Rick Santorum Claims Religious Freedom Laws Protect Gay Printers From Making Westboro Baptist Church Signs

Religious freedom protects 'both sides' according to Rick Santorum, leaving those who didn't know there were 'two sides' in confusion.

Rick Santorum spoke in a piece that aired on Easter Sunday about religious freedom laws, and the Westboro Baptist Church. He assured listeners that so-called “religious freedom” laws, such as the one causing an uproar in Indiana, and the ones currently under discussion in North Carolina and Arizona, among other states, hold only the same powers as the Federal one. Santorum used the Westboro Baptist Church as an example, trying to invent a hypothetical that would lead opponents to change their views.

According to RawStory, Rick Santorum appeared on CBS to discuss the furor over religious freedom laws. Santorum’s argument hinged on two key points: that the law affords no greater protection than does the Federal one, and that the laws “protect both sides.”

By “both sides” or “both ways” — Santorum calls the law a “two-way street” — he seems to mean Christians (or perhaps all religious people) and people who identify as LGBTQ, though the two are by no means mutually exclusive.

As an example, Rick Santorum proposed that the law would protect a gay person who happened to own a print shop — without it, he indicated, the government might force this printer to make signs for the Westboro Baptist Church.

Of course, Santorum’s example, along with the example of a Jewish deli being forced to sell pork, a black baker being forced to serve KKK members, and a baker being forced to print anti-gay messages on cakes, have all been brought up and discussed many times:

  • A business can refuse to provide certain products. Thus, no one can be forced to sell pork.
  • A business can refuse to make its products a podium for certain speech.
  • Freedom of speech includes the right not to speak. Thus, no one can be forced to make a cake with an objectionable message.
  • A business can refuse to serve individuals based on behavior, attitude, or other problems. In fact, an individual can be refused for any reason except membership in a protected class, such as race, religion, gender, or age.
  • In some states, sexuality is a protected class. In Indiana, it is not, and it was already legal to turn away a gay customer.

Thus, Rick Santorum’s point misses a few key truths. First, refusing a Westboro Baptist Church sign because you yourself are gay is not a religious belief, and this law is, purportedly, intended to protect religious beliefs. (The same applies to the oft-touted KKK example.) Second, Santorum may not realize that his hypothetical gay printer can already turn away any sign that contains objectionable speech. (Billboard companies do it all the time.) Third, of course, is the fact that there are no “two sides,” unless you (incorrectly) believe that the world is divided into Christian and LGBTQ, mutually exclusive, and fourth, Indiana’s law goes much further than the Federal version. (Among other things, it explicitly names a corporation as a person with human rights.)

As that goes, Santorum made the same claims last week on Fox and Friends, insisting that this is the same law as the Federal one.

The Federal law in question sets a relatively high bar for demonstrating that religious freedom has been imposed upon. Some of the state laws emerging drastically lower that bar — and, again, make corporations people, with rights equal to those of people. However well-intentioned Rick Santorum’s plea for religious freedom may be, American government is supposed to be by and for the people — not the corporations.

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