It is personal to the person claiming it. Freedom is the notion that you are free to do things without being stopped by other persons or things.For example, I am free to walk down the street and smell the flowers.
Freedom does not mean I am free to stop you from smelling the flowers. That is not exercising a freedom. I may have an obscure right to stop you but it doesn’t derive from a freedom that I enjoy. To do that I must assert some other right such as a property owner asserting trespass or a policeman in the exercise of his duties.
If exercising your freedom involves restricting other people as to what they can or cannot do then the coercive nature of what you are doing removes your action from the realm of “freedom” and takes it somewhere else.
As soon as your so-called freedom involves restricting someone else then that necessarily restricts someone else’s freedom. To be true freedom it must happily co-exist with everyone else’s freedom.
So, claiming, that as a matter of religious freedom, you are entitled to deny a gay couple the freedom to get married is a misuse of the word “freedom”.
The only way freedom could be relevant would be if religious people were being forced to do something against their wishes.eg
- A clergyman being forced to conduct a gay wedding ceremony.
- A registry official being forced to record a gay couple on a marriage certificate
- A photographer being forced to photograph a gay wedding
- A religious school being forced to employ a married gay teacher
We as a society have said that nobody is forced to be a clergyman, registry official or photographer or to operate a religious school but if you do then we have certain rules and regulations which we will impose on you. You are not free to perform that job or run that businesses with total freedom. Because your job or business involves interaction with other people we will impose certain rules which are in the overall best interests of our society. These range from OH&S to trade practices laws to anti-discrimination laws. For example, if you want to erect a big heavy cross on the roof of your church we will force you to use a crane instead of a ladder.
How does society justify restricting freedom in these ways?
The fact that it is possible to run a business or do an administrative job relies on a complex civilisation involving massive amounts of cooperation, trust and mutual obligations. These roles would not exist without regulations and controls. You can’t say I want the civilised job but without the civilising restrictions because the two go hand in hand. You can’t say I want to take the job but keep my freedoms because the society offering that job or business opportunity is only offering it with conditions. If you want something from society then you have to be prepared to accept conditions that society may impose.
If you want maximum freedom, then become a self-sufficient farmer who does not interact with society and you will pretty much be free to farm how you like.
In the current debate, we simply have a battle over those conditions. Religious groups desire to avoid employment and business laws prohibiting discrimination while society is saying these laws are necessary. Religious groups are saying they should be able to enjoy religious freedom but society is saying that we only offer the privilege of integration with our civilised society on terms and conditions that ensure the continued success of our society. If you want to join us, you must play by our rules. If you aren’t prepared to give up a religious freedom then that is fine but you won’t be able to participate fully in our society.
If you want to use the roads, you have to obey the road rules.
If you want to build a highrise, you have to follow these engineering requirements.
If you want to hire an employee, you have to follow these rules about discrimination.
If you want to build a new building, you must allow wheelchair access
If you want to photograph weddings, you must not discriminate against black or gay couples.
If you want to run an accredited educational facility you must not discriminate against black or gay couples.
These rules have evolved over thousands of years because they promote a healthy society. They lose effectiveness very quickly if exceptions are allowed. Religious groups are just another ideological minority. There is nothing sacred about their ideas. Their call for special consideration above other ideological groups is without merit
With the exception of subsistence farmers, individuals and groups are not free to do their jobs or conduct their businesses as they see fit. If they want to interact with our civilised society they must agree to our rules of participation. Our anti-discrimination laws are fundamentally important and should not be watered down.