Alison Grotberg: Should The Law Protect Human Conscience Or Punish It?

Should the law protect human conscience or punish it? That is the question before the North Dakota legislature this week in the form of a bill passed by the Senate that will be voted on in the House in a couple of days — SB 2279.

There are many people claiming that SB 2279 is a bill that merely prevents discrimination in housing and employment for LGBT persons. Many proponents of the bill, even legislators testifying in favor of the bill, have asserted that this bill has nothing to do with religion, in other words, nothing to do with the rights of conscience. Reality couldn’t be more opposite than these statements.

The truth is that SB 2279 asks North Dakota legislators to pass a law that violates the U.S. Constitution and the free exercise of religion, in this case orthodox* Christianity (and other religions). The First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Here’s how the restriction to practice orthodox Christianity would play out in real life.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]There are many people claiming that SB 2279 is a bill that merely prevents discrimination in housing and employment for LGBT persons. Many proponents of the bill, even legislators testifying in favor of the bill, have asserted that this bill has nothing to do with religion, in other words, nothing to do with the rights of conscience. Reality couldn’t be more opposite than these statements.[/mks_pullquote]

Bob, an orthodox Christian, is asked to make a t-shirt to promote gay pride which presents a moral dilemma for him. Bob believes that promoting pride in a lifestyle that experiences human sexuality in a way that goes against God’s design for sexuality as laid out in the Bible and taught in orthodox Christian churches would be dishonoring to God. Does he obey his conscience under God or does he obey the dictates of other humans who say he must endorse gay pride even though it violates his conscience?

If Bob turns the gay pride group down and sends them down the street to another shop, he can be sued, pronounced guilty of “discrimination,” fined, jailed, and/or put out of business all because his conscience would not allow him to promote gay pride. It doesn’t matter that if the same individual wanted to make a t-shirt to advertise his lawn care company, Bob would cheerfully make the t-shirt, because it is not the individual he is turning down but the message that individual seeks to promote.

Orthodox Christians believe that God, as the Creator of all things, makes certain claims on their lives. In their daily decisions and actions, they seek to faithfully align themselves with the revelation of God from the Bible and church teaching. These Christians don’t desire to inflict pain on anybody. They know they are saved from their sin by God’s grace through Jesus and they feel genuine compassion for others; however, sometimes the love orthodox Christians have for other human beings looks different than the way some people want it to look.** Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Should orthodox Christians be slapped with charges of discrimination just because they show their love differently than some people want them to? Isn’t that demand, the demand to show love to someone in a certain way or else face legal charges, discrimination against them and the way they love? When Christians object to the violation of their conscience, they are labeled haters, bigots, homophobes. Their fidelity to God is labeled “discrimination.” Just because orthodox Christians don’t want their beliefs trampled doesn’t mean they are haters, bigots, homophobes. Why do other people’s desire to receive what they want necessitate that orthodox Christians give up what they want, which is to live according to their conscience under God?

Discriminating against one group in pursuit of relieving discrimination for another group is completely devoid of wisdom and will only create societal discord. That is why this bill is the wrong tool for North Dakota. It demands that the state grow in sympathy and advocacy for those who have gender identity and sexual orientation concerns, while at the same time stripping tens of thousands of people of their constitutional right to follow their conscience under God without legal repercussion.

This lack of toleration for others is exactly what proponents say they want to erase in the name of “equality.” It is their refusal to acknowledge the very real burden and pain they are placing on orthodox Christians (and other people of faith) that makes their plea for “equality” so disingenuous. Ask yourself, does this bill increase toleration for all or does it just tip the balance in a certain direction?

There is much social science data on the value, stability, and well-being devoted religious people bring to society. Does the state of North Dakota really want to punish orthodox Christians for following the tenets of their faith?

Again, SB 2279 demands that orthodox Christians make a choice:

  • Accept revelation from God, act accordingly, face being fined, jailed, and/or go out of business — in other words, be punished for their conscience under God.
  • OR accept the dictates other human beings make to harness conscience, suppress belief, and through the force of law suffer under the weight of a compromised heart.

Don’t you see that both of these options create consequences for the tens of thousands of orthodox Christians in the state of North Dakota that are utterly unacceptable in a free country?

Thomas Jefferson agrees. In a letter to the Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church he asserts that “[n]o provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.” He says it best, informed by an age when conscience rights were very new, unique in the history of humankind, and hard-won. Let’s not forget our unparalleled heritage in the exercise of freedom of conscience.

North Dakotans, should the law protect human conscience or punish it? As Americans, we must protect ourselves from governmental encroachment on conscience. If orthodox Christian conscience can be extinguished by civil authority, what will stop the government from snuffing out yours next? Soundly, reject SB 2279 by contacting your representatives in the North Dakota House immediately.

*By “orthodox,” I mean the original, historical teachings of the Christian church consistent with biblical revelation and the creeds carried on for centuries by both the Catholic and Protestant expressions of Christianity.

**(In other words, orthodox Christians’ love for the LGBT community is not expressed by condoning their behavior as they would like them to do; orthodox Christians love LGBT people by loving them as individuals but not endorsing the behavior in which they are engaged, because they cannot do so in good conscience.)

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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