PORTLAND, Ore. – A Christian organization in Oregon has filed a ballot initiative that would protect business owners against lawsuits and other penalties in the event that they decline to directly or indirectly participate in a same-sex “wedding.”
The Oregon Family Council filed the proposal, entitled the Protect Religious Freedom Initiative, on Thursday in light of the lawsuits and complaints lodged in recent months against several bakers, florists and photographers in the nation.
Earlier this year, the Christian owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham were placed under investigation after they declined to make a cake for a lesbian ceremony. The business states that it was soon forced to close its doors and operate from home due to protests and harassment from homosexuals.
“This fight is not over. We will continue to stand strong,” owners Aaron and Melissa Klein wrote on a note taped to the bakery door upon closing. “The LORD is good and we will continue to serve HIM with all our heart.”
“A growing trend of silencing can be seen where business owners of faith or with conscientious objections are being forced to compromise their individual conscience rights or face harassment, persecution, penalties levied upon them by the state, and the possibility of losing their business for declining to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies,” Oregon Family Council wrote in a news release announcing the initiative.
Current non-discrimination laws prohibit businesses from refusing service based on “race, color, religion, sex [or] sexual orientation.” But many business owners have no issue with serving homosexuals in general, unless it involves participation in a same-sex ceremony.
The text of the amendment proposed this week would ensure that any business owner in Oregon may not be “penalized by the state or a political subdivision of this state for declining to solemnize, celebrate, participate in, facilitate, or support any same-sex marriage ceremony or its arrangements, same-sex civil union ceremony or its arrangements, or same-sex domestic partnership ceremony or its arrangements.”
It notes that “there are groups pushing the view that religion is purely a private matter and that religious voices or opinions should be silenced.” But “[r]eligion is more than just private worship. It involves public expression on moral and social issues. Religious freedom, our first freedom, needs protection as this Initiative intends to do.”
Oregon Family Council spokesperson Teresa Harke told reporters this week that business owners should have the right to operate in accordance with their faith.
“Would you expect a Jewish bakery to serve a neo-Nazi who wanted a cake with a swastika on it?” she asked The Oregonian.
Harke also outlined in the organization’s news release that Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian once said, “The goal is never to shut down a business [for their beliefs]. The goal is to rehabilitate.”
“It is very troubling that Oregon elected officials believe people of faith or with conscientious objections need to be ‘rehabilitated,’” she stated.
The initiative would need to collect at least 87,213 signatures to qualify for the November 2014 ballot. It must, however, pass other hurdles before the signatures can be collected.