Rights of conscience got a small boost last week when a federal appeals court upheld a state law designed for their protection. To hear opponents tell it, one would think that the law was some kind of attack on the LGBT population. But, in fact, it simply provides breathing room for people of faith who have been besieged by militant sexuality activists determined to ruin anyone who doesn’t cater to their sexual ethics.

Mississippi’s House Bill 1523 establishes badly needed protections for those Americans whose faith forbids them to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies or to treat a person’s gender as a matter of preference rather than an immutable, God-given characteristic.

The law precludes the state from taking discriminatory actions against those who reject the latest fruits of the sexual revolution – who choose instead to live in light of the knowledge that God created people “male” or “female,” and to abide by the timeless moral law reserving sexual intimacy for the permanent, exclusive bond of marriage between a man and a woman. The statute also creates a legal defense for citizens who refuse to violate these core beliefs.

The plaintiffs who challenged the statute argued that they are “stigmatized” by the very existence of these religious tenets. I wonder if they’ve stopped to consider the “stigma” experienced by devout individuals who have, due to a sickening erosion of First Amendment principles, actually been prosecuted for refusing to forfeit their faith to someone else’s ideas about human sexuality.

I understand that it’s uncomfortable for those who are part of the LGBT population to encounter people who will not jettison their convictions that certain sexual behaviors and the rejection of gender biology are in conflict with core religious teachings. What I cannot understand is why any American would place his own desire for approval from others above the very core of liberty for every American – the freedom of conscience.

Does anyone really want to live in a country where a church can be prosecuted for refusing to rent its building for a ceremony that violates the church’s teachings? Where an adoption agency can be shut down because it only places children in homes with a married mother and father? Do we want counselors or doctors to lose their licenses because they sincerely believe that it is harmful for an adolescent to “change” genders? Do we want to drive a florist out of business because she refuses to profit from an event that is morally wrong, according to her faith?

Now, I’ve heard people say that a baker refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding is like a restaurant refusing to serve a black customer, a refusal that virtually all of us find morally repugnant. That is a false analogy, and it is important to understand why.

First of all, I know of no religious tenet that declares it wrong or immoral to be a particular race. Second, serving a meal does not require the server to facilitate or participate in something that the server’s faith forbids. It does not coerce the server to act in violation of his own conscience. Baking a cake for a same-sex wedding or performing a sex-change operation does involve the doctor or service provider, directly, in the very activity that his or her conscience forbids.

In this case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Mississippi law on a procedural technicality – the issue of standing. The plaintiffs had suffered no concrete injury, the court said, because no one had refused to bake them a cake, or perform a sex-change operation on them, based on a conscientious objection. So we can expect future challenges to this law down the road, as soon as some devout citizen needs its protection.

How quickly those who claim to be “oppressed” have become the oppressors! First they wanted freedom to do what they liked in private, behind closed doors. Next, they wanted the government’s official blessing on their relationships. Now they want to coerce their fellow citizens to actively facilitate and participate in their lifestyle, and they expect the government to punish any citizen whose conscience requires him to refuse.

If it concedes to this, our government will have turned its fundamental purpose – securing our rights – on its head. As Thomas Jefferson reminded us, government only has authority over what we have submitted to it. But “the rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to God.”

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