A negative aspect of religious freedom
The transition from:
"freedom of belief" to
the "freedom to control, discriminate against,
and/or oppress others."
About the transition:
we have noticed a radical shift
in the definition of "religious freedom" and its near-synonym "religious liberty:"
- FROM the historical meaning: the freedom of religious belief, practice, assembly and proselytizing by believers. Attacks on religious freedom typically victimized faith groups or individuals, while the perpetrators have traditionally been governments or other larger faith groups.
- TO the freedom demanded by faith groups or believers to oppress or denigrate
others, to discriminate against them, and/or to mount political campaigns to deny
them equal rights. Typically, the victims are either women or members of sexual minorities, while the perpetrators are usually individual believers, faith groups, or parachurch organizations.
Religious freedom once referred mostly to the believers' right to express religious ideas and to engage in religious
practices. Now it is becoming mostly
about the freedom for individuals and religious groups to take actions that limit other people's rights and freedoms without incurring negative consequences themselves.
Some attempts are being made to legalize and protect religiously motivated discrimination by faith groups, faith-based agencies, other groups, and individuals. They are sometimes called "conscience clauses."
Recently, there have been two major changes with regard to marriage equality in the U.S.:
- The legalization of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia, and 17 states as of early 2014, and
- Rulings in late 2013 and early 2014 by four federal District Court judges that have legalized same-sex marriages in four conservative states: Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia. These rulings are currently stayed pending appeals.
These changes seem to have rapidly increased attempts to pass state laws that protect both:
- Clergy who -- because of their beliefs and/or the policy of their faith group -- want to refuse to marry same-sex couples, and
- Wedding photographers, wedding cake bakers, and other companies in the wedding industry who want to refuse to provide goods and services to same-sex couples for their weddings.
In reality, clergy have no need for such protection because the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution already gives them absolute protection if they want to refuse to marry any couple for any reason. For centuries, clergy have refused to solemnize marriage for couples who are of the "wrong" religion, or who are inter-faith or interracial couples, or regarded as too immature, or are of the same sex, or include a disabled person, etc. To our knowledge, no clergy have ever been charged or prosecuted anywhere in the U.S. for their decisions.
On the other hand, many states have human rights legislation that requires public accommodations to not discriminate among their customers. Public accommodations are individuals or companies that provide goods and services to the general public. These laws typically prohibit discrimination based on race, skin color, nationality, gender, etc. Many of the states' laws also include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected groups. Laws that are being passed to protect wedding photographers, wedding cake bakers, and similar businesses so that they can discriminate against same-sex couples often give them needed immunity from prosecution under the state's human rights legislation. 3 The legislatures of Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee -- and perhaps others -- have attempted to pass this type of pro-discrimination legislation. Arizona's bill made it to the Governor's desk where it was vetoed. So far, the others have not made it that far.
The conflict between the new meaning of "religious freedom" and the "Golden Rule:"
Curiously, people in the media don't seem to notice that this new trend towards using religious belief to discriminate against others is in direct contradiction to the Ethic of Reciprocity. In Judaism and Christianity, this is commonly called the "Golden Rule:" The latter simply states that we are to treat other people as we would wish to be treated ourselves. Almost all organized religions have such an ethic at the core of its teaching.
The Golden Rule was created for the individual believer to apply to the entire human race. Unfortunately, it is too often applied only to fellow believers. In the conflicts over SSMs and companies in the wedding industry, the Golden Rule is sometimes inverted to "treat other people as we would never wish to be treated ourselves."
Activity by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):
The ACLU recognized this trend and launched a emailed monthly newsletter circa 2012-AUG. You can request a subscription from: LibertyNewsletter@aclu.org
Their web site contains a section titled "Using Religion to Discriminate."
Not a sponsored link
"With increasing frequency, we are seeing individuals and institutions claiming a right to discriminate – by refusing to provide services to women and LGBT people – based on religious objections. The discrimination takes many forms, including:
- Religiously affiliated schools firing women because they became pregnant while not married;
- Business owners refusing to provide insurance coverage for contraception for their employees;
- Graduate students, training to be social workers, refusing to counsel gay people;
- Pharmacies turning away women seeking to fill birth control prescriptions;
- Bridal salons, photo studios, wedding cake bakers, reception halls, etc. refusing goods and services to same-sex couples planning their weddings.
While the situations may differ, one thing remains the same: religion is being used as an excuse to discriminate against and harm others." 1
A few examples of religiously motivated discrimination and denigration:
Topics covered in this section:
The following information source was used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.
- "Using Religion to Discriminate," ACLU, at: https://www.aclu.org/
- Shadee Ashtari, "Kansas State House Passes Bill Allowing Refusal Of Services To Same-Sex Couples," 2014-FEB-12, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
- Chas Sisk, "TN lawmakers drop wedding vendors bill," The Tennessean, 2014-FEB-18, at: http://www.tennessean.com/
Copyright © 2009 t0 2014 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 2009-DEC-08
Latest update: 2014-FEB-21
Author: B.A. Robinson