Freedom to hold to convictions must be defended
By Andrew Selley — Orignally published in the FOR SA blog
Would it be right for the government to force a photographer who is an animal rights activist to, against her moral conscience and will, create a video promoting hunting? This question may seem ridiculous, and indeed it is!
Hunting in South Africa is legal. The law has recognised it as reasonable and established its place within society. Thus the hunter must be allowed to hunt without fear or prosecution or punishment by the State. The law also does not forbid hunting to be photographed, and the hunter must therefore be allowed to have such a video made – even if others do not like it, or feel it to be morally wrong.
Likewise, the photographer has opened a business where, in a free market, she offers her services as a photographer to all. The question is: does she have the right to discriminate, or decide which jobs she wants to take, based upon her value system, her conscience and her beliefs? Now I use the word “discriminate” which to many is a very bad word, but we must be careful that we do not make words mean what they do not mean. For the photographer to discriminate, means simply that she decides or makes a judgement within herself as to whether she believes that hunting is good or bad. Based upon her belief system, she believes that to kill an animal is bad. The problem for her is that the law has already passed judgement that hunting is legal.
Now we must ask the question: Is the photographer right? Or is the hunter right? Surely within a democracy tolerance means that society will respect that both the hunter and the photographer are right and that their beliefs should be protected?
The hunter is right to hunt and the law should protect him in this. At the same time, the photographer is also right to decide (discriminate) that for her to be involved in photographing the hunt, is wrong. The law should never force her to go against her will in this and to do otherwise, would be abhorrent. Now the hunter may scream that he feels marginalsed, judged by her refusal to photograph what he loves doing, call her bigoted because she strongly dislikes the idea of a hunt, and cry out for the law to make an example of the photographer because she has discriminated against him. He may demand a public apology from her, or that she pays damages to an international hunting society. He may demand that the law declares that she may never be allowed to discriminate against hunters again, and bemoan how deeply his feelings have been wounded by her bigotry because his right to hunt is protected by law. Who is she after all to decide that what he is doing is wrong?
But most people would disagree and respond with a resounding, “No! She must not be forced to photograph the hunt if this is how she feels!” We would cry out that the hunter should find another photographer, one who has no moral qualms with his hunt. Why? Because to force the photographer against her will, would damage her rights and emotions, and violate her integrity and conscience.
My question is this then: Why can a photographer refuse to photograph a hunt, but a Christian cannot refuse to photograph a homosexual marriage (as recently decided by the New Mexico Supreme Court in the case of Elane Photography v Willcock. The US Supreme Court has since declined to hear an appeal by the photographer.) While the law may give a homosexual couple the right to marry, surely the law must also protect the right of the Christian photographer who believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman and that it is morally wrong for him/her to participate in a ‘marriage’ that contradicts his/her Biblical understanding of marriage?
Unless we in our modern society learn to protect the rights of the photographer to, based upon her convictions, discern within herself which work she wants to do, society itself will become a totalitarian dictatorship that forces people to do what they cannot in good conscience do – because the Law deems so.
Failure to distinguish and protect the rights of any Christian, Muslim, atheist or person practicing homosexuality, to choose what business she/he wants to do and with whomsoever he/she chooses, moves our society from a free one to a suppressive one. It destroys a society of tolerance and pluralism and forces all into one mould – even if that mould seems oppressive and impossible to follow because of belief, value system or conscience. If history teaches us anything, it is that totalitarian rule cannot work as people will ultimately be unable to obey the rule of law. As intolerance towards Christians grows, it is time for us to think these matters through very carefully or find ourselves involved in a society that no longer protects individuality, free speech, free thought and which has become morally repressive.
I am not sure about you, but I for one am becoming increasingly concerned at both the thinking of our society, as well as our judiciary in these matters. I am concerned that our society is moving to a place where one cannot hold to one’s own beliefs without persecution and intolerance by those who believe differently. To quote John F. Kennedy: “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”
Andrew Selley is the CEO and Founder of FOR SA