1st Amendment applies to all — even bigots

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

If anyone is wondering whether it should be legal for a business owner to discriminate against gay people, or black people or short people, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution settles the dispute quickly.

Just base your claim on your religious beliefs and you’re likely to be covered. No, it’s not a popular position. But we’re reminded of a few decades back when Larry Flynt sought First Amendment protection for the smut he published in “Hustler” magazine.

Freedom is occasionally smutty and messy. Indeed, sometimes it feels like a shower is needed after defending bigots or porn profiteers who wrap themselves in the flag and claim they’re victims of religious intolerance.

Conservative activists in Arizona last week said they will keep pressing for “religious-liberty legislation.” This comes after the governor vetoed an attempt to provide religious exemptions to Arizona business owners who want to deny services to gays. She did so on economic grounds, that it would damage Arizona’s tourism and other business interests.

The Washington Post reported many conservatives said they will continue working to convince voters and judges that opponents of same-sex marriage and abortion are motivated by faith rather than bigotry.

“The fight has to be over what the First Amendment is,” John C. Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, told the Post. “This is not somebody adhering to old Jim Crow lunch-counter discrimination. This is a fundamental dispute about what marriage means, and why it’s important for society.”

However well intentioned, that statement carries the taint of discrimination based on faith. However, we are all in trouble if government forces us to associate with people we don’t want an association with. And what if the issue were racial?

What if an African-American business owner were forced to trade with KKK members who entered the store wearing white, hooded robes and shouting racial slurs?

We can’t have it both ways.

At some point the Supreme Court may rule otherwise and declare a state or group’s actions violate our individual rights. If so, that reasoning will be scrutinized more often than old movies and TV series are in reruns.

What government action or interference — you choose the word — often tells residents of a civil society is the people who work for us have forgotten that natural consequences discourage and limit discrimination far better than government.

Most Americans are disgusted by human rights violations and will not do business with those who follow such practices.

Businesses that won’t serve certain classes or groups of people will not survive for long because many Americans won’t frequent them. Of the few that do survive, we should turn the other cheek and stomach it.

Tolerance in the midst of disrespect, even hate, is one price we pay for freedom.

Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the Clovis Media Inc. editorial board, which includes Publisher Ray Sullivan and Editor David Stevens.

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