Recently activist groups flooded the Idaho Capitol to argue for adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the civil rights section of Idaho law. They believe adding the words will end certain kinds of discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Ron Nate

The demands from Add the Words are ironic. While trying to prohibit some types of discrimination, their proposal requires other discrimination against people of faith who run businesses, provide housing and pay the prices for public accommodations. Adding the words would violate the Constitutional protection of religious freedom.

Court cases of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity (i.e., the bakery case in Oregon about a wedding cake) demonstrate how an Add the Words law would compel businesspersons of faith to violate their moral conscience. No matter how accommodating and compassionate the baker may be, if he or she doesn’t actually bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, they would be subject to a business-killing lawsuit.

Moreover, Idaho’s Add the Words proposal uses a bizarre definition of “gender identity”: “‘Gender Identity’ means a person’s actual or perceived gender identity, appearance, mannerisms, or other characteristics, with or without regard to the person’s sex at birth.”

It’s a mess. First, it doesn’t make sense to define a term by using the term itself — you can’t define “gender identity” as a person’s “actual or perceived gender identity.” Second, including “appearance” and “mannerisms” is so broad virtually any awkward interchange could be called discrimination. This is true because literally everyone possesses a unique appearance and mannerisms. All an aggrieved person needs to do is claim their mistreatment was because of their unique appearance or mannerisms, and, “presto,” they are a victim.

Religions contain creeds and doctrines promoting certain behaviors and ways of life while discouraging others. It is what religion does. Many people of faith believe the various claims to have a different sexual orientation or gender identity are immoral and wrong. It violates their moral conscience.

Clearly, unfair discrimination against individuals or groups — intended to demean them or harm them — is not moral; people should not do it. However, when someone merely declines to act contrary to their own religious convictions, it is not “discrimination” as such, and it is not immoral.

Add the Words’ efforts to legislate away specific discrimination by codifying one particular version of morality will create even greater offenses to our rights of conscience and collective morality.

Despite the noble efforts of Add the Words, their law will not bring the equality they seek. It will only create new confusions about discrimination while negating our precious religious liberty.

Ronald Nate is a senior fellow with the Madison Liberty Institute. He earned his B.S. in economics from the University of Utah; M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from the University of Connecticut. Nate has been a Professor of Economics at Brigham Young University-Idaho since 2001. From 2014 to 2018, Nate served as an Idaho State Representative for Legislative District 34.

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