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The End of Religious Freedom

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In recent years, members of the religious right has been very quick to claim victim status for themselves, and to say its religions freedom is being infringed. From many of the cases used to "prove" their claim, however, it is apparent they has no understanding of rights.

They seem to be under the impression that anything they claim is "religious" means they may behave in any manner they wish, regardless of how it impinges the rights of others. If they don't get their way, it is a violation of rights; that seems to be their entire definition.

Take the misnamed Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious right organization that defends special privileges for Christians. It claimed the New Hampshire Supreme Court "forced a home-schooled student into a government-run school against the mother's wishes." It said the mother was being punished due to her Christian faith.

As the group described the situation, it sounded bad indeed. How they describe it, however, is highly deceptive. This case was a custody battle between two parents, both with joint custody. The father wanted his daughter in public schools, while the mother wanted to home-school. As the New Hampshire Supreme Court stated: "When divorced parents are unable to agree on such educational choices for their minor children, however, courts are called upon to make these difficult and sensitive decisions..."

The lower court said its investigation determined that the child would best be served by allowing the father's preference to be implemented, but, the religious right sees this as a violation of the mother's religion. Yet, the same kind of decision would be necessary if the mother wanted the girl home-schooled and the father wanted her in a Christian school. The court would have to rule for one, or the other. Fundamentalists at ADF simply assume any time Christians don't get what they want, it is an assault on religious freedom.

In another incident, Rose Marie Belforti, the town clerk of Ledyard, N.Y., refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples because she said it violated her religious beliefs. Of course, no one was forcing her to marry a woman; she was simply refusing to do her job.

Once again, ADF rushed and claimed it was protecting the rights of believers. Belforti said she had a right "to hold both my job and my beliefs." No! This simply is not true. A job is a contract with an employer to do the work they need in exchange for remuneration. There is no "right" to a job. It is a mutual contract.

Consider a "Bible-believing Christian" who takes a job at a small convenience store, but who locks up the liquor and cigarettes because selling them violates his religious beliefs. If his religion bars him from doing the job he was hired to do, he has no right to claim both the job and his religion. If he actually had such a right, it would amount to him forcing his religious beliefs on his employer.

There are white supremacist churches teaching that black people are "beasts of the field." Do practitioners of this religion have the right to refuse to serve black customers where they work? Rights of religious employees end where rights of employers begin. If this were not the case, then their religious beliefs would be imposed on their employer against his will. If a person's religious beliefs prevent him from doing the job he is hired to do, he should look for another job. He has every right to live up to the expectations of his religion, but he doesn't have the right to pass the cost on to others.

In America, we have fundamentalist sects advocating extreme beatings of children, sometimes resulting in deaths. Others refuse to give sick children medical care, allowing them to die. Their right to practice religion ends when their faith results in death for others.

Religious fundamentalists are rarely satisfied with imposing beliefs on the faithful. They seek to impose them on the larger society as well. It isn't enough that they don't drink; alcohol must be banned. It isn't enough to forbid same-sex marriage in their sect; the law must impose those religious beliefs on everyone.

Given that anyone can claim virtually anything as a religious belief, and there is no objective definition of what qualifies as religious and what doesn't, to argue that religious beliefs trump everything else is to set up a system giving the religious total power over others.

We are all free to believe anything we want. We are not free to do anything we want, just because we call it religion. Our rights end where the rights of others begin. This is a line of demarcation too many on the religious right refuse to accept.

It is one thing to argue the "fire god" needs and to throw yourself into a volcano, and quite another to throw in someone else!

In addition, fundamentalism tends to be all encompassing; there is little their religion doesn't cover. Christian fundamentalist Gary North is quite honest when he says: "The laws of the kingdom of God extend just as far as sin does. This means every area of life." When they mean "every area" of their own life, no rights are violated. When they mean my life, or yours, it is political totalitarianism.