Friday, November 8, 2013

Using the Claim of “Religious Freedom” as a Weapon Without Considering What it Really Means

I started this post on Thursday. However, before I could finish the post, a tweet directed my attention to the floor speech by Sen. Dan Coats (R-Indiana) against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) on the basis of “religious freedom”. Thus, I went back and re-worked the draft post so that I could discuss Sen. Coats’ comments as well.

One of the relatively new memes to appear from those who oppose marriage equality is the claim of “religious freedom”. This same argument has also been used in the debate over the birth control mandate and with regard to efforts to seek employment protection for the LGBT community. However, many of those using the claim of “religious freedom” do so as a weapon to justify discrimination or as an excuse to deprive rights and freedoms to others. Moreover, they make the claim of “religious freedom” without any real examination of how the conduct or right at issue actually impacts the freedom to worship or the broader implications of what the claim of “religious freedom” might really mean. And, unfortunately, this “religious freedom” argument seems to be gaining ground as its seductive simplicity has appeal to those who don’t bother to burden themselves with a small dose of independent thought or common sense.

Before I get into the discussion of “religious freedom” itself, let’s first recall what the First Amendment actually says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

Note that the First Amendment doesn’t talk about “religious freedom” but, rather, the “free exercise” of religion.

Earlier this week, I came across a link to a blog from Monica Boyer, a Northern Indiana Tea Party leader that argues that her religious freedom is under “direct assault” (emphasis in original):

Religious Freedom is under direct assault. There is no doubt about it. One doesn’t have to look very far in order to feel the jabs and pain of this new “America” we are living in. However, Americans face a decision. More specifically, Hoosiers face a decision.

  1. Accept this as the “new norm” or
  2. Decide that religious freedom is worth fighting for.

If you fall in the category of the first choice, I respectfully ask that you exit this blog, as it is not for you. If you are of the 2nd category, I ask you to buckle up. I want to provide you with talking points and the resources you need to engage with the opposition and those who may simply not understand the importance or relationship between the attack on religious freedom and protecting marriage from being re-defined.

For those who stand for religious freedom, the truth is right at the tip of our fingers. But we must use it. If you have the facts, you will be ready to engage. Below are some arguments the left uses to try to tear apart the family and attack religious freedom.

It’s important to note that in this fight to protect marriage and traditional values, we don’t hate anyone. In fact quite the opposite is true. This fight has nothing to do with preventing anyone from living together, holding property together, or prohibiting anything. It has everything to do with protecting an institution that was ordained by God from the beginning of time, and protecting that freedom our forefathers fought to give… Religious Freedom.

Marriage is not a private matter. It affects entire communities, states, and cultures. It is the foundation to a civil society. Not only is marriage the foundation, but by allowing activist judges  to come in and re-define this institution, we strip our society of religious freedom. We take away our right of conscience to live life according to Biblical principles. By allowing the few activists to come in and strip the meaning of marriage, we take away the freedom of the pulpit and the freedom for our pastors to speak truth from the Word of God.

Indiana already had a law defining marriage between one man and one woman, why do we need to amend the Constitution?

Indiana is a stones throw away from a Supreme Court decision by an activist judge re-defining marriage in the State of Indiana. It has already happened in Massachusetts and Iowa. New Jersey is the latest state to have a judge force a new public policy on marriage upon schools, businesses, charities and churches. Without the protection of a Constitutional amendment, traditional marriage just awaits a legal attack by activists who want to tear apart the foundation of our society.

And so on and so forth.*

But, as I mentioned at the outset, the claim of “religious freedom” is being used as a cudgel to oppose, not just marriage equality, but also laws that seek to end employment discrimination against members of the LGBT community (for those who are unsure, LGBT is an acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender”). Just yesterday, Sen. Coats (sadly, my Senator…) was the only Senator to offer a speech on the floor of the Senate against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA):

(I’m having trouble embedding the video of Sen. Coats’ speech; if it isn’t working for you, you can watch the video at this link.)

I oppose discrimination of any kind, and that includes discrimination, however, also of individuals or institutions for their faith and values. This often gets lost, and it has been lost in this discussion. So there’s two types of discrimination here we’re dealing with and one of those goes to the very fundamental right granted to every American through our Constitution, a cherished value of freedom of expression and religion. And I believe this bill diminishes that freedom. So I feel it’s vital for this body to stand up for our country’s longstanding right to the freedom of religion and speech. For these reasons, I am not able to support this current legislation, and I hope my colleagues would stand with me in protecting religious freedom and oppose this legislation, and I hope my colleagues would stand with me in protecting religious freedom and oppose this legislation.

Did you get that? Sen. Coats believes that a law that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is discriminatory to those who might want to discriminate because their faith tells them to. And, he seems to believe that discrimination is protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of religion and speech. Seriously. I didn’t say it; he did.

I wonder how Sen. Coats or Boyer would react if I said that allowing Red Lobster to serve shellfish or Bob Evans to serve bacon, allowing Walmart to sell garments made of two fabrics, or allowing barber shops to trim men’s hair, all infringed on my religious freedom? After all, G-d said that all of those things were an abomination. Or perhaps a different analogy might be better. Though I don’t know her, from the material that I have read, I suspect that Boyer would favor stricter laws (or even a constitutional amendment) to ban or further reduce abortions. And I know that Sen. Coats would favor such laws. Yet if I said that those laws might have a direct impact upon the ability of a Jewish woman to act in accordance with her faith and thus deprive her of religious freedom, would Sen. Coats and Boyer relent and permit abortions virtually up until the time of birth?

I called Sen. Coats’ office today to ask which types of people Sen. Coats believes can be discriminated against in hiring or firing on the basis of his or someone else’s religious beliefs. I was curious to know if Sen. Coats thinks that a fundamentalist Mormon can refuse to hire African-Americans, whether a Jew can fire Christians for the use of graven images (or simply for eating pork and shellfish), whether a Christian-Scientist can refuse to hire someone who uses medicine or consults doctors (or fire someone who wants healthcare insurance), whether Hindus can fire those who aren’t vegetarians, whether different sects of Christianity (and Catholicism) can refuse to here one another because of their differing interpretations of Biblical texts and obligations, whether a Catholic can fire divorcees or refuse to hire single parents, or whether an evangelical Christian can refuse to hire or fire someone who doesn’t profess a belief that Jesus was the messiah. All of those would seem to implicate “religious freedom” as much or more than homosexuality, yet I believe that all are currently prohibited by existing law. And I haven’t heard Sen. Coats calling for repeal of the Civil Rights Act or similar legislation because of “religious freedom” — at least not yet.

Of course, in reality, what you do generally has no impact whatsoever upon my religious freedom, let alone my right to freely exercise my religion, so long as you don’t prevent me from believing what I choose or directly impacting my religious activities in my house or house of worship (and note that there is a distinction between governmental establishment of religion and free exercise thereof). I think that there is an enormous difference between a religious organization (think a church or parochial school) having the right to require its clergy or teachers to act in accordance with its faith and imposing the same requirements upon secretaries, nurses, janitors, or those in similar roles. When we get to institutions like hospitals or universities, the link between religion and the acts or beliefs of employees seems even more tenuous. And don’t get me started on the recent notion that businesses (like Hobby Lobby) have religious beliefs that are “infringed” by things like the birth control mandate. But, for the record, it is also worth noting that ENDA includes a specific exemption for faith-based organizations.

Anyway, to put all of this into context a bit, think about this passage from Leviticus 24:16:

anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.

Or maybe you’d prefer Deuteronomy 13:6-10:

If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods”(gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Would anyone seriously argue that a law that prevents people from killing someone who “blasphemes” or proselytizes qualifies as an improper infringement upon either the “religious freedom” or even “free exercise” of religion? No? I didn’t think so. Yet it would also seem that laws that prevent people from acting upon these Biblical commandments have a far greater impact upon true Biblical observance and so-called “religious freedom” than allowing gays to marry or stopping a business from rejecting a prospective employee because of who she sleeps with. I don’t know about you, but I would certainly have to think that someone who takes the Bible seriously, would be far more worried about those who blaspheme or proselytize for “other gods” than about gay men.**

Permitting marriage equality doesn’t impact Boyer’s ability to believe whatever she wants or to offer whatever prayer gives her comfort. Her worship won’t change and she won’t be required to divorce her husband and marry another woman; nor will she be required to teach her children that marriage equality is “right” (even if it is the law) any more than she is presently obligated to divorce her husband and marry an African-American man or a Buddhist or to teach her children that the Bible isn’t the verbatim truth and that Santa isn’t real.

Similarly, telling a business that it can’t refuse to hire a lesbian solely on the basis of her sexuality or fire a transgendered individual solely on the basis of his gender identity doesn’t impact the right of the business owner to believe either than homosexuality is bad or that being transgendered is … well, I’m not sure what the Bible or religious belief is supposed to say about gender identity. That business owner can try to “pray away the gay” or think whatever he or she wants. It’s no different than the right of that business owner to be a racist bigot or to hate Jews and Muslims or to think that Catholics and Mormons aren’t “true Christians” … all of those rights are preserved in the law at the same time that we tell that business owner that, whatever he may believe, he can’t allow those beliefs to be used to discriminate against others with regard to employment. Laws like ENDA won’t stop anyone, including Boyer or Sen. Coats, from standing on a street corner and yelling to passersby that homosexuality is wrong, an abomination, or that gays will go to Hell. That’s what Westboro Baptist Church does daily. All laws like ENDA will do is expand protection in the hiring and firing process to homosexuals and the transgendered similar to the protections presently afforded on the basis of race, national origin, religion, creed, and disability.

The world is changing. People are growing more tolerant of those who look and think differently than they do. Unfortunately, there is still a significant portion of the population that fears change and, more importantly, fears (or even loathes) those who are different. And they’ll use every argument that they can think of, stoke ever fire of fear, in order to prevent the change and recognition of equality that they see coming. But that change will come and those who think like Sen. Coats and Boyer will be left behind with those who still think that the universe revolves around the Earth, demons cause disease, or that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

*I may come back to Boyer’s blog post in the future to talk about some of her other arguments against marriage equality, including her claim of “gay bullying”, her fear-mongering that churches might be required to perform same-sex marriages, and her use of other countries to examine what might happen in America without bothering to note that those other countries don’t have the freedoms of religion expressed in our First Amendment and do have official state churches. And I really want to to tackle her effort to distinguish miscegenation laws from marriage equality: “Bans on interracial marriage were about keeping men and women apart. The marriage amendment is about keeping men and women together in marriage. Children need a mom and a dad regardless of their race.” But that is for another day. In the meantime, laugh all you want.

**I say “gay men” because the Biblical passage against homosexuality is limited to male-male sex and says nothing about lesbians enjoying themselves. Leviticus 20:13:

If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

So query also whether laws that allow gay men to avoid the death penalty also infringe upon the “religious freedom” of true believers. For that matter, why isn’t Boyer demanding the right to stone gays to death so that she is observing Biblical commandments?

Updated to fix (hopefully) the video link and to correct another link.

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At Tuesday, October 07, 2014 6:22:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice article.


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