ERROL CASTENS: Culture war conscientious objectors



The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts everyone’s right to “freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” as does the U.S. Constitution in different words.

One controversial manifestation of those freedoms is that of the conscientious objector. Sovereigns traditionally require citizens and aliens alike to fight wars, good or bad. Conscientious objectors, rather than violate their conscience, have endured social rejection, confiscation of property, imprisonment and even death. Eventually, civilized nations accommodated their consciences.

Still, some folks see conscientious objectors as unpatriotic, cowardly or even treasonous. Some in the “culture wars,” too, are determined to allow no neutrality.

Bakers in Oregon and Colorado, a photographer in New Mexico and a florist in Washington, among others, were sued because their religious beliefs forbade participating in a same-sex wedding or its equivalent.

The lawsuits were aimed to force them to violate their beliefs or to punish them for not doing so. columnist Mark Joseph Stern labels these people’s beliefs – the vast majority view just a few years ago – “hatred of gay people so vehement” that seeks “never, ever have to provide a gay person with a basic service.”

I’ll sell tomato plants to anyone. I work with, write about, do business with, am friends with and kin to homosexual people. But as a photographer, baker or florist, I, too, would seek conscientious objector status regarding same-sex weddings.

The historically Christian belief that marriage is between a man and a woman is the same position Bill Clinton signed into law and that Barack Obama espoused when he was first elected president.

Some rend their garments in horror at the new Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act and declare its supporters “discriminatory,” “bigoted,” “homophobic” and worse.

Its offending language says, “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except … if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person … is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and … is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

That’s pretty mild language.

Slate columnist William Saletan supports gay marriage but not running roughshod over others’ consciences.

“I’m disturbed by what I see today. We’re stereotyping and vilifying opponents of gay marriage the way we’ve seen gay people stereotyped and vilified,” he writes. “This is a deeply personal moral issue. To get it right, we need more than justice. We need humanity.”

We need to allow for conscientious objectors.

Contact Daily Journal reporter Errol Castens at (662) 816-1282or

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    “In the art of war, the side that decides the battlefield and forces the engagement is the side that usually wins.”

    I read this sentence in the conservative website,, where they suggest MS’s bill might not go far enough. The sentence taken in context of the article suggests gay people
    and their conscious supporters are those who “decides the battlefield and forces the engagement”. I’m certain there are instances where I would agree. However, overwhelmingly the issue of marriage equality has been framed in the ‘battlefield of Christianity’ by objectors while being framed in the ‘battlefield of civil law’ by those of us who are gay or support same-sex marriage. I’ll take this opportunity to point out that gay people and their supporters also support traditional marriage and the rights of any religious organization to sanctify marriage within their faith in any way they choose.

    In the case of Elaine Photography vs Vanessa Willock, the court ruled against Elaine Photography on the grounds they could not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation but
    they were completely within their rights to openly advertise and share their opposition to same sex marriage. How about a sticker or a sign which says, “Christians who support Traditional Marriage”, would that be acceptable? It would be to me. How about all those photographers from religious organizations who consistently show up to public gay events, can gay people now toss them from this public arena under this new law? How is it Ok on Christian grounds to photograph naked gay people and not OK to photograph two fully clothed gay people in a civil ceremony? I digress.

    Back to that article, if you read on you find they don’t believe MS’s law has
    gone far enough because business owners should have the right to associate or do business with whomever they want, and as a gay man, on this later note, I completely agree. A business owner most definitely should and frankly does have the right to obtain a private or public license to do business.


    I would point to this survey which exemplifies the line drawn in the sand –

    I cannot answer this survey accurately. I support marriage equality which means I likewise support traditional marriage. I don’t consider marriage equality to be a redefinition of marriage but rather an extension of the original definition to include same-sex couples.

  • 1941641

    Off-subject comment.

    Mr. Castens,
    I’m concerned about the high rate of Divorce in America.

    Some say Jesus does not mention gay marriage in the Bible text, but He does mention his disdain for “Divorce.” When do you think Conservative Politicians will turn their attention to “divorce”,”adulterous behavior”, etc. as a profound social ill worthy of discussion and legislative action intended to stop it in its tracks? Even, I might add, if it means some form of severe physical punishment or incarceration in a facility for “adulterous behavior” for the time period prescribed by the court.

    If Gay Marriage is Wrong, Divorce is Wrong. Especially among Christians!