Letters to the Editor

Allan M. Parrent: ‘First’ freedom questioned

In your June 12 editorial “Defying the law” about magistrates who have religious objections to same-sex marriage, you state rather dismissively that, “This is not about protecting religion. It is about respecting the law.”

It would be less simplistic, and more likely to make a useful contribution to the debate, to acknowledge that protecting religion is also and equally about “respecting the law.”

Indeed, the protection of religious freedom is the first sentence in our Bill of Rights. Both sides in this debate have valid legal and moral arguments, neither of which should be ignored for narrow ideological reasons.

What is needed is the kind of accommodation that has at times been achieved in our litigious history, such as in the 1970 Walz case, which advocated a position of “benevolent neutrality” toward religion, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Your own editorial in fact sets the stage for just such an accommodation. You properly recognize that “in practice this suspect law will do little to curb the right of same-sex couples to marry. Most will be able to find a willing magistrate easily.”

One might add also that few reluctant magistrates would be willing to risk the public opprobrium they might well encounter. The value of honoring our “first freedom” might well be worth what you and many others see as a real but modest downside in comparison to encouraging further inroads into the First Amendment.

Allan M. Parrent

Chapel Hill

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