Religious Freedom: What the United States can learn from Canada’s mistakes
Note: This essay is one of two top essays on the topic of religious freedom in a class on opinion journalism taught this past fall by Clemente Lisi, a journalism professor at The King's College in New York City.
(COMMENTARY) We were warned. A decade before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex marriage was legal throughout the country, Canada had done so. At the time, those in Canada who were against same-sex unions warned the United States that the institutionalization of gay marriage could result in unwelcome legal repercussions. Although the United States legalized same-sex marriage just two years ago, America still has the opportunity to uphold one of its fundamental rights in the process – religious freedom.
The right of religious freedom needs to be protected, regardless of one’s denomination, affiliation or lack of one. If one freedom – as defined by the Constitution is taken from its citizens – it gives government the opportunity to erode away others based on the political climate or what’s popular with the electorate. America is currently undergoing some of the repercussions of institutionalizing same-sex marriage as highlighted by the Masterpiece Cake Shop court case.
This case, which the Supreme Court is expected to rule on sometime next year, has divided the country into two camps: People torn between whether or not Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips denied the gay couple a wedding cake due to discrimination or his freedom of religion. A similar case in 2005 in Canada resulted in similar repercussions stemming from the legalization of gay marriage.
As a result, religious rights of many Canadians have been infringed upon. Gender neutral terms are now required to be used in schools. In an article published by thepublicdiscourse.com in April 2015, Dawn Stefanowicz, author of the book Out from Under: The Impact of Homosexual Parenting, wrote: “Anybody who owns a business may not legally permit his or her conscience to inform business practices or decisions if those decisions are not in line with the ... sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination laws.”
The very term “same-sex” has gone beyond the institutionalization of marriage – creating a domino effect throughout Canada in which everything has to be gender neutral to prevent any form of discrimination from taking place. I doing so, the Canadian government has denied citizens their rights to freedom of speech and religion granted to them in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Masterpiece Cake Shop case has been reviewed by many as an issue of discrimination that targets the sexual orientation of the gay couple who requested – and was denied – the baking of a wedding cake. But Phillips was simply utilizing his religious freedom guaranteed to him by the Constitution, not discriminating against anyone. Phillips has served people of all races, genders, and sexual orientation. It was in this very specific case that he denied them service (in the form of making a cake), something akin to the making of a piece of art that would serve as support and blessing for the union between two men who had put in their order.
Canada’s past mistakes serve as a warning to the United States of the tricky balance that the legalization of same-sex marriage has brought with it. The Supreme Court needs to protect the religious freedom of all American citizens. This country was founded on freedom. Should the justices ultimately rule against Phillips, the U.S. would be headed down the same downward spiral that Canada finds itself in today.