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Religious Freedom vs. Anti-Discrimination Laws

Last Friday, in the case Kumar v. Gate Gourmetthe Washington State Supreme Court issued a ruling requiring an employer to accommodate the religious dietary requirements of their employees.

While the prospect of Washington State wanting someone to accommodate religious belief is encouraging, it may not be quite what we’re all hoping for.

The lawsuit involved Gate Gourmet, a company that provides food services to airlines. For security reasons, their employees are prohibited from bringing food to work with them and consequently are required to eat the food provided by their employer.

Four of their employees filed a lawsuit claiming that the food they were provided was not consistent with their religious dietary restrictions.  By a 5-4 margin, the court said that Washington’s Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for their employees’ religious practices that include a requirement to serve food that meets their requirements.

While the case deals with religious accommodation, this is not a victory for religious freedom.

Religious freedom is the right of the individual to practice their religion free of government interference, but no one argues that my religious freedom requires you to buy the food for my religiously inspired diet.

Instead, this decision was about the state’s non-discrimination law.  In the end, the Court concluded that the state can tell employers what to feed their employees as a way of eliminating discrimination.

If you are someone who cares about religious freedom, the trend toward stronger anti-discrimination laws is a problem.


Because non-discrimination laws and the free exercise of religion are in direct conflict with each other.

Non-discrimination laws exist to limit the choices each person has so that no one “discriminates” against anyone else.

In doing so, non-discrimination laws invite the government to be involved in private dealings.

The purpose of the First Amendment, on the other hand, is to stop the government from interfering with how you and I live our faith.

Non-discrimination laws give me the right to force you to do something you otherwise would not do.  It seems reasonable if what you are doing is refusing to open your restaurant to African American’s. After all, it’s so wrong not to.

However, the same tool is being used to force people to be part of gay wedding ceremonies because… it’s so wrong not to.

The challenge with this conversation is how subjective it is.

What one person considers to be a moral necessity another considers to be behavior so uncivil that it shouldn’t be allowed.

Since the prospect of coming to agreement on these issues in the near future doesn’t seem good we’re faced with a question, “should people have the freedom to be rude, even very rude?”

Strong First Amendment rights allow each person to decide for themselves what they can and cannot do as a matter of conscience.

Strong non-discrimination laws allow the government to make those decisions for us.

Which do you prefer?

While the employee’s religion was relevant in the Kumar case, the case did not expand the individual’s right to the free exercise of religion.  To the contrary, it affirmed the government’s role in deciding what each person is required to do so that no other person is “discriminated” against.

The left makes no secret of the fact that they believe non-discrimination laws should trump freedom of religion.

 That is why they support litigation against pharmacies that don’t want to sell abortion drugs, and photographers who don’t want to be part of same-sex “weddings”.

From their perspective, freedom of religion is is not an inalienable right endowed by our Creator but something tolerated (or not) based on the whims of the current political majority.

Of course that’s not religious freedom at all.

Real religious freedom exists when the government removes itself from matters involving conscience, whether public or private. If I am not willing to tolerate you religious convictions, we are not obligated to work together. At least, that is how it used to be.

Until we convince our elected officials that we would rather be free, even if that means someone else has the freedom to do something I don’t like, then we should expect to continue receiving periodic notices about which freedoms we still have and which ones they’ve taken…for our benefit of course.

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