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One of the great “debates” of this election cycle has swirled around the question of whether a person can use “religious beliefs” as a legitimate reason to discriminate against gays and lesbians. This same argument is also being employed for a renewed assault on women’s rights.

While laws have been passed throughout the country to advance LGBT equality, religious protection clauses are peppered through the lot of them. After all, a church should not be forced to recognize marriage equality or perform marriages for two people of the same sex.

The drum beat over “protecting” religious rights has been pounding for the last several months, driven by far-right hysterics and fear mongering over having such rights “revoked” by the President. Never mind the fact that none of it is true.

I’m forced to laugh out loud every time I hear a TV commentator or radio show host declare that they “want their right to free speech back” or their “freedom of religion back.” Of course, the rest of us in the real world know that if they had really lost their right to free speech and religion, they sure as hell wouldn’t be able to talk about it on broadcast radio or on TV.

This is exactly the kind of false reasoning used to push for “religious protection” clauses in bullying policies, like the kind of bill that was filed earlier this year in the Tennessee legislature. If passed, it would have protected bullies who hide behind their religion as they threaten, harass, intimidate, and otherwise oppress their victims.

Faith is also being used as an excuse to discriminate. What’s more, it’s being used as a reason to discriminate — especially against LGBT Americans. After all, their religious beliefs dictate that people in same-sex relationships are sinful, so they shouldn’t have to bend their beliefs to “endorse” such relationships by selling them a wedding cake.

How can we test whether or not the religious protection argument is even valid? It’s not difficult. Just swap out a couple of words. Would our “religious principles” be as valid if we decided to change “same-sex marriage” into “interracial marriage?”

Yes, yes, I know. The complaint is really about “redefining” marriage to include same-sex marriages. Frankly, marriages have been redefined time and time again, and continues to be redefined as we move deeper into our future. I don’t see anyone looking  to go back to a time where women were considered little more than mere property to be sold by marriage contract and used as little more than a sexual tool.

The definition of marriage has changed radically over the centuries, with women now regarded (properly) as equals in every element of society. Well, except religion, where men are still told they should be the “head” of the household.

Women, like LGBT Americans, are a frequent target of the “religious liberty” bunch, with red-state legislatures all across the country are doing everything they can to strip women of the right to choose whether or not they want to become a mother. It’s one of the most important decisions anyone can make — to have children, and it’s become one of the defining battles of our time.

The far right has framed this debate in “pro-life” or “pro-abortion,” as if those who advocate for choice are somehow wanting to shove every pregnant girl and woman into an abortion clinic. The lines are drawn a little more simply than some might think: Pro-choice and anti-choice.

“She made her choice when she chose to have sex.” No, she had sex. Having sex does not mean she wants to be a mother. Just like every man who has sex doesn’t want to be a father. Yes, there’s always a possibility of pregnancy — but tell that to a couple in the heat of the moment when they’re in the back seat. They’re not exactly thinking about a bouncing baby.

Put simply, whether that woman or girl decides to carry her baby to term is her decision. Not yours, not mine, and not the government’s. Hers. Anti-choice activists only want to put women and their doctors in jail for that choice, which is little more than an attempt to create an American Taliban style of government.

I’m not just talking about abortion. This same asinine debate has now moved into birth control, with a very strong movement to allow the use “religious objection” as an excuse for any business (not just religious groups) to deny women insurance coverage for contraception. Apparently, the far right is hoping we won’t notice that their shrilling of “government overreach” is an attempt to mask their own attempted overreach into the personal lives of working-class Americans.

While the influence of religious ideals cannot be understated, we can never forget that our country’s government is not founded on the Bible, or on any religious view. It is based only on the Constitution of the United States. Its first and 14th amendments are both clear on how the government treats religion and individual liberties:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (First Amendment)

The very first amendment ratified and enshrined into the Constitution guarantees the right to free exercise of religion, and prevents the government from creating a state religion. The Supreme Court of the United States has also ruled that this applies to state and local governments as well.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. (14th amendment, section 1)

Notice the second sentence. No state is allowed to enforce any law that abridges the privileges or immunities of citizens of the US. And no state can violate due process. It doesn’t matter how religious you are, you don’t get to pass laws that infringe on the individual rights of other people.

  • You don’t get to control what goes in and comes out of a woman’s vagina.
  • You don’t get to deny basic services (specifically housing or food) to someone just because they’re black/latino/gay.
  • You don’t get to reject a gay couple to rent your public pavilion when you rent it to any other couple for their event.
  • You don’t get to fire or refuse to hire someone at your business just because they don’t share your religion or if they’re gay.
  • Your religious rights aren’t infringed when you have to sell a blouse to a transgender person.
  • Your don’t get to tell a university to cater to your bigoted views about gays so you can graduate your school counseling program.

Here’s the bottom line: Your religious liberties do not allow you to infringe on the liberties of someone else. Put simply, as my good friend Pat Green says, the right to swing your arms ends at the other guy’s nose.

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6 Responses to Religious Liberty Does Not Trump Individual Rights

  1. :::::::STANDING OVATION::::::


  2. Molly Aley Davis says:

    This is such a good post. Watched Kirk Cameron speak yesterday for about 10 minutes about gay marriage and couldn't stop my mouth from hanging open. Reading this article was a much better use of my rare free time. Well said. I look forward to the day when this is a commonplace viewpoint.

  3. Doug Elam says:

    We are not so different guys. Don't believe everything the politicians tell you.

  4. This was a fantastic post. I get really tired of people claiming that other people's marriages, or birth control, or whatever, violate their religious freedom. But nobody's too concerned about the religious freedom of the churches that want to perform same-sex marriages but can't, or of the woman who wants to decide for herself how her religious beliefs (if any) influence her reproductive decisions. I think that Christianity, particularly conservative Christianity, has been so dominant in this country for so long that people mistake actual, neutral religious freedom for persecution. (Like Jon Stewart said, "You have confused "a war on your religion" with "not getting everything you want.").

    I've also never had anyone who's against the birth control part of the ACA give me an answer to this question that I found satisfactory. If sincere religious beliefs, of an organization or an individual, exempt them from labor laws, where does it end? If someone sincerely believes that women shouldn't have authority over men, is he allowed to buy a business and fire all the female managers? And if not, how is that different from organizations wanting to both a) not provide insurance that meets the standard to get them out of paying a tax, and b) still not get to pay the tax/fee/whatever it is.

  5. Hallelujah! Someone took my exact thoughts, expressed them wonderfully, and backed them up with all the facts. Thank you, David.

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