When My Rights Trample Your Rights: A Case Study

The United States is built on the concept of liberty. This nation prides itself on protecting the freedoms of its citizens. We have a Constitution and Bill of Rights that lay out these principles. America is about ensuring that all citizens have the same basic human rights.

But what happens when rights clash with other rights? What if something you do, while exercising your lawful rights, interferes with my rights (or my perception of rights)? Things get, in a word, ugly.

There is a long history of people trying to limit the rights of others while claiming to protect their own. People pushing for gun control in the wake of Parkland are hoping to erode citizens’ right to bear arms, in the interest of protecting (what they believe is) a greater right: life.

Yet many of these people will put right to privacy (as defined by the Fourth Amendment) above the right to life when it comes to abortion. A woman’s “right to choose” in that case trumps the baby’s right to be born.

This is an ironic and never-ending contradiction. Can people truly exercise their God-given rights, without infringing on the rights of others?

A recent case definitely raises that question. A company in Upstate New York was sued when they refused to let a gay wedding be held at their venue. Liberty Ridge Farm said it violated their religious views. A New York court fined the Christian-owned business $10,000 for denying the couple. Apparently, the rights of lesbians to have a wedding are more important than Christians’ First Amendment rights.

In the appeals court ruling, presiding judge Karen Peters wrote, “The Giffords are free to adhere to and profess their religious beliefs that same-sex couples should not marry, but they must permit same-sex couples to marry on the premises if they choose to allow opposite-sex couples to do so.” (Daily Wire)

If there was ever an example of doublespeak, it’s that. The judge says the family is free to have an opinion, but not free to act on that opinion. Even if that opinion is rooted in their constitutionally-protected freedom of religion.

What good is a freedom, if the courts prevent you from practicing it? Cleary you can see how the judge is putting the rights of this lesbian couple ahead of this Christian-owned business. But what was this case really about?

These women were making a statement. Their claim is that by denying them access to this venue, they are being discriminated against. In our overly-progressive government, that is the same as black people not being able to drink at a water fountain. Never mind the fact that there is no constitutional amendment protecting gay people from being denied a wedding venue.

Obviously, this couple could have picked one of the thousands of other venues. They pursued this case because they believed their rights (including the right for gays to get married) were more important than the First Amendment rights of this business.

The family found a clever solution to this bogus violation of their rights, though.

But now, the Giffords have created the perfect response to the whole unfair situation: they inform anyone who wants to hold a wedding on their property that they will donate a percentage of their profits to organizations that champion traditional marriage in America. (Daily Wire)

A win for First Amendment advocates? Maybe. Depends on your perspective.

It brings to mind another recent case. A popular ice cream company from Canada was expanding into the United States. The company had a strong social media presence, popular ad campaign, and from all appearances, customers that enjoyed their product. What was the problem? Their name is “Sweet Jesus.” At one time their logo featured an upside-down cross. Uh-oh.

It didn’t take long for a blog called “Mommy Activist” to generate an online campaign against the company. They claimed this institution was being blasphemous against Christians and God. Petitions were circulated for the company to change its name or apologize.

 “We are calling on [owners] Richmond, Todai, and their parent company “Monarch & Misfits” to issue an apology for their blasphemy. We want them to consider how they have attacked the Christian community, and how they have attacked God. We are also asking them to immediately change their name and branding to eliminate every instance of mockery toward our Lord Jesus,” the petition reads. (Fox News)

Let me try to keep track of everything, here. Now a group of people is attacking the free speech rights of a company, because it offends their religious beliefs. Effectively, their freedom to worship is being attacked.

I’ve looked over the ads and messaging from the company, showcased in the original blog. It’s clear this is a secular company that is using Biblical terms in an insensitive, comical way (one ad said “Thou shall not take the Lord’s name in vain, but God damn that’s delicious.) Clearly, they are mocking religion to sell their ice cream.

As a Christian myself I find that in poor taste. Obviously, it’s offensive. But does that give Christians a right to deny this company to expand? In all fairness, the company did change its logo, removing the upside-down cross. Earlier grotesque ads (featuring children with red ice cream on their faces to look like blood) have been removed. They issued a statement claiming that the name “Sweet Jesus” isn’t an attack on Christ, but rather a nod to the common expression.

Will that be enough to placate some religious folks? Of course not.

The painful reality is that “rights” and freedoms as we see them never really exist. We are only allowed to exercise our rights, to the extent our society allows. The Declaration of Independence claimed all people deserve liberty—at a time when black people were slaves. Our Bill of Rights protects freedom of religion. But in previous eras, the expectation was that everyone was Christian.

We love free speech, as long as what’s being said is acceptable. If someone expresses something we think is wrong or inappropriate, that freedom is revoked (re: Kathy Griffin).

Does that mean we’re a nation of hypocrites? In a sense, yes. Society will always set boundaries on what is acceptable: where our rights begin or end. Regardless of what the government allows, the people dictate the rules. If you fall out of what is considered acceptable (be it your sexuality, religion, or speech), you are punished.

That simply means our rights need to be fought for. Every generation must do this. In some cases, on a daily basis. There will always be people and forces who seek to limit what we can say or do. The only thing that will prevent them from winning is when we push back.

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