Annual Law & Religion Lecture

“The solution to conflict is to protect the rights of both sides,” said Douglas Laycock at the Annual Law and Religion Lecture. A Distinguished Professor from the University of Virginia School of Law and one of the nation’s leading authorities on law and religion, Laycock’s address centered on the recent Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case. He posited that marriage equality laws should provide exemptions for religious organizations and small for-profit ventures that claim conscientious objector status. As he explained, sexual and religious minorities are actually making similar claims, and the government, in his view, should not interfere with either set of groups without the most compelling reasons. He said, “[The right protected by both sides is] the right of same-sex couples and conscientious objectors each to live their own lives by their own deepest values and in accord with their deeply held identity.”

Previous Supreme Court cases involving religion including Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, Sherbert v. Verner, and Wisconsin v. Yoder formed the basis of Laycock’s analysis of how Masterpiece was decided and how future cases ought to be decided. He said, “If law is not neutral or generally applicable, religious conscientious objectors are entitled to exemption unless a government compelling interest justifies requiring them to comply.”

Laycock concluded, “If liberal religious people don’t have to provide conservative religious goods that they find offensive, then conservative believers don’t have to [provide] same-sex marriages [goods] that violate their conscience.” As he explained, protecting conscientious objectors on both sides of the issue protects freedom of religion and belief for all.

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