Friday, August 28, 2015

The Misuse of Religious Freedom

In June, I wrote about the Problem with "Religious Freedom."  It seems that this issue will not go away (see here: Citing religious freedom, Kentucky clerk asks Supreme Court to intervene in gay marriage case).  I am re-blogging my post because I think we are misusing the idea of religious freedom.
“I would say there is a distinction between private property that is purely private and private property that is privately owned but publicly used, publicly supported, publicly sustained. I think there is a great difference between the two…I don’t think anybody should have the right to just come in my house that I may privately own and not leave if I wanted them to leave. I think that that is a private right that we should certainly protect on the basis of the first amendment of the Constitution.

But now if I turn my house into a store—if I turn it into a department store, if I turn it into a lunch counter, or anything like that—then I have certain obligations to the public beyond my particular whims….If a business is in the public market, then it cannot deny access, if it is in the public market, it cannot deny access to this public market. And I think the same thing applies here. It is one thing to say that an individual owns a private piece of property and another thing to say that this property is now a private enterprise where it is actually dependent on the public for its very survival.

And this is why we feel very strong about this, that a man should not have the right to say that on the basis of color or religion one cannot use a lunch counter that is open to everybody else in other racial groups but not to these particular people. He has an obligation to the public….I don’t think America will ever rise to its full maturity until all over this country we say that anybody who’s in a public business cannot deny anybody on the basis of race or color access to that business. He should not have the freedom to choose his customers on the basis of race or religion.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. (1961)
These words spoken by Dr. King in 1961 were addressing the issue of race in America, but the same religious arguments used against the civil rights movement are the same arguments used to discriminate against same sex couples.

We need to remember that the federal RFRA law of 1993 was bipartisan & has been successfully used to protect a wide range of people – Native Americans, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others – in the free exercise of their religious convictions.

Too often though, religious freedom = freedom to discriminate.
I met the love of my life more than 40 years ago in Raleigh. Thomas is a lifelong North Carolinian. I was a recent transplant from Vermont. We are both legally blind, and soon after we met, we moved to Winston-Salem to work for the Industries of the Blind. Our friendship blossomed into love, and in 1976, Thomas proposed. I very happily said yes.
Soon after, we went to our local courthouse to receive a civil marriage license from one of the magistrates there, so we could commit our lives to each through a legal union. I was so excited. People always say your wedding day is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life, and I was expecting mine to be exactly that.
But when we walked into that government office together, we were told that the magistrate on duty wouldn’t give us a marriage license. I was flabbergasted. We had planned everything, we had all our paperwork and we were legally eligible to get married.
So why wouldn’t he marry us? The reason, it turned out, was because Thomas is African-American, and I am white. The magistrate told us that marrying an interracial couple went against his religious beliefs. Our happy day quickly turned into a nightmare.
Ah yes, rugged individualism supersedes the common good.  Every time.

 North Carolina & Michigan (of many) hold the dubious honor of rehashing our past:

The problem I have with these stories is that by allowing such religious deference, it does away with equal protection of the laws for those who might be LGBT, or of another faith (Jews, Muslims, etc.), divorced, not married...and allows discrimination to occur behind a facade of protecting Christian religion.

We have lost sight of the common good...
JOHN THE EVANGELIST: Master, what is holiness? Is it just to keep the Commandments and say the right prayers, and do the right things, and pay the proper dues, as the priests tell us? Or is it something quite different? The preaching of John the Baptist has troubled our hearts, and the great prophets have terrified us with their thunderings against sin. We are disheartened, because nothing we do seems to be any good, and the righteous God is so great and terrible and far away. How can we rise so far above ourselves? What sort of heroic thing is holiness?
JESUS: The priests are right, and the prophets are right too. I haven't come to take away the Law, but to show you how to keep it. This is holiness-to love, and be ruled by love; for love can do no wrong.
JOHN THE EVANGELIST: As simple as all that?
JESUS: SO simple that a child can understand it. So simple that only children really can understand it.
ANDREW: But what has all this to do with the coming of the Kingdom?
JESUS: It is the Kingdom. Wherever there is love, there is the Kingdom of God.
~ Dorothy Sayers (1943 from The Man to be Born King)
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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