Earlier this year during the 2015 legislative session lawmakers had a heated debate over SB2279, legislation which would have mandated that state business serve homosexual customers. The argument from supporters of the bill is that private business owners shouldn’t get to pick and choose who they associate their businesses with. Opponents of the bill, including myself, argued that the freedom of association (or disassociation, as the case may be) is one of our most important rights.
Is there anything more fundamental to liberty than being able to choose who you want to associate yourself with? And since when does anyone have the right to compel the unwilling service of another? Why should homosexual couple be able to march into a bakery and say, “Bake me a cake, bigot?” (That’s actually the title to a pretty good book you should probably read).
By way of illustrating this point, consider what’s happening at Norman Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kindred, ND (a tiny town just southwest of Fargo).
“Ray and Joan Grabanski of Kindred allege in a lawsuit filed this week in Cass County District Court that leadership of the church, which belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, tried to force them out following a clash between the Grabanskis and the congregation over the search for a new pastor,” Emily Welker reports for the Grand Forks Herald. “The Grabanskis say their beliefs don’t match those of the ELCA, which neither endorses nor forbids same-sex marriage or gay clergy, and instead allows each individual congregation to make its own decisions on how to handle those issues.”
The couple alleges that they were subjected to “public ridicule, scorn, intimidation, isolation” because of the conflict. “Joan Grabanski was asked to stop teaching Sunday school, and the couple was told they could leave or be forced out, with church leaders calling them ‘a cancer,'” Welker reports.
That’s all very sad to hear, if true. The Grabanski’s want $50,000 for the “defamation” and “emotional distress” they allegedly suffered.
Here’s the thing, though: They don’t have a case.
Churches have a wide array of positions on social issues, and are not (nor should they be) bound by the law to cater to opposing viewpoints. Put simply, if the majority of the congregation at Norman Evangelical have a position on, say, gay marriage the Grabanski’s can’t countenance their choices are to lump it or leave. A church which supports – or, at least, tolerates – gay marriage has no duty to include or serve people who disagree with that position.
Just as the NRA has no duty to include gun control advocates in its organization.
Or, perhaps, just as a private bakery has no duty to bake a cake for a gay wedding.
The Grabanski’s cannot compel Norman Evangelical to accept them as members any more than a meat lover can demand a ham sandwich from a vegetarian restaurant. That’s how the freedom of association works.
I’m sure liberals, observing this lawsuit, have little sympathy for the Grabanski’s given their apparent positions on certain social issues. If only they would apply that same thinking to other situations involving people with convictions they’re more sympathetic to.