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David Hamstra Responds to Aubyn Fulton on Religious Freedom Laws


I thank Spectrum for extending the opportunity to clarify my position with respect to Prof. Fulton’s response to my essay.  A response to a response is a convention still found in some academic symposia but rendered largely irrelevant in this medium by comment sections. Nevertheless, I think it will be useful for readers if I highlight three ways Prof. Fulton either mischaracterized my thinking or misunderstood it due incompleteness on my part.


Legal Argument vs. Framework Argument

I am not an attorney and have not studied law, therefore I do not feel free to go beyond general comments on matters of law. I am a pastor, and my interest is in contributing to a framework my church can use to advocate in the public square for a just resolution to controversies that have bearing on religious liberty. I do not know the best way to implement that framework in law. Where Prof. Fulton represents me speaking to specific laws; I have been silent.

“Meaningful Involvement”

Prof. Foulton holds that I make the unfounded assumption that “everyone agrees that when a baker sells a cake to be consumed at a gay wedding it is a ‘meaningful involvement in gay weddings.’” To the contrary, I assume that not everyone would agree that to be the case. But religious freedom is founded on the assumption that as far as possible, we will protect conscientious decisions that do not accord with our own. It follows that someone who says they cannot be meaningfully involved in gay weddings for religious reasons ought to be allowed the opportunity to demonstrate how that involvement has meaning to them.

A draft board member might not see how being conscripted into the military in a non-combatant role would be meaningful involvement in killing for a pacifist, but the conscientious objector should have the chance to demonstrate how that is the case. A small business owner’s employee may not see why paying wages for work done by someone else on Sabbath hours is meaningful involvement in Sabbath breaking for their Adventist employer, but the employer should have the opportunity to demonstrate how that is the case. Freedom of religion only comes into play once a decision to opt out of meaningful involvement in that which one cannot in good conscience support is found to be bona fide.

Religious Liberty for Businesses vs. Business Owners

Finally, Prof. Fulton infers that I support the attribution of religious liberty to businesses, when in fact I am dismayed by that development. Throughout my essay, I refer to “small business owners” and not to the business itself, when writing about conscience claims.

On this point it seems Prof. Fulton and I might have common ground. In his response to a hypothetical posed in the comments he wrote: “As you point out, because of its small size (and perhaps other reasons) your lonely baker might have a legal right to discriminate, but this right would never be based on any first amendment right the business would have to practice religion, because that religion, no matter how small, has no religious rights.” This is precisely the kind of scenario I had in mind when writing my essay.


Read Hamstra’s original essay: “A Framework for Balancing Competing Concerns: RFRAs and Adventists in the Public Square.”

Read Aubyn fulton’s response: “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts Attempt to Legitimate Descrimination.”


Born and raised in Minnesota, David Hamstra is the pastor of the Fort McMurray Seventh-day Adventist Church in Alberta, Canada.

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