Mary Gallager was fired from her position as Clerk of Court in Saint Thomas parish in Louisiana for exercising her religious freedom. A devout Catholic in a predominantly Catholic parish, Gallagher understands that the only true marriage is one that is recognized by the Catholic Church. She had been requiring that applicants for a marriage license bring a certification from the priest or other church official stating the marriage is in accordance with Catholic practice. She refused to provide a marriage license to Jerome Taylor and Anne Bright, self-described ‘agnostics’ who were being married by a minister of the Universal Life Church. They sued, and Gallagher lost her job.
Gallagher is not alone in suffering the consequences of following the dictates of her religious conscience. Joyce Lewis-Kugle, Clerk for Rusk County in East Texas, resigned her position rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The curse which is denying individuals their religious freedom has been spreading, even in private business. Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of the now-shuttered “Sweetcakes by Melissa” bakery in Gresham, Oregon, refused to bake a cake for the upcoming same-sex nuptials of Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman. As a result, they were sued and ordered to pay a judgement.
The issue has come to the fore with the recent Supreme Court decision overturning state bans on same sex marriage. In dissent, Justice Samuel Alito said the majority opinion “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.” Chief Justice Roberts added that “people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.” And Louisiana governor weighed in, telling Fox News that “already Christian businesses are facing discrimination if they don’t want to participate in wedding ceremonies that violate their sincerely held beliefs.”
But the issue is not about the right of evangelical Christians to refuse to provide services to same-sex couples. It is about the right of individuals everywhere, whether they work in government or in business, to choose which services they provide to or withhold from citizens and customers, so as to avoid violating their sincerely held religious beliefs. Ask Mary Gallagher. If a devout Catholic cannot withhold a marriage license from those not marrying in accordance with her religious beliefs, what is religious freedom?