What Kind of Priest Would Be Against a Religious Freedom Act?

04/01/2015 05:59 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2015

Yes, it was an actual question in an actual email precipitated by a Huffington Post piece I wrote on the Indiana "Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)" entitled Misusing Religious Freedom as a Weapon of Mass Discrimination. It started:

Dear "Reverend" Russell,
(Spoiler: When there are quotation marks around Reverend we're never going anywhere fun.)

What Bible to do you read? First of all, women are to be silent in the church -- which you would know if you'd read 1 Corinthians 14:34. And secondly, what kind of priest would be against a Religious Freedom Act?

I'll spare you the rest. But it wasn't the only email I got.

I also got several from folks convinced I hadn't read the bill (I had) or didn't know that President Bill Clinton had signed the federal RFRA in 1993 (I did) and contending that the Indiana bill was exactly the same thing (it isn't.)

And then there was the intern over at News Busters who suggested I was "too busy botching elementary scripture passages to notice that Indiana is actually the 20th state to adopt a RFRA law and that the origins of said laws date back to the 90's, long before gay 'rights' became an issue." (I know -- quotation marks around rights. It's a pattern.)

So since the flurry of activity around the RFRA in Indiana and then Arkansas has clearly precipitated the need for a "refresher course" on the history and impact of this legislation, I'm grateful to The Religion News Service for a great, concise review and summary of a. what the federal government passed in 1993 and b. why what's happening with current legislation is different.

You'll want to read it all here, but it starts by explaining that the act Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993 required a "compelling state interest" in order to justify a ban on religious practice and it goes on to clarify how "that all changed in the 2000s, as conservative activists began using RFRA in a new way: as a sword, rather than a shield ... arguing their religious belief should trump your civil rights."

And there, as they say, is the rub. And there is also the part that explains what kind of priest would oppose a religious freedom act.

The kind of priest who understand that the First Amendment is what protects our democracy from becoming a theocracy, preventing our government from privileging one religion over another and protecting each and every one of us to believe whatever we choose -- or choose not -- to believe about what God thinks, approves of or blesses.

The kind of priest who believes that religious persecution is when you're prevented from exercising your beliefs, not when you're prevented from imposing your beliefs.

And the kind of priest who has been sharing these words from Rev Emily C. Heath via Daily Kos explaining how you tell if your religious liberties are being violated:

You are not allowed to attend religious services of your choosing ... YES
Others are allowed to go to religious services of their own choosing or not at all ... NO

You are not allowed to legally marry the person you love ...YES
Someone else is allowed to marry the person they love in spite of what your religion says ... NO

You are being forced to use birth control even though it is against your religion ...YES
You are unable to prevent others from using birth control ...NO

You are not allowed to pray privately in your home or in a public place ...YES
You are not allowed to force others to pray publicly ... NO

You are not allowed to purchase read or possess religious books and materials ...YES
Others are allowed access to books movies and websites that you don't like ...NO

You are not allowed to teach your children creation stories of your faith in your own home ...YES
Public school science classes are teaching children science ...NO

Bottom line: What kind of priest would be against a Religious Freedom Act? The kind of priest who is all in favor of religious freedom -- and inalterably opposed to having religious freedom hijacked and misused as a weapon of mass discrimination.