Robin Fretwell Wilson, a leading First Amendment scholar, makes a compelling case for how we can achieve a balanced legislative agreement that protects LGBT civil rights and preserves religious freedom.
— This article previously published in Real Clear Religion by Robin Fretwell Wilson
In the culture war between religious and LGBTQ people, we don’t often ask, “How can all people be treated with dignity, no matter the God we worship or the person we love?” Instead, we litigate against one another.
This must stop.
We need legislation instead of litigation that will provide protections for the LGBTQ community but not at the expense of persons of faith.
Congress can broker agreements, while courts only render decisions for the parties, often on exceedingly narrow grounds. For example, Masterpiece Cakeshop was not a clear win for anyone, even Jack Phillips, who still cannot bake a wedding cake without legal risk.
Our choice is simple: we can continue to litigate endless clashes, or we can write a new script for peacefully coexisting. If we take this path, both Phillips and the couple celebrating their marriage would be treated with dignity.
Culture warriors think that religious freedom and equality cannot be harmonized. They say one must be elevated over the other, that protecting one value diminishes the other. For example, the Chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, in 2016, categorically labeled religious liberty and religious freedom “code words for discrimination.” In response, a group of religious leaders and socially conservative stakeholders penned a letter condemning all laws protecting LGBT people from nondiscrimination, no matter how nuanced, as inherent threats to religious liberty.
This is incorrect.
An inclusive, confident, covenantal pluralism would protect religious freedom while also extending protections to LGBTQ people. Translating this principle into law is a new breed of legislation—Fairness for All laws—which proceed from a simple idea: protections for faith and sexuality are not at odds. Fairness for All is neither a conservative nor liberal idea, and neither a religious nor secular concept. It is an approach to living peacefully despite the fundamental differences between us. This quest is premised on the American ideal that in a diverse society, there is space for everyone to live and act according to what’s most important at work, at home, and in the public sphere.
The problem is simple. In 28 states, gay people can get married on Saturday and fired on Monday. Americans understand this is unjust. Many religious people are at risk, too, just for practicing their beliefs.