What’s wrong with “Religious Freedom”

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Religious Freedom stamp

Religious Freedom stamp

Religious Freedom stamp

And “Religious Liberty.”

Scare quotes have established themselves around these terms in news stories about current legislative efforts to allow businesses and individuals with religious objections to same-sex marriage not to provide goods and services to same-sex couples. As in Politico’s “Backlash hits GOP governors over ‘religious freedom’ legislation” and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Why the champion of the ‘religious liberty’ bill may have cost Columbus millions.” And, I’m afraid, RNS’ “Mississippi’s ‘religious freedom’ bill moves to governor amid gay-rights protests.”

It’s no mystery why this has happened. There’s journalistic resistance to buying into the language of the legislation’s advocates. “Religious freedom” and “religious liberty” are sacred concepts in America. Doesn’t it make sense to signal that they are being used by advocates to advance an agenda that may be more problematic than the terms imply?

The answer, I’d say, is not this way. Whether or not the bills in question — or, for that matter, the religious liberty claims of faith-based employers seeking relief from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate — are legitimate under the First Amendment or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (now there’s a loaded title!) is not for news stories to judge. And the quotation marks inject editorial opinion on the other side — just as conservative religious publications do when they refer to same-sex marriage as “same sex ‘marriage.'” Here the scare quotes imply something along the lines of: “Religious freedom? Not necessarily!”

Advocates always try to characterize their causes as motherhood and apple pie. Who isn’t in favor of life? Who doesn’t support choice? What journalists have to figure out is ways to represent each side in neutral terms. So: “anti-abortion legislation” rather than “pro-life legislation.” And: “abortion rights legislation” rather than “pro-choice legislation.” At the moment, what’s needed is something other than scare quotes for religious freedom and religious liberty. The ACLU’s “Discriminatory Anti-LGBT” won’t do the trick.

I propose “religious exemption.” As in: “Mississippi’s religious exemption bill moves to governor amid gay-rights protests.” It’s not as provocative, but then that’s the point.

  • samuel johnston

    Another example of bringing logic and consistency to an emotional confrontation.
    It’s like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Wrong tool for the job. No minds will be changed. The “true believer” needs to be wronged and oppressed. Those who “know the truth” need to be opposed by the devil, not some mild mannered logician.

  • Glenn Harrell

    …and an excellent point indeed.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    No, “religious exemption” perpetuates the fraud in trying to paint homophobia, a mental disorder, as a religious belief. Anti-gays are very careful to try to hide their intent to injure their intended LGBT victims. The media has an obligation to refuse to participate in anti-gays’ deceptions, and scare quotes are a fair way to demonstrate that deception to the reading public.

  • cken

    Allowing abortion and gay marriage is the ultimate expression of religious freedom because in the end it is between those specific people and their god. Any attempt to suppress such things is against religious freedom. No one religion can claim the moral authority to justify forcing their morality on others.

  • P Edward Murray

    Let’s see…go ahead and tell me that the word “homophobia” is as old as our nation? Huh?

    I’m 59 and not stupid!

  • P Edward Murray

    Cken forgets that he or she was an unborn child once too.
    Does that mean that you were NOT a human baby?
    Does that not mean that you were a person?
    Your parents thought that you were!

  • yoh

    But neither of you are them now. Obviously your mothers decided to keep you both out of their choices. The anti abortion pov is largely based on arrogance, indifference and dishonesty of the proponents. To claim one is so superior in moral fiber that they can force their way into decisions which are none of their business.

  • yoh

    I am inclined to believe the first part, but the question posed makes me doubt the second.

    You may be 59.

  • cken

    You are a baby after you are born.

  • samuel johnston

    P Ed M,
    An “unborn child” is a mere figure of speech that may refer to a zygote, a fetus, or any stage of human development prior to birth. Rhetoric does not create anything but misunderstandings. Religious arguments (note I did not say religion) are mere vibrations in the air. Birth is necessarily a long and extremely complex process, that is still not completely understood. At the moment I am taking a course in epigenetics. Why don’t you join me and try to learn something about the subject.

  • cken

    You are right. Personally I have always considered the fetus to be a child when it could with reasonable medical care survive outside the womb. Beyond that semantics don’t matter and don’t change the survival point which is generally considered to be about 22 weeks. To be cautious, barring extenuating circumstances, I think abortions should be limited to not more than 18 weeks. It does bother me that so many have multiple abortions as a form of birth control and some do it because the fetus wasn’t the sex they wanted.

  • When your religious freedom impinges on my basic freedoms, or when my religious freedom impinges on your basic freedoms, the relationship has become irreligious, abandoned by the Spirit.

  • Rod

    If “homophobia” were actually an irrational fear of homosexuals/homosexuality, it maybe would be a mental illness. But when it is a religious belief that homosexual activity is sinful, it is actually a legitimate religious belief, whether you agree or not. Calling every moral objection to homosexual activity “homophobia” is a blatant example of exactly the behavior this article criticizes, and to claim that everyone who has a religious reservation about the morality of homosexual activity is mentally ill is every bit as abusive as gay-bashing. Why is it that those who are most adamant about their own right to believe what they want are so often those who are most ready to deny that right to others?

  • yoh

    Trying to deny the existence of a form of bigotry. Calling it a religious belief doesn’t change the malicious and hateful nature of attitudes expressed. Calling anti gay sentiments a pathological condition would be a benefit. Otherwise it would just be considered prejudice and immoral character.

    It’s not your belief that gays are inferior to you which is the problem. It’s what you do in accordance with it. Such as deliberately attack gays in service of your faith. Your right to belief ends when you seek to harm others in its name. Religious freedom no more describes these bills than would human sacrifice.

    You don’t want freedom, you want privilege.

  • Ben in oakland

    Homophobia isn’t the irrational fear of homosexuals, it’s the fear you yourself may be honosexual. Homohatred or Homobigotry are much better terms.

    So you believe homosexuality is a sin, and that justifies sodomy laws, marriage bands, a to adoption laws, don’t ask don’t tell, and blaming gay people for the immoral choices of the heterosexual majority? Funny how you DONT DO THAT for everything else you believe to be a sin, especially the egregious sin of not believing in Jesus. You’d almost think that it isn’t about sin at all, merely a social prejudice.

    Your last sentence is an important question. The problem is, you and other religionists who think that their religious Views entitle them to dominion over the lives of others refuse to apply that question to themselves. You assume your superiority as a moral person, a Christian, and a human being.

    Don’t like gay marriage? don’t get gay married, don’t allow them in your church, and your problem is solved.

  • Rod

    I never said anything about sodomy laws or gay marriage. All I said was that people who want others to respect their right to be different should be willing to allow that right to those with whom they may disagree. The gay movement started out just wanting to be left alone to do their own thing in peace. Now that it has achieved that, it wants to force everyone else not only to accept, but affirm, celebrate and support what they believe. Amazing how easy it is for the persecuted to eagerly become the persecutors. How about just leaving religious people alone to do our own thing in peace?

  • Rod

    Not me. I am not attacking anybody. I am simply expressing a belief that homosexual activity is sinful, i.e., that the God I believe in tells us that it is detrimental to our relationship with Him. You may choose to believe differently. I am not trying to stop anybody from engaging in it if that is what they want to do. Why do you feel the need to attack somebody who believes differently than you? Why do you need to force everyone to accept your view and behave as you think they should? Why not just find another florist or photographer if they don’t want to take your money to help you do something they think is harmful to you?

  • cken

    Rod, How is being homosexual harmful to you. To say it is sinful is taking a Biblical passage out of literal context or the social context of the era. If you assume sinning is harmful to you then we are all equally harmed. You seem to ignore there are many Homosexuals who are Christians.

  • yoh

    “Why not just find another florist or photographer if they don’t want to take your money to help you do something they think is harmful to you?”

    Ah separate but equal, where did we hear that one before? There is not a single argument used in favor of discrimination against gays which has not been used against other groups. Hate is hate. Discrimination is discrimination.

    Religious freedom means nobody has to give a flying cr@p what you think God says or what is considered sinful as long as you do not harm yourself or others.

    It means you don’t get a right to harm people because of your religious views. Discrimination is a deliberate and malicious harm to others, You have as much right to do so as part of your religious exercise as I do to kill your family as a sacrifice to the Aztec gods of my choice.

  • yoh

    “How about just leaving religious people alone to do our own thing in peace?”

    If you have businesses open to the general public you have a duty to serve the general public. If you can’t do that, deal with the consequences. You want to attack gays for existing. Therefore you seek legal ability to maliciously discriminate against them. So don’t give me that “I want to be left alone in peace” bu11. Nobody wants your agreement or affirmation, they want you to treat them like human beings. If you can’t do that, eff you. That is not anyone else’s problem, just yours.

  • Ben in oakland

    I didn’t mean you personally. 1000 letters limits the response. The you was a generic you. Virtually every single antigay campaign and law in the past 40 yEars has been at the behest of so called Christians.

  • Ben in oakland

    You give away your real inten with “affect, affirm, celebrate, and support.”

    No, I don’t give a rats behind whether you do any of that. I have never known a single gay person who Has wanted that, though it would be nice. The spate of antigay laws, and reaction to progaylaws, over the past 45 years that I have been in the fight, have all of them been promulgated by people claiming religious beliefs.

    What I want is exactly the same courtesy and respect the you routinely extend to all of the people, except gay people, that you believe are going to burn in hell forever for not kowtowing to your religious beliefs.

    The question for you is why, if you can’t discriminate against others on the basis of your beliefs, this is OK? You have a handful of martyrbaters– maybe 20 or so?– that can’t seem to say “sorry, I’m booked.” But instead, have to proclaim loudly that they are good Christians and don’t have to treat us like everyone else, or even how you would like it yourself?

  • Rev Andrew Gentry

    The newly shari law enacted in Mississippi is no different than the religious laws enacted against inter racial marriage and all other civil rights and liberties by what passed for the Mississippi intelligencia way back then and what passes for it in 2016. I remember white preachers loudly whilst foaming at the mouth proclaiming that the “Word of God” demanded the “separation of the races! You all know that Mississippi don’t you,where contented Darkies sang as proper Christian white folke sat on the porch listening, where poor folkes were proud to be poor and thankful that God had placed them in below minimum wage jobs, and where less than virtuous women left town and families to have bastard children!

  • cken

    Comparing anti-interracial marriage laws is an entirely different matter than not allowing sharia law. The former was racist. The latter is to disallow sharia law from replacing the law of the state. If you come to America you need to abide by our law period. You do not have the right to replace the law of the land with your own law just because you are a religious group. If we allow sharia law why not have Jewish law, Hindu law, and Christian law and just do away with secular law entirely. I just don’t think we are ready to have somebody’s hand cut off because they stole, or have a women stoned to death because they committed adultery; which would be some examples under sharia law.. So no this is not at all analogous to racism nor does it in any way suppress religious freedom.

  • Re: “But when it is a religious belief that homosexual activity is sinful, it is actually a legitimate religious belief, whether you agree or not.”

    I wasn’t aware that any given gay person’s “gayness” (for lack of a better word) was anyone else’s concern. Seriously. Why do so many believers obsess over it? Does it really matter? What makes the fact that someone is gay, their business? So what if the believer views it’s “sin”? As long as the believer isn’t involved, why should the believer even care? And on what grounds should believers arrogate authority over others’ lives?

    Jesus had some words for folks like that: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Mt 7:5 & Lk 6:42b)

  • Rod

    As long as the believer isn’t involved, why should the believer even care?”

    I agree in general. Most people who believe homosexual activity is sinful don’t go looking for opportunities to make an issue out of it. Live and let live. The problem is when somebody with a religious belief that it is sinful is put into a position of doing something they feel directly opposes their own belief. The bakers who have been harassed by lawsuits even routinely served those customers, no questions asked and presumably without a sermon about their lifestyle. It was only when they were ordered to make a cake to celebrate a gay marriage that they said, respectfully, that their conscience would not allow them to do that. They might even give them a list of other bakers who would be happy to help them. But they have to be forced out of business by those unwilling to respect their right to hold and act upon that belief, to make it known that no dissent will be tolerated now that we have the power.

  • Re: “It was only when they were ordered to make a cake to celebrate a gay marriage that they said, respectfully, that their conscience would not allow them to do that.”

    But, why would it matter to the baker? S/he isn’t the one getting married. S/he doesn’t even (typically) attend the wedding. Moreover, cakes don’t make people married. They will be just as married if there were no cake. So in the end, what difference does it make?

    Another consideration: The bellicose whining about “sinful marriages” seems limited to gay marriages. But what couples who’ve had sex before marrying? Isn’t that “sinful”? Do bakers routinely inquire about that before baking cakes? Why do I think they don’t?

    Ultimately this looks like a whole lot of infantile grandstanding against gay marriage. Unfortunately, though, believers no longer have any vote in the matter. Gays can marry … and believers can no longer prevent it. Boo hoo.

  • Rev Andrew Gentry

    You completely missed the point! The so called “religious freedom” law is no different than sharia law in both its scope and illegitimacy. Sharia is derived from a book of scripture that is applied and enforced by a government! Remember a rose by another name….need I say more!

  • Ben in Oakland

    This is one of those places where the reality of the situation is vastly different than what you just described. Several of these martyrbaters have claimed that they have no problem serving gay people, but not gay weddings. When I go into any kind of a store, I typically do not announce my sexual orientation. However if I go into a bakery to order a wedding cake, I am announcing it. for the wedding cake, the Baker is having to confront that not only am I a gay man, but I am a gay man getting legally married, perhaps in a church. That makes me their equal. And that is the problem.

    Much like the so-called civil unions compromise, allowing me to actually Marry makes me their equal, rather than someone they can look down on as a Christian, a moral person, and a human being. And that cannot be.

    No gay couple ever has ever wanted to force any vendor to do anything. But I demand to be treated the same as they would treat any other customer, even if the answer is no.

  • Dimitri Cavalli

    I honestly think the time has come to pull the plug on all anti-discrimination laws. All they do is empower lawyers and government lawyers.

    The real cure for discrimation is a growing economy that creates more opportunity for people.

  • Dimitri Cavalli

    How far do we take this?

    Amy Roth Davis is an atheist blogger known as “Surly Amy” and a jeweler. If Ms. Davis doesn’t want to make religious jewelry, should she be sued for discrimination and fined by the state?

    Should a Muslim supermarket owner who refuses to sell beer or pork be punished? Or should customers find another store.

    Richard Dawkins, who is not a vegetarian, wants to outlaw Jewish ritual slaughter for meat which he finds “cruel.” Any takers?

  • Garson Abuita

    “Respectfully”? One of the Oregon baker couple from Sweetcakes by Melissa cited Leviticus 18:22 to the bride’s mother when he refused to make the cake. Then, when as was the brides’ right under Oregon law, they made a formal complaint of discrimination, he posted their complaint on Facebook, complete with their names and addresses, and said, “This is what happens when you tell gay people you won’t do their ‘wedding cake.'” (notice the judgmental quotes). He gave a much more respectful version of events when interviewed by Christian broadcasters, of course.

  • Garson Abuita

    No vendor is required under US law to make or sell any particular item. They are required, however, in a growing number of jurisdictions, to sell the items they do make or carry to all customers without discriminating on the basis of, inter alia, sexual orientation real or perceived. So Davis wouldn’t be required to make or sell crucifixes or stars of David. But, if a person came in and asked for a “LOVE” necklace, and Davis had it or agreed to make it, but the person then said she wanted it for her niece’s first communion, and Davis then refused, there would be a serious discrimination complaint. Similarly, a halal or kosher market is not required to sell pork products. But if it refused to sell to a Jewish or Muslim customer, yes there should be punishment (in practice, kosher and halal are very similar and there’s much commingling of customers).
    The shechita example is different due to it not involving a customer who is refused service, and I’m running out of space.

  • Susan

    “How about just leaving religious people alone to do our own thing in peace?”

    I belong to a religious denomination that allows Gays and Lesbians to marry each other. Not all religious people think homosexuality is a sin. So only some religious people have freedom others don’t.

  • Jay

    The “scare quotes” are entirely appropriate for laws that have nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with granting licenses to discriminate.