George Pyle: When religious privilege hides behind a false quest for ‘balance’

“I don’t think there are two equal sides to every story.”

Edward R. Murrow, patron saint of American journalism

The desire to be — or, at least, appear — fair and even-handed is strong among politicians and journalists. It is a good instinct, in private life as well as in the public sphere. But it has its limits. Sometimes, fumbling around for a balance can get in the way of seeing things as they are.

The old joke in the opinion dodge is that the editor is looking to hire a one-armed editorial writer, one who will never write, “On the other hand...”

In Utah, public figures who want to seem woke, but not totally out there, often speak of the need to “balance” equal rights, particularly for LGBTQ folks, and religious freedom.

This is something that U.S. Rep. John Curtis, a Provo Republican, has been on about recently. He recently spoke at a do put on by the Sutherland Institute about the “tremendous urgency” he feels to “to find a critical balance between religious liberty and individual rights.” The congressman is certainly not the only one speaking of this need to bring balance to the force of law. And there is no clear reason to question his sincerity.

But the more Curtis and others talk about the conflict they so desperately want to resolve, the harder it is to see just what they are talking about. Specifically, there never seems to be a concrete example of how making lesbians and gay men fully equal before the law does anything to harm anyone else’s fundamental freedoms, to a religious belief or anything else.

It is as if they are making up a conflict that doesn’t exist so they have an excuse for not solving it, but still get credit for the effort. So you will vote for them and send them money. And feel good about it because this poor soul is not a bigot or a throwback, but a decent sort working hard to square the circle of human rights.

But, really, it is not so difficult. You can believe anything you like. You can speak out, write your congressman, vote.

You can conduct your own personal, financial, sexual behaviors as you choose. Pretending to exempt yourself from any personal responsibility for those decisions because they are dictated by your faith. When, in fact, that’s always been a dodge and you are always responsible for your own choices.

That’s religious freedom, and it’s hard to see how it is threatened in America today.

But bigoted behavior is bad. The government absolutely must not engage in it, and public accommodations are to be discouraged, to the point of legal bans, from practicing it.

And it has been a long time since we sat still for those who would use “sincerely held religious beliefs” as an excuse to not let women vote or black and white people go to school together or marry each other. It is a difference of degree, but not of type, from our long-standing practice of not letting you hide behind your faith if you want to, say, sacrifice your son on an altar of stone or sell your daughter into slavery.

And, yes, have some sympathy for the poor soul who got into the wedding cake business when “wedding” meant, in his eyes, one thing, then rather suddenly came to mean something else. If I were making the rules, I’d put in a grandfather clause. If you were selling wedding cakes before Kitchen v. Herbert, you can keep going the way you were before. Anyone who comes to the business after that sea change, well, you know what you are getting into.

There must, of course, be no such loophole for people who practice psychotherapy in any form. The move by the Utah Psychologist Licensing Board to prohibit the destructive practice of “conversion therapy” on minors may soon come into force. The public comment period on this proposal, which ends Oct. 10, is likely to draw a lot of flack from those who think their religious freedom is threatened by other people ceasing to be judgmental jerks.

Listening to that plea isn’t fairness. It’s privilege. And we’re ready to be done, at least with that form of it.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

George Pyle is the editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune.


Twitter, @debatestate