Gene Nichol's letter to the editor today (N&O) is an important read. Some excerpts follow.
First, the array of possible claims in the name of religious freedom is, literally, boundless. The Supreme Court has entertained cases asserting faith-based commands to engage in polygamy, discriminate on the basis of race, smoke peyote and conduct live animal slaughter or to refuse to enter the draft, pay taxes, contribute to Social Security, obtain a photo ID, go to school past the eighth grade and wear the prescribed military uniform while on duty.
Second, you cannot, in a system of religious freedom, allow government to choose between good and bad, worthy and unworthy, religious claims….
Third, most free exercise claims are arguments for special exemption from admittedly constitutional rules of general application….
.. Religionists plead, in each instance, for special rights. So, if religious freedom claims are limitless, if they can’t constitutionally be sorted and sifted, and if they inevitably ask to be excused from rules that apply to everyone else, they pose a stark tension with notions of equal applicability and the rule of law itself.
It’s not startling then that even notably conservative justices like Antonin Scalia would develop legal standards making it markedly difficult to pursue free exercise actions. He and his colleagues would not agree that all are free to live and work according to their faith.
I don’t find this result uniformly congenial. Free exercise claims are frequently the pleas of dissenters, often marginalized ones. We order our society to fit the patterns of majorities. ...Still, the more diverse a society becomes, the more difficult it is to give ascendancy to the standards of religion over those of democracy.
Mr. Nichol points out the real danger over states' laws for so-called religious discrimination. Allowing every religion to go it's own way, exempt from the laws that govern the rest of us, overrides the Rule of Law. And America is based on the Rule of Law, the first country in the world founded upon such a premise. Continued passage of these bills at the state level will act to undermine American democracy and destroy our country. This is not an exaggeration.