Let us consider the question of religious freedom, since it is such a timely and relevant topic these days. I'm a big believer in the Constitution's First Amendment and am very much in favor of the general concept of religious civil liberty for every American citizen. It's a wonderful thing to be able to believe -- or not believe -- in whatever religion you like, or in no religion at all, without government interference.
That being said, it's unconscionable that a small group of extremists in some states are working to undermine the Constitutional protection of religious liberties and make religious discrimination legal. Some on the Christian right are insidiously working to have laws passed that would allow conservative business owners to discriminate openly against certain individuals on the basis of "religious freedom." In essence, this means that a business owner could arbitrarily refuse service to anyone they choose while claiming that to offer such service would somehow abrogate the business owner's "freedom of religion." (Arizona's governor recently vetoed just such a bill, thereby preventing a landslide of negative publicity and lost business opportunities, including the 2015 Super Bowl which is scheduled to be held in Phoenix.)
Let's not be disingenuous: anyone who's paying attention knows that despite their rhetoric of righteousness and piety, these right wing attempts to create "religious freedom laws" are not really about either religion or freedom. Instead, they are thinly disguised efforts by uberconservative Christians (and the politicians they support) to legalize discrimination against the LGBT community and women. Keep in mind that the religious freedoms of Christians are in no way being threatened. The majority of religious people in the United States are overwhelmingly Christian. Despite the unsubstantiated ravings of media figures like Sarah Palin, who shrilly warns her base about a "war on Christianity," and Bill O'Reilly, who annually goes on a rampage about some sort of liberal "war on Christmas," it is ludicrous to think that the religious freedoms of Christians are even close to being endangered or infringed upon in any way. It's simply not happening. To believe otherwise is to delude oneself.
It's a remarkable thing when members of the most powerful religious group in America can illogically insist, with a straight face, that their religion is somehow being persecuted or endangered and that laws therefore need to be passed to ensure their ongoing "freedom of religion" -- as if that religion were ever in jeopardy in the first place!
While Christianity in the U.S. is certainly not being victimized, it's a fact that the civil rights of other religious people in this country often teeter on shaky ground. For example, ask any American Muslim if they honestly feel their Christian neighbors fully support the freedoms of Muslims to practice their faith. You might be surprised by the answer you receive.
Two things that the Christian right can't stand are sexual minorities and uppity women who think they're equal to men. The right wing extremists believe that if they can manage to get "religious freedom laws" passed, they may also be able to start rolling back other hard-earned rights that have been won by the aforementioned groups. Women and LGBT persons should be very much aware of this possibility and be prepared to confront this underhanded legal maneuvering by conservatives.
Most of us believed that the issue of who can sit at the lunch counter and shop in stores here in America was settled back in the sixties. However, if the conservatives are successful with their latest attempts to disguise bigotry in the name of "religious freedom," then the whole issue of equality for minorities is right back on the table again. We will have marched backward toward a time when it was legal to discriminate if you decided you didn't like something about a person -- their skin color, their religion, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their political party, their clothing, their mannerisms, etc. -- and you can get away with it because you're presumably doing it under the banner of "religious freedom."
Any religion worth following should be in favor of equality for everyone under the law. That's just common sense and human decency. The blessings of liberty should apply to every citizen, not only those who meet some sort of arbitrary religious standard. That's why our politicians swear allegiance to the Constitution, not the bible. Some of our more conservative politicians appear to be a little confused about that and should probably be reminded as to where their sworn loyalties need to lie.
"Religious freedom" bills are, at their core, abominations that threaten the civil and human rights of Americans. Frankly, allowing some sort of "religious freedom law" to be passed would open a Pandora's box of problems, and it would not end well. If business owners are legally permitted to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people for "religious" reasons, then who's next? African-Americans? Muslims? Butch women? Effeminate males? Unmarried couples? You, perhaps? And who gets to define what constitutes a legitimate religious belief anyway? "Religious freedom laws" would provide license for racists to discriminate openly against people of color while hiding behind their "religious beliefs." Such laws would allow religious bigots to refuse service to anyone for any reason while thumping their bibles and pointing their fingers at the "sinners."
This issue could quickly become a nightmare of epic proportions for business owners. For example, how is a business owner supposed to know whether a hypothetical customer is LGBT or not? After all, it's not as though LGBT people usually walk around wearing signs that proclaim their sexual orientation. And what if the business owner guessed wrong about the customer? What if the customer in question happened to be straight and Christian, yet was refused service by a discriminatory business owner who was mistaken about the customer's identity? Wouldn't the customer be within their rights to sue the business?
If a business owner can legally discriminate against LGBT people, then it's only a small step to discriminating against persons of color. Remember "whites only" lunch counters, restrooms and drinking fountains? Remember when African-Americans had to sit in the back of the bus? And all a business owner would have to do is claim that the customer they refuse to serve somehow violates the delicate sensibilities of the business owner's "religious freedom."
Several states are currently considering passing "religious freedom laws." Don't be misled: such legislation is unconstitutional and should be patently offensive to any patriotic American who cares about equality for every citizen. Please make sure your elected representatives are reminded of that if any of these so-called "religious freedom" bills should slither into your state's legislature.
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