By Olivia Capasso || Junior Editor
Over the past century, significant strides have been made in the United States in regards to equality under law and a more widespread understanding of the civil liberties granted to all American citizens. The Civil Rights Movement of 1964 paved the road for the reevaluation of the toxic social climate surrounding African-Americans, women, minorities, and disabled individuals, and opened many doors for such groups to explore novel opportunities, which now, fortunately, legally lay at their disposal. Since then, there have been slow, yet steady, advancements in the arena of civil rights within the United States, as we as a People have collectively become more accepting of the differences that define us. Laws have been implemented to protect certain groups from the threat of discrimination, most notably in the workplace and the public sphere. Despite this evident progress, we are now faced with the issue of religion in juxtaposition with these established protections. Do an individual’s personal beliefs have a place in the conversation of civil rights, in particular, exemptions from such non-discrimination laws? How do the guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of religion coincide with the civil progress we have made as a nation?
If one were to analyze the law, it would become apparent that loopholes in the language can be sought out by nearly anyone who wishes to find them. For example, there was no explicit language in the 5th and 14th Amendment stating that an individual cannot be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation, and although legal action has been taken to nullify those arguments, it was certainly slow to come by. One of the most contemporary issues that our nation faces is the subject of religious exemptions to non-discrimination laws, and particularly those that apply to sexuality. In 2017, the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission was argued in the Supreme Court, a case regarding a cakebaker who refused to create a cake for a same-sex wedding on the basis that he had the right to do so should his own religious convictions not align with the request. This excuse has been made many times by business owners arguing that their own personal beliefs should take precedence over the legally protected liberties of others. Although the Constitution protects one’s freedom of speech and freedom to practice religion, those liberties are limited when in the public sphere they overlap and hinder those of others.
The grey area begins to become apparent when the legal issues come to the forefront of the conversation of religious exemptions to non-discrimination laws. It is difficult to decide what can and cannot be protected under the United States Constitution, however, from a practical standpoint, the line of what is acceptable becomes clear when one’s religion becomes a burden on the freedoms of another. Simply put, no individual has the right to hinder the liberties granted to, say, a customer who may happen to exercise certain differences. Not only is this assertion fundamentally valid, but it is an absolutely crucial mentality and attitude to maintain in order for civil progress to continue within our nation. The ability to opt-out of such requirements of acceptance and equality is merely granting select groups the option of fabricating their own laws as they see fit, and denying social change because it may be a bit difficult to stomach at first. In order to encourage a more culturally accepting society with ample opportunities for all, religious exemptions undoubtedly cannot exist as a legitimate fixture in the United States’ legal system.
First-Year Olivia Capasso is a Junior Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.