I am not a fan of slippery slope arguments. People tend to make them when dealing with sensitive topics. If the other side cannot be convinced by a basic argument, the speaker turns to the slippery slope argument. This play on extremes is meant to show the flaws in the other side’s position. Typically, however, it only shows how invested the speaker is in a given issue.
Yet sometimes there is a validity to the argument. Case in point: Indiana’s new religious freedom law. Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law early last week. The move prompted immediate outrage over the impression that the law allows people to discriminate against gay people under the guise of protecting religious rights. If someone belongs to a religion that opposes gay marriage and refuses to serve a gay couple, say by baking a wedding cake, the law protects the religious person from being sued.
That was not, however, how the law was taken. Both sides saw it is as a wholesale allowance of general discrimination. Many on the right would deny that, claiming that businesses could not discriminate against individual gay people. Yet that is not how some supporting the law responded.
Within hours of the law passing, a business owner took to the radio to state he had already denied services to gay people and supported the law. Several days later, another business owner admitted in an interview that she would not cater gay weddings. The pizzeria received scores of negative responses and eventually closed its doors. A GoFundme campaign was started on their behalf. It raised nearly $900,000 before closing.
Both of these responses show how quickly people took the law as a sign that they could discriminate. It also shows the slippery slope concern is valid. It appears that some religious people will use their beliefs as a excuse. As the caller to the radio show stated:
Well, I feel okay with it because it’s my place of business, I pay the rent, I’ve built it with all my money and my doing. It’s my place; I can do whatever I want with it. They can have their lifestyle and do their own thing in their own place or with people that want to be with them.
The question is where does this end? At what point does the argument about protecting one’s religious freedom become invalid? I ask because of another case making the rounds.
A lesbian couple having their first child sought the services of a pediatrician. They met the doctor before their daughter was born, and the doctor seemed fine with working with the family. However, six days after the baby was born, the doctor refused to see the couple. Her reason:
“The first thing Dr. Karam said was, ‘I’ll be your doctor, I’ll be seeing you today because Dr. Roi decided this morning that she prayed on it and she won’t be able to care for Bay,’ ” Jami told WJBK. “Dr. Karam told us she didn’t even come to the office that morning because she didn’t want to see us.”
Dr. Roi later wrote a letter to the couple explaining her position. The letter stated in part:
After much prayer following your prenatal, I felt that i would not be able to develop the personal patient-doctor relationships that I normally do with my patients. […] I felt that it was an exciting time for the two of you and I felt that if I came in and shared my decision it would take away much of the excitement. That was my mistake. I should not have made that assumption and I apologize for that.
Roi went on to write:
Please know that I believe God gives us free choice and I would never judge anyone based on what they do with that free choice.
That is a very common and sorry argument I see from religious people, so allow me to clarify it for them: if you decide you cannot serve someone because they do not follow your religion, you are judging them. You are making a decision about their character. The proper word for that is “judgement.” You do not get to weasel out of that because it makes you look bad.
Setting that aside, the question here is whether this should fall under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Is this allowed? Is this acceptable? Is this excusable? Yes, this is a slippery slope argument. However, these are also valid questions. At what point do we as a society say that you cannot use your religion as an excuse?
All that said, people who support gay rights should keep in mind that the law does not automatically result in positive rulings. There are plenty of cases in which the courts reject the religious defense. The existence of the law does not mean that discrimination is now legal. What it does mean is that some people want to pass laws that would essentially protect them against discrimination law suits.
I would hope that we would have progressed as a society to understand that religious freedom includes freedom from religion. I would hope that we would understand that one’s beliefs are not an excuse to favor or disfavor any group. I would hope that we would understand that given the size and diversity of our society we will encounter people who hold very different views than our own. We should know by now that it is morally wrong to refuse to provide others with the same services we want provided to us.
One need not agree with a ceremony to provide food, flowers, or music for it. One need not agree with a ceremony to take pictures of it or to provide a space for it. One need not be involved in the event on any substantive level. It is merely the service that is being requested, the same one that you would provide those you like, not your support.
That is the point we should be looking at, not whether someone’s ancient book says this about gay people or whether popular sentiment says that about religious people. We do not want to get to a point where we have a doctor refusing to help a child because of who her parents love.