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Independence Day is more than fireworks and barbecue. It is a wonderful time for Americans to reflect on the true foundations of our great country. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court has reminded us of one of the most fundamental of those ideas: Americans should not be forced to participate in activities that violate their religious beliefs against their conscience.

As attorney general, it is my duty to prioritize and defend the rule of law, including our constitutional rights. Over the past few years I have been closely engaged in several legal cases that touch at the heart of Americans' fundamental right of freedom of speech.

Last week the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) by striking down a California law that required crisis pregnancy centers to provide information on abortions, a position that was contrary to their religious beliefs. The Court found that California lacked justification to force pro-life entities and counselors to speak a message with which they disagreed. The Court, therefore, invalidated California's attempt to force pregnancy centers--entities specifically set up to provide an alternative to abortion clinics--to post large advertisements providing information on the existence of free and low-cost abortions.

Likewise, in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court criticized and ruled against a state agency that appeared to be penalizing the thoughts and speech of religious persons. It found that Colorado's Civil Rights Commission failed to give consideration to the religious-based reasons that prompted a baker to refuse to design and bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. Since the baker designs cakes for LGBT clients for occasions other than marriage, the Court found the Civil Rights Commission to be unnecessarily hostile to and dismissive of the baker's religious objections.

Justice Kennedy's majority opinion was particularly concerned that the baker's religious reason for refusing to design a cake for a same-sex wedding was treated more harshly than the Commission treated non-religious reasons for not designing cakes given by other bakers in other cases. The Court found that the differing standard of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission disfavored religion and persons of religious conviction.

The lessons that emerge from these cases are the same lessons about our Constitutional rights taught in civics classes around the country. Each of these cases is about liberty of conscience--the inability of the government to dictate how citizens think and feel without punishment for believing something different than others believe.

Retiring Justice Kennedy, in one of his final concurrences, scolded the California Legislature for its self-proclaimed "forward thinking" by forcing individual speech and beliefs. He suggested the state gain historical perspective on the Founders' foresight for the First Amendment created during a time of suffocating "authoritarian regimes." Ultimately, a liberal state's policies should never insult the beliefs of religious persons and require such persons to act contrary to those beliefs in a misguided attempt to purify society of such beliefs.

Based on its decision in Masterpiece, the Supreme Court has already sent another religious liberty case, in which I led a multi-state supporting effort, back to the Washington Supreme Court to reconsider. Arlene's Flowers is facing massive state fines for refusing to design unique and artistic floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding despite the owner's history of serving LGBT customers for other occasions.

The state Supreme Court's decision to punish the owner for refusing to use her artistic talents to celebrate a message that violates her religious beliefs should meet with the same fate as the state of Colorado's position in Masterpiece. I similarly led another multi-state effort to support a small business owner of faith in Kentucky. In that case, Hands-On Originals, a small family-owned T-shirt company, is being punished by the state for refusing to design shirts supporting a gay pride parade. Thus far, the owner has prevailed, and it is my hope that after Masterpiece, the Kentucky Supreme Court will rule that the state may not force a person to write something that conflicts with his or her core beliefs.

Each of these cases is about conscience, the ability for a person to refrain from doing or speaking against deeply held beliefs. These cases are not about same-sex marriage or LGBT rights. No one thinks it would be acceptable for a state to force someone to make a proclamation of faith. Why should anyone be forced by a state to make a proclamation that is in opposition of their faith?

I am proud of these recent victories as they underscore our founding principles to ensure liberty for all Americans. Protecting opposite viewpoints--even when we disagree with them--is as important now as it was on that first Independence Day.

Leslie Rutledge is the attorney general of Arkansas.

Editorial on 07/01/2018

Print Headline: Religious conscience must be protected

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  • JakeTidmore
    July 1, 2018 at 6:07 a.m.

    Since when is bigotry being conscientious?
    Leslie, how can I say this? Bluntly & directly works best, I reckon....
    If bullsh*t was music, you'd be a freakin' orchestra.

  • JakeTidmore
    July 1, 2018 at 6:20 a.m.

    A better overview of the debate:
    h ttps://ww w.npr.o rg/2017/02/28/517092031/in-religious-freedom-debate-2-american-values-clash
    Heather Greene helped us better understand the law in an editorial she wrote in 2017:
    "The basic premise of these acts is to “restore” religious freedom which, in and of itself, is an odd concept. “Restoration” assumes that something is deteriorating or is completely gone. With the exception of perhaps the paper on which the Bill of Rights was originally written, the First Amendment is still very much intact.

    Regardless of that point and the overarching presence of constitutionally protected rights, the federal RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) seeks to clarify or more specifically direct religious freedom actions within the public sphere. Why? As explained in the 1993 federal RFRA’s findings, “laws ‘neutral’ toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise.”

    Therefore, as it posits, RFRAs are needed to ensure that the government, state or federal, does not burden a person or organization with its standing neutral laws and constitutional protections.

    That is where the problem lies. One man’s expression is another’s burden.

    For example, this issue applies directly to cases of prayer in school, invocations before legislative meetings, or religious monuments on publicly-owned property. While some people might feel compelled to openly pray before a class or a city council meeting, a neutral law aims at creating a neutral public environment by placing restrictions on these types of religious expressions.

    Those people who do enjoy such prayer may, in turn, believe that they are burdened by the legal restrictions and even go so far as to say that their constitutional rights have been violated. However, if the practice is allowed, the expression becomes equally a burden to those people not of the expressed religion. The question then becomes, whose burden is more important?

    The neutral law, as a result, stands as a means to maintaining a peaceful and safe public square and, thereby, is a sacrifice to living in community."

  • JakeTidmore
    July 1, 2018 at 6:34 a.m.

    Finally, Linda McClain, Professor of Law and Paul M. Siskind Research Scholar
    Boston University School of Law, wrote THE RHETORIC OF BIGOTRY AND
    CONSCIENCE IN BATTLES OVER “RELIGIOUS LIBERTY V. LGBT RIGHTS”. It is a well-written and detailed look at both sides of the issue.
    Although published in just prior to the 2018 Supreme Court decision mentioned in the conclusion, McClain's closing summation predicted Judge Kennedy's decision making almost verbatim.
    Here is the4 elibrary page:
    ht tps:// m/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3144478
    And, here is the document it links to:
    ht tps://poseidon01.ssrn.c om/delivery.php?ID=316105111106006107004123110101018094097057069013079039085087077107105006122069084075054034098101102014042109115091066110110106037027053089084024112079084071112098037033035091067082021024005075016075025020096031119076067015011114004008094071123082007&EXT=pdf
    Excerpt from Conclusion:
    The better path, modeled by Justice Bosson’s concurring opinion in Elane Photography, is to speak in terms of the requirements of civility and tolerance, or the “price of citizenship” in a pluralistic society.
    Bosson attempted to address the business owners “with utmost respect,” while explaining that their freedom to live out their religious beliefs “wherever they lead” in their personal lives must have some limits in “our civic life,” including public accommodations.
    He focuses on the strength of the state’s interest in the terms of that civic life to show the force of analogy: “the [state] legislature has made it clear that to discriminate in business on the basis of sexual orientation is just as intolerable as discrimination directed toward race, color, national origin, or religion.”

  • WGT
    July 1, 2018 at 7:39 a.m.

    And this Rutledge person is why society is held back from progress. We must vote these backwards people out. People shall be allowed to make informed choices about personal health without the interference of people under the insane influence of “religious rights.”

  • 23cal
    July 1, 2018 at 8:49 a.m.

    If Rutledge is this ignorant, she shouldn't be attorney general. If she is this dishonest, she shouldn't be attorney general.
    She says, "Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court has reminded us of one of the most fundamental of those ideas: Americans should not be forced to participate in activities that violate their religious beliefs against their conscience."
    This is simply not true. What the Masterpiece Cakes decision reminded us of is that everyone deserves a fair trial. Kennedy’s opinion for the court, carefully read, is very much of a piece with his four prior opinions in support of equal treatment for gays and lesbians.
    A commissioner opined that freedom of religion has been used historically to justify discrimination. “And to me,” he said, “it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use.”
    Kennedy, as well as Justice Elena Kagan in her concurring opinion, focused on this excess to find that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission “was neither tolerant nor respectful of Phillips’ religious beliefs”; it failed to accord “full and fair consideration to his religious beliefs.”
    The high court’s reversal is narrow, procedural, fact-bound. It in no way disparages the constitutional liberties of same-sex couples. The decision isn't at all as Rutledge portray's it in order to push her extremist and fanatical religious right agenda. No doubt the gullible who fit that description will swallow the falsehood hook, line, and sinker.
    She says "Since the baker designs cakes for LGBT clients for occasions other than marriage, the Court found the Civil Rights Commission to be unnecessarily hostile to and dismissive of the baker's religious objections." That isn't what the court found at all. See above from the actual opinion.
    If you can use your "religious beliefs" to not serve LGBTs who are protected by the law in Colorado, then there is no reason you can't use them to discriminate against people of color, Irish, women.....or Christians. If "religious belief" allows you to ignore religiously neutral and generally applicable laws, why wouldn't that open the door to religious human sacrifice?
    Here is what the SCOTUS had to say about that: "The free exercise of one's beliefs, however, as distinguished from the absolute right to a belief, is subject to regulation when religious acts require accommodation to society (citations). Undoubtedly defendant Bessinger has a constitutional right to espouse the religious beliefs of his own choosing, however, he does not have the absolute right to exercise and practice such beliefs in utter disregard of the clear constitutional rights of other citizens. This court refuses to lend credence or support to his position that he has a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of the Negro race in his business establishments upon the ground that to do so would violate his sacred religious beliefs." Substitute LGBT for Negro race and the result is clear.

    July 1, 2018 at 9:46 a.m.

    She's embarrassing.

  • mozarky2
    July 1, 2018 at 12:19 p.m.

    So, "progs", just why is it you hate attractive conservative women, and just how do you limpwristed eunuchs propose to get rid of them? Voting them out?

  • mozarky2
    July 1, 2018 at 12:24 p.m.

    I can't wait to see the hatred you "progs" throw at Amy Coney Barrett!

  • NoUserName
    July 1, 2018 at 12:59 p.m.

    "attractive conservative women"
    Leslie certainly is a conservative woman.

  • JakeTidmore
    July 1, 2018 at 1:28 p.m.

    Dang moozy - your comment is not even tangent to the topic - and, honestly, it's just plain insulting to Rutledge to treat her as nothing but a sex object.
    A rabid dog could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and crap out a smarter comeback than what you just said.
    I suggest you check the expiration date on your Metamucil. Based on your mentally disoriented comments, it probably has turned into something hallucinogenic.