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December 21, 2014

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OTHER VOICES:

Special protections shouldn’t trump basic liberties

While most Americans savored the last weeks of summer, some activists were busy pushing government interference in family decisions and individuals’ rights to follow their religion and conscience.

Here’s a little of what you may have missed in your beach reading.

On Aug. 12, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill mandating, in effect, that boys be allowed to use girls’ restrooms in the state’s public schools. The bill, part of an effort to advance “transgender rights,” says every student can “use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.”

The new California law applies to sports teams as well as locker rooms and bathrooms, and obviously undermines privacy and parental rights.

A week later, on Aug. 19, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill banning therapy for state residents younger than 18 who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction. With a flick of his pen, Christie usurped authority from parents in deciding the care their children should receive. Shockingly, one therapy specifically permitted is assistance for minors in “transitioning” from male to female or from female to male.

New Jersey became the second state with such a ban. A few days later, the first one — California — had its law upheld as the 9th Circuit Court ruled against the rights of parents.

In other cases, bad decisions were reinforced. On Aug. 22, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment does not protect a photographer’s right to decline to take pictures of a same-sex commitment ceremony — even though doing so would violate the photographer’s religious beliefs.

New Mexico’s highest court, deciding an appeal, ruled against photographer Elaine Huguenin. The justices concluded that neither freedom of speech nor free exercise of religion protects someone from being forced to provide services for an event that is utterly contrary to his or her conscience. Never mind that other photographers could have shot the ceremony; “the price of citizenship,” one justice explained, required Huguenin to ignore her religious convictions.

To avoid such a negative court ruling, a bakery in Oregon simply decided to close. After the bakery declined to bake a cake for a same-sex commitment ceremony, Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries notified the owners that they were being investigated.

“The goal is to rehabilitate,” the bureau’s Brad Avakian said. “For those who do violate the law, we want them to learn from that experience and have a good, successful business in Oregon.”

Rehabilitate? A Soviet apparatchik could not have said it better. After facing threats and sometimes violent protests, Sweet Cakes by Melissa shut its doors over Labor Day weekend. It became strictly a home operation to avoid a coercive law that creates special protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

On Sept. 5, the San Antonio City Council passed a similar sexual orientation measure. Jeff Mateer, general counsel for the Christian legal defense group Liberty Institute, predicts anyone who speaks in favor of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is “going to be disqualified from serving or contracting with the city of San Antonio.”

At the same time, California’s legislature was poised to pass a bill that would have stripped tax-exempt status from groups such as the Boy Scouts because of policies on sexual orientation. Though it had passed the state Senate, 27-9, the bill was tabled in early September after criticism from the Los Angeles Times.

These laws are creating a climate of intolerance and even intimidation for Americans who believe that we are created male and female, that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and that sexual relations are properly reserved for marriage.

These laws are used to trump fundamental civil liberties such as free speech and free exercise of religion.

For a movement that claims to strive for freedom, it is a bit hypocritical to try to restrict the freedom of others to live as they see fit.

No one should be abused or mistreated. The law protects us from such wrongs. But we shouldn’t use the law to coerce and penalize those who seek to follow their own consciences.

Ryan Anderson is the William E. Simon Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

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