THE BLOG

Can Religious Freedom Be Used to Discriminate?

04/06/2015 06:17 pm ET | Updated Jun 06, 2015

Imagine a couple holding hands as they walk down the street to a diner for dinner. They walk into the diner and wait to be seated. The couple begins to notice other people who arrived after them being called for a table. After waiting patiently for over a half hour, the couple goes up to the receptionist and asks why they haven't been seated yet. The receptionist calls over the owner of the diner who informs the couple they should eat somewhere else. The owner tells the couple his religious beliefs bar him from serving "your kind of people."

Depending on the perspective, this story could've been about an African-American or gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender couples experiencing discrimination. The only litmus test for both discriminatory situations is skin deep -- the color of one's skin and two people holding hands. As such, the reason for such discrimination should never be confused with protecting "religious freedom."

American history has shown "religious freedom" was used to legitimize slavery and later constituted the bedrock of discriminatory Jim Crow laws in southern states. In 1964, the owner of a BBQ restaurant in South Carolina based his refusal to serve African Americans on the first amendment and his freedom to practice his religious beliefs. In lower court deliberations, a judge cited a previously rejected "religious freedom" defense which claimed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was invalid because it "contravenes the will of God," and constitutes an interference with the "free exercise of the Defendant's religion." The Supreme Court agreed with previous court rulings and unanimously ruled 8-0 to uphold the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Similar kinds of laws and tactics under the guise of "religious freedom" are now being used by business and lawmakers to discriminate against LGBT people.

Freedom of religion -- at least in the American tradition -- meant being tolerant of different beliefs, while also peacefully coexisting. On the individual level, freedom to worship without persecution was one of the primary concerns for Americans. For generations, America was seen as a beacon of freedom and liberty for those who sought to escape the oppressive, and often times deadly, religious persecution and fanaticism of the old world.

Individuals and groups discriminating based off perceived threats to their religious freedoms due to the lifestyle and beliefs of others signal a return to a period in human history where prejudice, hatred and violence reigned supreme. A time period in which people were divided by not just by religion, but also by race and gender. Returning to such a period would constitute a defeat for all of humanity.

Pope Francis warns against "individualism which divides human beings, setting them against one another as they pursue their own well-being." Whether it be based on gender, sexuality or race, discrimination typically focuses on one single aspect of a human being's life. So what if someone is gay? Is that the sole extent to which an individual is defined and judged by others?

This much is certain, discrimination doesn't create good neighbors. Romans 13:10 states, "Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law." As such, businesses and lawmakers who push discriminatory practices and laws are wise not to nitpick the bible's teachings to fit their own bigoted views. To be truly Christian, one must love the entire person. Doing otherwise undermines the integrity of the Christian faith.

In an article I wrote months earlier, I stated Catholics and other Christian denominations will continue to see young people leave the faith if they don't, among other things, start providing greater pastoral care to LGBT people. A professor with a Ph.D. in theology wrote a response to my article saying the Catholic Church isn't about numbers, but rather the truth.

The professor's argument was fair enough. In all my writings and work, I've attempt to honestly advocate my values and beliefs from the heart. A heart filled with unconditional love and kindness for family, friends and peers. Throughout my life I've witnessed the good and bad aspects of humanity. The simple truth is: I don't want to add to the widespread hate and anger that exists throughout the world. That being said, each of us much decide if new religious freedom laws serve to uplift humanity or add to its division.