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“Religious Liberty” is Actually Flat-out Discrimination

religious liberty is actually discrimination

It’s been almost 2 years since the Supreme Court decreed that same-sex marriage is now legal and the law of the land, there has been a dramatic upturn in a number of state legislatures who have introduced bills and ordinances as a kind of workaround. If they can’t keep the gays from getting married, they’ll just figure out some other creative way to make sure people know that they don’t approve of the “homosexual lifestyle.” And the creative tactic they’ve chosen is “religious liberty” laws that are actually flat-out discrimination. 

And now, Trump has now signed an executive order “promoting free speech and religious liberty. As a queer person, and as a Christian, this scares me to no end. There are very clear demarcations made to separate church from state to protect faith traditions from state imposed laws surrounding religious expression and the rest of the country from when Churches are trying to impose moral authority on people who don’t submit themselves to the authority of the Church. And there have been protections made for my community over the past few years that I feel are slowly starting to be unraveled. The implications of this executive order are still being analyzed, but suffice to say, it is not going to be good. (And frankly, I’m praying for a federal judge to block this executive order.)

But let’s get into some nitty gritty real quick. About religious liberty bills, what they are and what they are not:

There are two types of bills I’ve seen passed: those that prohibit the government from taking legal action against businesses which hold a strong “religious belief” that marriage is between a man and a woman, and those that specifically discriminate against trans, genderqueer, and non-binary individuals.

And all this is done in the name of “religious liberty,” which is shocking to me because the people pushing these bills are not a cohort that represents various religious practices, all united in opposition of the LGBTQ+ community. (I mean, in reality, it’s not shocking, given our country’s history with systematic racism and white supremacy. But! That’s a different blog for a different time.)

What we actually have here are conservative evangelical Christian groups crying foul because they feel like they are having their rights taken away from them. Which in a way I can understand, because when your privilege gets challenged or taken away so that the playing field just gets leveled, perhaps it feels like oppression.

Let me just say this, flat-out:

No. The Church is not being attacked or victimized.

Yes, in some ways, the American Church is losing some of its grip on public policy, but that’s actually a good thing. I feel like we’re still healing from that moment when Constantine made Christianity the state religion and married our faith with the idea that holiness looks like power. But that, too, is another blog for another time.

If you need proof that we’re doing fine, here are some quick points for you:

  • You will more than likely be able to find a church in nearly every city in America, no matter how small.
  • Churches are exempt from paying taxes, unlike communities of worship from many other faith traditions, and many could never survive without their 501c3 protections.  
  • We’ve never had to fight to get off for religious holidays, again, unlike many other faith traditions.
  • More than 70% of our government representatives identify as Christian, thus creating policies which cater to Christians.
    (These points adapted from this post by Rachel Held Evans)

I mean, I could go on, but the list would be exhausting.

So! Let’s talk about these two kinds of bills.

The Problems With “Religious Liberty” Bills:

I’ve got two issues (really I’ve got a TON of issues, but we’ll tackle two for now):

First of all, Pastors and churches are already protected by the first amendment.

I know! Crazy right? The fact that our constitution already protects pastors, reverends, or anyone else from performing religious services or solemnizing marriages that conflict with their religious traditions? Wow. Thanks, America’s founding fathers! Even though you screwed the pooch on nearly everything else as far as equality is concerned, way to look out for our religious leaders.

Not to mention, and y’all can correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think that a same-sex couple would even seek out the services of a pastor or priest who had a problem with their relationship in the first place. To me that’s common sense, but what do I know? I’m just a gay guy who will eventually want to get married to a dude one day, and I’m pretty sure that whoever officiates that day will be cool with the whole, ya know, gay thing.

Second, this is the same line of thinking that allowed individuals to discriminate along the lines of race, and that states used to uphold bans on interracial marriage.

And of course race, sexual orientation, and gender identity are different things, but you can’t deny that these things are similar to Jim Crow era discrimination.

For example, the law that recently passed in Mississippi prohibits the government from intervening any cases of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people as long as someone has “sincerely held religious beliefs.” And it’s not just about protecting bakers, florists or photographers from not giving their services to same-sex couples.

Under this law, people can deny counseling services, foster care, and adoption services —even if these services are government funded. Additionally, this law allows for the denial of services, goods, wedding products, medical treatment, housing, and employment of LGBTQ+ people.

And this kind of law has been around before. During the Jim Crow era, the law read that “the marriage of a white person with a negro or mulatto, or a person who shall have one-eighth or more of negro blood, shall be unlawful and void.”

This law was created at a time when black people were not viewed as equal citizens in the U.S., and the idea of people of mixed races marrying was offensive, and perhaps as something that would ruin the “sanctity of marriage.” And obviously, we would never look at an interracial couple now and call them offensive. They’d never be denied public services, health care, or even have a wedding photographer deny them services.

The government then saw fit to protect the rights of people to marry who they wanted—people who believed different things about love than those a racist white culture majority believed.

So what gives?

The Problem With “Bathroom Bills”

I mean, really, what’s not wrong with these “bathroom bill” laws? They are freaking terrible. I’ve said it a few times on the blog already, but while people are worried about who is using which toilet, people are dying. Literally, there’s a ton of stuff wrong with our cities to focus on, and this? This is what people want to fight over? It’s just nuts to me.

Once again, it’s another block of legislation that’s being pushed by the religious right to relegate an already marginalized group of people. And even with the testimony of trans people at hearings over bills like these, they usually go unheard and unnoticed and are even silenced, in the case of queer people of color who are fighting these outrageous bills.

Some people claim that open bathrooms are dangerous to cis-users. However, this has never been the case. The “bathroom predator myth” has been debunked over and over again. You can read up on that HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Laws like this ignore the existence of intersex individuals, flaunt a lack of knowledge about sex vs gender (and yes, they are different) under the guise of “religious liberty.”

Additionally, laws like this forget that most sexual assaults are perpetrated by cisgender men, not trans individuals. My friend Melissa put the following out on Twitter around this time last year when the bathroom bills really were making headlines, and I still think it sums it up quite nicely:

 

…’nuff said on that, in my opinion.

So, if these “religious liberty” laws are obviously so problematic, why are they getting pushed through the legislature?

Fear.

Fear of losing power. Fear of “the other.” Fear of change. Fear of things and people that need not be feared.

And you can only fear that which you do not know. Fear and anxiety are not of God and so many people are just sitting in this place of intolerant fear. Therein lies the problem Christians have: they lack context for the LGBTQ+ community. For them, this is not about people. They have no relationship with the group of people that is affected by these policies.

Just today, someone on Facebook posted this long hot mess of her thoughts on why she didn’t think transgender people should use whatever bathroom they felt most comfortable in. And she listed all the things that I talked about above, and rather than blasting her I asked her one question.

“How do your transgender friends feel when they hear you say things like this?”

Hostile attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people, or any minority group for that matter, only exist when it is impersonal. The moment you meet and become friends with individuals, you can’t look at a subject involving them the same way.

When policies are tied to people, you become personally invested in looking out for those people through policy.

Granted, that’s what the movement for LGBTQ+ equality has been trying to do. It’s been trying to get people’s stories out there. It’s been trying to humanize the LGBTQ+ community to a conservative population because otherwise, that population is seeking to regulate a group that they don’t even know without having to realize that human lives are being affected.

Real people.

So, if you call yourself a Christian and you support these “religious freedom” bills, I ask you:

What do your LGBTQ+ friends think when they hear you support legislation that makes them second class citizens, that denies them public services, and that treats them as less than equal?”

If your answer is, “I don’t have any friends like that…”

Well. There you go.


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IMG_4590 Talk to me. Do you live in one of these states? How are you dealing? What can people do to change the narrative around LGBTQ+ folks?

Let’s talk in the comments below. 

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  • Dan B.

    You are right that conservatives need relationships with LGBTQ individuals. Last week I had an exchange on Twitter with a Baptist pastor about the “illness” of trans people. I asked him twice if he had ever met or talked with a trans individual; he shared doctrine but never answered my question.

    Relationships are the starting point–but they are no guarantee that it will make a difference. I have family members who see only sin and tragedy when they look at me, and it wouldn’t occur to them that maybe, just maybe, they should consider the impact of these laws on someone they love.

    On the other hand, I know that my openness about being gay has made a difference with my closest friend. He’s about as conservative as they come, but because of our friendship, he is willing to consider LGBTQ issues more fully; he’s willing to engage in discussion.

    The difference? My family members are more concerned with adherence to a particular understanding of Scripture and being right with God, while my friend is more concerned with having a relationship with God.

  • Christina Cramer

    “…married our faith with the idea that holiness looks like power…” Oh my, yell that from the rooftops, preacher! I would love a blog post on that right there. I think that says so much about these laws that aim to keep evangelical Christianity at the height of power of our country. And yet, I see nothing in Jesus that leads me to believe I should focus on that more than serving others, especially my LGBTQ+ fam.