Where do we draw the line between taking a moral stand and intolerance?
The answer depends on who’s holding the pen, as illustrated in news stories this summer.
When federal courts ruled a Colorado baker and a Washington state florist were legally allowed to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples, many Christian conservatives cheered in agreement.
Americans, they preached, should not be required to do business with people who offend their religious sensibilities.
Within a few days, however, many of those same people were outraged when a Virginia restaurant declined to do business with White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
The owner, Stephanie Wilkinson, told the Washington Post some of her staff were morally opposed to serving Sanders. Wilkinson said she asked Sanders to leave because the restaurant had “certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation.”
The aggrieved Sanders took to Twitter to inform the world that she had been treated shabbily.
Sanders’ complaint prompted angry rhetoric about the intolerance of liberals and the discrimination suffered by Republicans.
That, of course, set off angry rhetoric from the left, including Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, who urged Americans to harass any Trump official any time one was seen in public.
President Donald Trump joined in, using Twitter to trash talk the restaurant. And the Virginia GOP called for a boycott of the restaurant.
Such is the state of our politics. We demand accommodation and tolerance for ourselves and those who think the way we do. And we demand the right to be intolerant of anyone who doesn’t share our views.
The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to offer a ruling that helps Americans — and their lawyers — distinguish between what is the lawful practice of religious freedom in private business and what is illegal discrimination.
The cake ruling focused on the motives and words of some Denver officials; the court basically ruled that baker Jack Phillips didn’t get a fair hearing before the hostile board that was charged with deciding whether the bakery discriminated illegally against a gay couple. The larger issues remain as murky as ever.
The court’s decision, however, likely emboldened other businesses to deny service to customers.
Some pharmacists are refusing to fill certain prescriptions for women, claiming that to do so violates their religious rights.
Some bars have refused to serve customers wearing hats that support the president; the bar owners claim they are morally opposed to Trump’s policies.
On the right and the left, those denied service by businesses immediately head to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to tell the world they have been abused and damaged.
Lawsuits often follow.
But the law doesn’t always care. For the most part, private businesses can refuse service to anyone they choose based on politics. They cannot, according to the law, discriminate based on such things as a person’s race, color, national origin or religion. Some state and local laws also include sexual orientation on the list of protected groups. Other legal protections, such as those for older Americans and people with disabilities, also have been written into law.
Congress also has passed laws — beyond the First Amendment — giving special protections to people exercising their religious beliefs.
Just where one’s religion stops and politics start has grown impossible to discern. But the role of religion in politics — and government — has always been a sticky one for the United States.
In the early years, disputes were primarily among different denominations of Protestants, since white Protestant men controlled business and politics. Over the two-plus centuries since the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were ratified, our ideas about religion have grown more enlightened.
We have charted a course in this country that has grown more inclusive and more tolerant.
We still are on that course, even though many Americans seem stubbornly insistent on demonstrating their religious and moral superiority by slighting and demeaning those with different beliefs.
The courts eventually will decide when denying service to people of different religious and moral beliefs is legal.
What the courts can’t teach us is that treating people with arrogance and meanness is not a sign of moral or religious fortitude. It’s just arrogance and meanness.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.