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Hawaii reacts to federal religious-liberty directive

Updated: 
October 7, 2017 - 12:05am

KAILUA-KONA — Douglas Clark — or Minister Doug, as he prefers to be called — considers his wedding company a ministry, though not in the most traditional sense of the word.

With a name like Follow Your Path Ministries, one might assume the wedding business Minister Doug runs with his wife operates by a particular set of religious values. But theirs is a broader spirituality.

Thus, Clark found himself disappointed rather than excited following a directive issued Friday by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — one intended to bolster concerns of religious-freedom at the expense of intended anti-discrimination protections for demographics like women and the LGBTQ community.

The religious-liberty directive mandates federal agencies cater as ardently as they can to religious objectors who say their freedoms are being violated when they’re made, for example, to engage in an action that doesn’t align with their faith.

For instance, a wedding company being forced by anti-discrimination laws to provide services to a gay couple.

Minister Doug said, however, this already happens in Hawaii. He didn’t mention any companies by name, but said gay couples have ended up at his door with stories of being told by other local businesses, ‘Sorry, but we can’t help you.’

He added the notion that Hawaii is absent such sentiments is false and that he views those sentiments as a disguised, insincere form of hate.

“You should have a choice as to who you want to serve in your business, absolutely,” Minister Doug said. “But don’t use your religion as an excuse. Just say ‘I don’t like these people’ or just say ‘I’d rather not,’ and we can go from there and assume or not assume. But it really bothers me when people use God, our creator, or use Jesus or use Allah or whatever — it really pains me to see people use that as an excuse to hate.”

The religious-liberty directive makes it simpler for religious objectors to claim violations of religious freedom by abolishing the requirement that they first prove their religious beliefs to be genuine.

Rachel Talasko, a teacher in Kona and a member of the LGBTQ community, didn’t run into any objectors as she planned her wedding, which was held in March.

Still, the experience for her and her wife was tangibly different than that of a straight couple simply due to unavoidable conversations.

“You call a vendor or a business or whatever and start talking about logistics and at some point, inevitably, they say ‘OK, what is your husband’s name, or your fiance’s name? What’s his name?’ And you say, “Oh her name is Erica.’ And then there’s that awkward silence,” Talasko explained.

“There’s a confrontation there that would need to happen if they wanted to deny us service, and I think most people don’t want to deal with that awkward confrontation,” she continued. “Whereas I feel something like this gives them the ability to say it’s for religious reasons and not have to explain any further.”

Talasko added when she learned of the news Friday, it wasn’t something that just rolled off her back. Instead, it forced her to hit a familiar wall and remember that she’s different in a way she said “sometimes makes me feel inferior and not everyone understands.”

“It’s a painful thing,” she said.

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