Ryan Anderson on Anti-Gay Discrimination: The Contradictions Continue

Rob Tisinai

July 31st, 2014

I had a long, intense twitter exchange with Ryan Anderson! I have to thank Michelangelo Signorile — he started the conversation and I jumped in. I used it as a chance to ask Ryan about his views on religious freedom, racial discrimination, and anti-gay discrimination — a contradictory mess that he and his colleagues have failed to sort into a coherent argument.

Let me recap their dilemma and the resulting incoherence. They oppose discrimination laws protecting gays, but they can’t appear anti-gay, because policy motivated by animus is vulnerable to a court challenge. Instead they speak of “religious freedom” and the principle that no one should have to serve a customer in violation of their beliefs. However, they don’t apply this principle when it comes to race; that would make them pariahs to the mainstream public. They explain this away by saying racism is wrong, but this leaves them open to the charge that they only want to protect the religious freedom of those they agree with, a position they fiercely reject.

It’s a logical swamp.

In our twitter exchange Ryan tried a different justification: that religious liberty is not an absolute right, but must be weighed against other measures of the common good. He directed me to his statement:

Legislators should enact commonsense religious liberty protections that would prevent the imposition of substantial burdens on sincere religious beliefs unless the government proves that imposing such a burden is necessary to advance a compelling government interest (and does so by the least intrusive or restrictive means).

Such religious liberty protections would not justify blanket discrimination, as some wrongly claim. For example, one does not hear of any sincere religious beliefs that would lead a pharmacist to refuse to dispense antibiotics to any patients. Furthermore, it has long been recognized that the government has a “compelling interest” in protecting public health by combating communicable diseases.

That’s reasonable. But it presents Ryan with a couple problems. First, it contradicts what he wrote elsewhere:

Indeed, a regime of free association, free contracts, free speech, and free exercise of religion should protect citizens’ rights to live according to their beliefs about marriage…

Private actors should be free to make reasonable judgments and distinctions — including reasonable moral judgments and distinctions — in their economic activities. Not every florist need provide wedding arrangements for every ceremony. Not every photographer need capture every first kiss.

There’s nothing in that piece about balancing religious freedom against the common good. I do understand that free exercise of religion should protect citizens’ rights to live according to their beliefs about marriage is more bumper-sticker-catchy than: free exercise of religion should protect citizens’ rights to live according to their beliefs about marriage, except for when it shouldn’t, and sometimes it shouldn’t, though sometimes it should, and it, well, it — it depends on a bunch of factors that I won’t go into now.<

Except that Ryan isn’t writing for bumper stickers. He’s making a lengthy argument, one that doesn’t align with his other writings.

A second problem is that he merely begs the question, Why does the “common good” override religious liberty when it comes to discrimination based on race but not when based on sexual orientation?

That’s a tricky question. You can’t answer, Because gays are bad! — that lands you in the animus trap, with your law overturned in the court. Instead, Ryan sent me to this:

Today’s debates about religious liberty and marriage are profoundly different [from debates about interracial marriage]. First, as argued above, marriage as the union of man and woman is a reasonable position; bans on interracial marriage were not. Second, as also argued above, marriage as the union of man and woman is witnessed to repeatedly in the Bible; prohibitions on interracial marriage were not.

But these two points are irrelevant, of course, even according to Ryan’s own standards. As he wrote in this piece:

The right to religious freedom is for everyone, not just for those with the “right” beliefs.

So it doesn’t matter whether your racist religious views are reasonable or Biblically sound, because religious freedom is also for the wrong. It’s for everyone.

But things really go awry with his next point:

Third, to be argued below, while interracial marriage bans were clearly part of a wider system of oppression, beliefs about marriage as the union of male and female are not.

But it’s not “argued below.” Or rather, he does argue the point about interracial marriage bans, but never establishes the part about same-sex marriage. Probably because he can’t — probably because it isn’t true.

Our history of blacklisting, imprisonment, official exclusion from federal employment, and lobotomization obviously indicate a history of oppression. Granted, excluding same-sex couples from marriage was not originally a tool of that system; it was the result. Gays were seen as such sick and twisted perverts that few thought about giving us marriage rights. Still, it was part of that system, and it did indeed become a tool of oppression with DOMA and the various state constitutional amendments designed to “protect” marriage from those who don’t deserve it and to express moral disapproval of us deviants.

Frankly, it’s astonishing that Ryan attempts this argument — and that he doesn’t even make a token effort to justify it.

So now we’re back where we started. Ryan still hasn’t explained why religious liberty requires that bakers be free to turn away same-sex couples but not interracial couples, even if their religion condemns them. His reasoning is still an incoherent mess. All he’s done is add yet another layer of contradiction.

Update: Ryan’s only response to this has been to say, “Your criticisms arent persuasive if you cant admit that male & female is quite different than black & white.” That’s a strange non-critique, but here goes. I do declare that “male & female is quite different than black & white.” And of course my rebuttal still stands, because this rather obvious statement does nothing to fix Ryan’s own internal contradictions and false assumptions.

Mark F.

July 31st, 2014

Well put.

David in the O.C.

July 31st, 2014

“Not every florist need provide wedding arrangements for every ceremony. Not every photographer need capture every first kiss.”

I’d really like to ask Ryan these questions: Don’t those that are using their chosen religious beliefs to discriminate against gay couples have an obligation to let the public know what their business policies are? (Perhaps a sticker on their storefront window.) Since the religious business owners are the ones that are actively refusing to provide a service, doesn’t the public have a right to know, so they can make an informed decision as to whether they want to do business with an anti-gay establishment?

Chris McCoy

July 31st, 2014

Mr Ryan wrote:

First, as argued above, marriage as the union of man and woman is a reasonable position

No one is arguing that marriage “as the union of man and woman is a reasonable position.” We all agree with that position.

What we are arguing against is this: “marriage as the union and man and woman is the only reasonable position.”

Mr Ryan wrote:

Second, as also argued above, marriage as the union of man and woman is witnessed to repeatedly in the Bible

Not only is this an Appeal to Tradition, but it is also Religious Discrimination against people whose religion is not biblicaly based, and whose definition of marriage is not dependent on the holy book of someone else’s religion.

I propose Mr Ryan answer the following question: “Does Religious Freedom and Freedom of Association mean that people should have the right to refuse service to Jews, Muslims, or Hindus. After all, ‘No one should demand that government coerce others into celebrating their relationships.'”

Chris McCoy

July 31st, 2014

Oops. Those should say Mr Anderson wrote:

Timothy Kincaid

July 31st, 2014

I am of the opinion that individuals should be free to live according to their own beliefs irrespective of how stupid or hateful their beliefs may be.

And that is what distinguishes between Anderson and myself.

He can pretend that he thinks racial discrimination is different from anti-gay discrimination or, for that matter, religious discrimination. So, based on his own sense of what is good (anti-gay discrimination) and what is bad (anti-Catholic discrimination) he tries to justify one and not another.

Truth is: they are all stupid, counter-productive, hateful, and illustrative of low character. And, in my views, they should all be legal.


July 31st, 2014

These baker bun fights are symptomatic of a subject rarely considered in these debates: individuals have to negotiate between the often-contradictory perfect dictates of their religious books and teachings and the imperfect fact of living in the world.

To take an extreme example, Jains inadvertently murder millions of organisms every time they wash their faces. The various flavors of Amish consider acts that we consider minor to be heretical if performed by a different sect. Even something as obvious as a Monday newspaper having to be composed and printed on Sunday is an example of the fluidity of the religion/real life boundary.

The bakers and florists and photographers are not drawing the line with lesbians and gays because of strongly held religious views; their only motivation is hate or as you call it, animus. Their hypocrisy has been amply demonstrated as they are happy to render identical services to individuals whose actions or status are considered by their religions to be immoral. If bakers can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Ben M

August 1st, 2014

This is interesting. I was watching some clips from the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty’s RFRA Symposium (an interesting watch, since most of the panelist are marriage equality supports or at least seem to err on our side, the glaring exception being Kim Colby of CLS) and the “new” language comes straight from Douglas Laycock. When I followed the link I noticed that is indeed who Ryan Anderson was quoting.

The grounds of the argument, if I understand it, are: if there are alternative service providers to help you (1 baker who won’t bake your cake but 6 who will) then they can refuse to serve you, but if there is only one baker in town, they have to help you. The same with, say, town clerks and any other random service.

My favorite parts of this are the truly disingenuous parts… “[w]hile the government must treat everyone equally..” while officially saying that the Government shouldn’t treat us equally and “Protecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience does not restrict anyone’s freedom to enter into whatever romantic partnerships he or she wishes” while taking actions to restrict our “romantic partnerships.”

Straight Grandmother

August 3rd, 2014

The paragraph that starts with: “Legislators should enact commonsense religious liberty ” is the straight up “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA)

Paragraph that contains, “For example, one does not hear of any sincere religious beliefs that would lead a pharmacist to refuse to dispense antibiotics to any patients”

Slight of hand. He first claims RFRA in argument 1 but then in the pharmacist section says that the Sincere religious belief has to be believable which is not what the Supreme Court says, all it has to be is a belief held by the person sincerely, even if it is a wild assed belief. So yes RFRA does say you CAN discriminant against others (the government cannot force you to follow non Discrimination Laws) based on your religious beliefs.

What Ryan is doing is this. He is staking a right to discriminate against gays, but smoothing the feathers against people who worry then about other types of discrimination (the pharmacist) that will be legal, saying don’t worry be happy, it will never happen, the only ones who will suffer will be the gays and that is what we want, you’ll be fine.

I explain it in a somewhat different way than Rob but I believe we are reading the arguments the same. Once we open the door, if the Supreme Court upholds a “Religious Right to Discriminate” case based on RFRA, that means ALL Discrimination in Housing, restaurants, public accommodation etc IS Legal The Religious belief can be a wild assed religious belief the ONLY test is *if the person sincerely believes it or not*. That is the ONLY test.

Ryan cannot out of one side of his mouth claim a religious freedom as a right to discriminate against gays, and out of the other side of his mouth claim that this will not affect anyone other than gays.

The truth is we live in a pluralistic society with probably thousands of religions and the Freedom to PRACTICE (not freedom to worship) Freedom to PRACTICE your religion MUST have limits, can *never* be unlimited.

If people DO have a religious right to discriminate against Gays then Blind People will legally be discriminated against also.
And DO read this story-

Any time you are in a discussion with Ryan Anderson or Maggie Gallagher ask them about the Muslim Taxi drivers and THEIR religious Liberty Rights.

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