original article: Vermont bullies Indiana as American Muslims rise to defend religious liberty
April 3, 2015 by Bruce Parker
While Gov. Peter Shumlin and members of the House of Representatives moved this week to intimidate states with religious freedom protections, prominent spokesmen of America’s Muslim community defended Indiana and similar states.
On Tuesday, Shumlin issued a ban on nonessential state-funded travel to Indiana after Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill that protects the right of individual Hoosiers to not participate in activities that violate their religion.
Members of the Vermont House joined Shumlin’s bullying effort Thursday, proposing a resolution that urges the governor to extend the travel ban to all states with similar laws.
While Vermont officials were denouncing religious Americans, prominent members of America’s Muslim community spoke out to defend religious liberty in states.
“As a Muslim, there may be things I disagree with that are similar to what Christians or Orthodox Jews may disagree with. So as I listen to a lot of conservatives argue these things, I was nodding my head. I also would not want to be forced to do that,” Zuhdi Jasser, founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, told Vermont Watchdog.
Jasser, a physician and leader in the American Muslim community, said his personal religious objection to abortion would require him to refuse to offer the procedure, even if the state mandated it as part of Obamacare. He said he could envision other situations in which a Muslim might need to invoke First Amendment protection.
“If I had a restaurant business, and let’s say for some reason they said that all restaurants on the block can’t discriminate against beer drinkers and must serve beer. According to my interpretation of Islamic Law, I don’t believe in my own money being used to purchase alcohol or distribute it. I think the Mormon community would be similar.”
While many would find it unseemly to force Muslim restaurants to serve alcohol or mandate that Jewish delicatessens sell ham sandwiches, courts have begun forcing Christian business owners to become suppliers for gay weddings.
In Washington state this week, Barronelle Stutzman, a 70-year-old grandmother and owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts, was fined $1,000 for refusing to provide flowers for a gay wedding. While Stutzman happily served gay customers for years, her religious beliefs prevented her from being a florist for a same-sex wedding.
After one customer sued Stutzman based on Washington’s anti-discrimination and consumer protection law, a judge ruled the Washington law trumped Stutzman’s First Amendment rights.
In perhaps a more famous case, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries in January recommended that bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein, both Christians, pay a fine of $150,000 for refusing to provide a wedding cake for a lesbian wedding. The owners are awaiting an administrative law judge’s ruling on the precise amount they must pay to the state.
Actions by Vermont’s governor and state representatives provide support for such government-backed penalties on religious Americans.
Kamal Nawash, a lawyer and president of The Free Muslims Coalition, said government should not force religious people to do things that violate their beliefs.
“To the extent possible, we should respect people’s religious freedom, even in instances where they don’t want to serve gay weddings. I think they should have that right, whether I agree with it or not. It’s that person’s deeply held religious belief,” he said.
Nawash added that store owners are already subject to economic pressures for their business decisions.
“Usually the consequence for a store owner who refuses to serve a particular group is lost sales. And usually the consequence of lost sales is a sufficient incentive to prevent store owners and owners of public accommodations from discriminating against others.”
However, Nawash did see limits to First Amendment religious freedom, such as when store owners bump up against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While that federal anti-discrimination law does not cover sexual preferences, it does prohibit discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, sex or color.
“In the case of gays, in most states that’s not a legally protected group like a racial group or a gender group. Therefore, in those instances, the balance is in favor of the store owner,” Nawash said.
“The question comes up, what if you have a protected group like a racial group? Or what if someone says I don’t want to serve Jews or blacks? That becomes a problem. In that instance, you have to do a balance. For which instance does the state have a more compelling interest: to protect someone’s religious freedom, or to protect someone from being religiously discriminated against.”
While Shumlin’s travel ban is largely symbolic and not known to apply to actual instances of travel between Vermont and Indiana, Vermont’s House resolution urges the governor to expand the ban to all states with religious protections similar to Indiana’s. The resolution calls on the judicial and legislative branches of the state to enact such bans as well.
If carried out, Vermont state employees would be unable to travel to Arizona, Connecticut, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Texas, Maine, Massachusetts and about 24 other states where religious freedom statutes exist due to legislation or state court decisions.
“In the United States, the modern trend is to attack religious beliefs. I think the fact that other states are doing that is an example of it,” Nawash said. “Religious freedom should be a sacred thing. Just because a state may say one day we’re not going to respect religious freedom, that state should not have a right to do that.”
Unlike those opposed to Indiana’s religious freedom law, Nawash said he would respect people who disagree with Indiana and other states.
“At the end of the day, if the attack is limited to words, I’ll respect their rights — as long as they don’t do anything to coerce them, or to change Indiana’s right, or to change the religious beliefs of people. I will respect the opinion of others who oppose them.”
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