Belief vs. practice
The “cake case” announced by the Supreme Court last week, Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Human Rights Commission, dodges the most important question: is a religious belief the same as a religious practice as set out in the First Amendment?
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . .” The religious clauses of the First Amendment grew out of the 18th century requirement that Virginia citizens belong to the Anglican Church and were forced to pay taxes to support the Church. The law was so severe that Baptist ministers were jailed when they preached in Virginia. Northern states' support of freedom of religion, along with Thomas Jefferson’s declaration of the right of freedom of conscience, formed the basis of the First Amendment religion clauses that allowed each person to believe according to their own religion and to practice that particular religion through their own worship rituals.
But belief and practice are two different things. A person is free to believe that they are forbidden by their chosen religion to embrace same-sex marriage. In contrast, freedom to practice one’s religion means they can choose how to worship - Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, etc.. A person’s belief cannot impinge on others’ lives, such as refusing to bake a wedding cake for a public customer.
The Masterpiece Cake case was decided on a very narrow ground and is still open for further interpretation of First Amendment religion clauses. Let’s hope the Court separates belief from practice in future decisions.
Stand together for Poor People’s Campaign
Living on a low income, without benefits and job security, is now something even college graduates can face. Today fewer people can access quality education, there's crushing student loan debt, and many educators scramble to make ends meet.
As an adjunct instructor at Duke University, my colleagues and I fight for job security and better working conditions in a "gig" teaching model. Students, parents, faculty and our communities are looking to the future, to come together to renew the promise of higher education.
More than 50 years ago, Martin Luther King said people were bleeding to death from deep social and economic wounds. It is our moral obligation to address these challenges so future generations have a chance to prosper. That’s why as an adjunct instructor, I’m proud to stand with the new Poor People’s Campaign to mend these wounds once and for all.
Our movement unites my colleagues and me with fast food workers, airport workers, security officers, child care and home care workers and others, to shine a light on the real issues facing our country. We know the current crises were not caused by people who work hard for their paychecks. We know the choices made by politicians brought us to this tipping point, choices like slashing funding for public education, blocking living wages, and turning higher education into a big business.
By standing together, we can renew the promise of higher education as a stepping stone to a better life for students, faculty and all Americans.
The writer is a lecturing fellow at the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies.
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