In Arizona has come a test of the motto conservative Christians like to invoke: "Hate the sin, love the sinner."
Republican Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed the "religious freedom bill" passed by the Republican legislature. While there is no mention in the bill of same-sex marriage, or even homosexuals, most people believe same-sex marriage and homosexuals were the targets of the proposed law.
Proponents asserted Senate Bill 1062 was written to protect the "free exercise of religion" for businesses and their employees. U.S. citizens already enjoy that protection under the First Amendment, but the bill's backers believed that further protections were needed due to the aggressive posture taken by many gay rights advocates pushing for legal and societal approval of same-sex marriage.
In her veto announcement, Gov. Brewer said, "Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value -- so is nondiscrimination."
Sometimes these values are in conflict, as with the Arizona legislation and the Obama administration's attempt to impose its contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act on Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor.
There are legal challenges to religious conscience in other states, including New Mexico, where a photography company refused to take pictures at a gay couple's civil-commitment ceremony and Oregon, where a bakery refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. After protests, that bakery closed its storefront, only to re-open almost immediately as an in-home bakery.
Clearly, conservative Christian values are under assault in today's culture. But two other points should be made. One is the danger when one's faith is forced on people who do not share it. The second is that people who don't share those religious beliefs err when they seek to force people of faith to embrace their beliefs and practices. Balance and humility ought to be pursued by both sides.
Let us recall our history. Religion was once wrongly used by some to condemn interracial marriage. In some churches, the Bible was misused to justify countless forms of discrimination against African Americans. Women, too, were thought by some Christians to be inferior to men and, therefore, it was believed just to deny them the same rights and privileges enjoyed by men. The Bible was sometimes employed to keep women from voting, establishing credit or owning property. Women were to be "submissive" to their husbands, thereby inhibiting their demands for the vote and their calls for gender equality.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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