Colorado judge ruled that the baker Jack Philips had violated a Colorado anti-discrimination law by refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs. The judge ordered Philips to bake the cake or go to jail. The case Elane Photography v. Willcock produced a similar situation when the court ordered Elane Photography to photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs. Education and businesses are not the only targets of sexual orientation legislation, those who perform marriage ceremonies and religious leaders themselves are at risk.
Civil marriage commissioners in Canada have faced religious discrimination as a result of sexual orientation legislation. Those who refuse to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies have been required to resign. Thus, those who whose religious beliefs get in the way need not apply for this job. Also in Canada, clergy have had their sermons scrutinized by human rights commissions. Moreover, churches have become vulnerable to litigation for refusing to rent out their spaces for same-sex ceremonies. Back in the United States, Catholic Charities in Massachusetts was given the choice to start adopting children into same-sex households or to cease adoption all together. Catholic Charities chose to cease adoption all together rather than violate their religious beliefs.
Sexual orientation legislation affects religious citizens’ rights from the time they enter kindergarten to the time they enter the job market and beyond. As has been shown, depending on the country, this type of legislation currently impacts those in the professional ministry. Yet, the limit of this type of legislation’s reach is only temporary. Moreover, it is by design that sexual orientation legislation will soon reach into all areas of the culture. The former legal director of the Lambda Legal Defense, Paula Ettelbrick wrote:
Being queer means pushing the parameters of sex, sexuality, and family, and… …transforming the very fabric of society…. We must keep our eyes on the goals of providing true alternatives to marriage and of radically reordering society’s view of reality.
Sexual orientation legislation creates an antagonistic culture towards those who religiously disagree with the morality of the homosexual lifestyle.
Hate speech laws further foster this antagonistic atmosphere. Homosexual advocacy groups use the threat of hate speech charges to bully dissenters into silence. Because these laws are so vague, one runs the risk of being charged with the hate crime of hate speech by merely suggesting that homosexuality is immoral. In this environment, those who believe homosexuality is immoral are unable to voice their beliefs; whereas, those who endorse the behavior enjoy their full right to the freedom of speech.
Because same-sex legislation is becoming more common, religious citizens will come into contact with it more and more. Because of this, those who religiously dissent will become more and more marginalized. This type of legislation will cause religious citizens to have to shrink farther away from the culture in which they live. These citizens will be legally mandated to remain silent over issues of sexual morality, and thus, they will take on the status of second class citizens. Perhaps it is time for religious citizens to stand up and speak now while they can, or be forced to forever hold their peace.
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