Religious and personal liberty: It’s not just for Christians

What’s happening in Kansas is particularly reprehensible, but discriminatory laws in the name of religion are a troubling national trend.


I admit, I don’t know much about Kansas aside from The Wizard of the Oz. Dorothy was sure eager to get out of there. The good-hearted girl would be even more desperate to escape these days, I’d wager.

The eyes of the nation are on Kansas, thanks to vile anti-gay legislation that was forced through the state House last week. Simply put, it’s state-sanctioned discrimination. It’s not the first time a law like this has been proposed and, sadly, it won’t be the last.

Word is that the Kansas Senate will stop the bill in its tracks, making sure it never gets to the desk of ultra-conservative Governor Sam Brownback. But that doesn’t make the intent of the bill any less reprehensible. Especially since it’s being pedaled in the name of “religious liberty.”

Here’s an excerpt of the bill’s language, from the Los Angeles Times:

House Bill 2453 says that ‘no individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender: (a) Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement; (b) solemnize any marriage, domestic partnership.’

As pointed out in Slate, the vaguely worded bill could easily be interpreted to include LGBT individuals. However you look at it, the bill promotes legalized discrimination. All in the name of religious liberty, which we know means Christianity. I haven’t heard anyone but fundamentalist Christians clamoring in chorus about their religious liberties being trampled on in America.

I’m relieved that this bill shows little chance of becoming law in Kansas. But I remain more concerned than ever about the creeping intrusion of Christianity into our laws. I have nothing whatsoever against Christianity or Christians. They are free to believe and practice as they wish, even if some of them think homosexuality is an abomination. I disagree, but they can believe what they like. As can I.

As pointed out by Andrew Sullivan, Kansas may actually be doing the LGBT community a favor. (I urge you to read his entire piece, which includes a link to the full bill.) And I in no way want to dismiss the fact that what’s happening there is an assault on LGBT rights. But it’s even more than that.

It’s a violation of the principle of the separation of Church and State. That principle is one of my firmly held beliefs. It was one of the Founding Fathers’, too. Those who assert that the rights of Christians outweigh everyone else’s are violating my liberty, and the liberty of millions of others.

I’m not a religious person. I follow Buddhist philosophy as a spiritual guidepost for the way I want to live my life. To me, part of that means respecting how others choose to live — whether it’s by adhering to a certain faith or no faith — as long as they aren’t harming others.

This is why the actions of Christian fundamentalists upset me so deeply: They are hurting others.

They claim a moral superiority that leads them to believe that only their faith is true, and everyone else’s faith (or lack thereof) is an affront to theirs. It leads them to discriminate against others whose views differ from theirs — religious or otherwise. It makes them feel justified in any hateful speech or behavior, even murder. I know the Bible doesn’t condone that, even if the victim is an abortion provider.

We are not a Christian country, despite the word “God” in some of our most cherished documents and even on our money. True to the ideal sought by our Founding Fathers — freedom of religion — we are a country of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindi, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics and more. We’re a country where you’re free to believe whatever speaks to your heart, as long as you’re not breaking the law.

This is where far too many politicians, corporations and citizens are crossing the line. They want to break the law. They want to discriminate. In fact, they want to create laws that enshrine discrimination — like the legislation in Kansas and far, far too many others. How many bills are being floated and passed that use “religious and moral objections” as a cudgel to deny liberty to anyone except Christians? I’ve lost track.

This is why America does not have a national religion. This is why the government does not participate in the establishment of any religion — under the Constitution. In fact, it’s the very First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

People who oppose homosexuality, or cohabitation before marriage, or abortion, or even other religions are free to speak their minds. Westboro Baptist Church does it all the time, and others are free to speak out against them. But that’s very different from enshrining one group’s religious beliefs into law.

Every time a law like the abortion insurance rider legislation Right-to-Life forced through in Michigan is passed, or a bill like the anti-gay legislation in Kansas moves through the system, it’s an attempt by religious conservatives to do an end-run around the First Amendment. The Hobby Lobby case headed to the Supreme Court this year is another example. They’re all attempts to chip away at the religious liberties of others in an effort to force the rest of us to live by their “values.”

I do not want to live by these particular values — values of hate, anger and discrimination. In the name of Christianity, the people who live by these values say things like, “Progressives, we’re coming for you,” or spew hate speech like RNC Committeeman Dave Agema did against the LGBT and Muslim communities. These are the people who claim that the rest of us are going to hell and, apparently, believe we aren’t entitled to the same rights that they are because it.

I call hypocrisy. I weep for the good people of Christian faith who live by the principles of charity, acceptance and love. They are horrified by the co-opting of their religion, and many are speaking out against fundamentalists saying, “This is not my Christianity. This is not my God. These are not my values.”

These aren’t my values, either. And I’m tired of the implication that so many of us are evil or brainwashed or less deserving of equal rights simply because we don’t adhere to the same beliefs that fundamentalist Christians do.

Religion of any kind should not be a factor in our country’s legislative decision-making. It violates who we are as a country. And based on everything I know about world religions, hate and intolerance are a slap in the face of faith, too.

Let’s hope Kansas does, in fact, decide not to adopt this despicable bill into law. Let it be a lesson to every other state and federal official that Americans won’t stand for legalized discrimination.

While we’re at it, let’s remember this: Somewhere, over the rainbow, Dorothy discovered a world filled with people and ideas she never could have imagined. She returned home to Kansas with a more open heart and mind. Imagine how much stronger and more united our country could be if everyone saw the world that way.

To make that dream a reality, those of us who oppose discrimination and intolerance must continue to use our hearts, our brains and our courage to make sure our country never becomes ruled by hate.

UPDATE: The New Civil Rights Movement reported on Feb. 17 that the Kansas state Senate is refusing to take up HB 2453 in its current form. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a very different type of trend that doesn’t involve state-sanctioned discrimination.

[Image credit: John Nakamura Remy | Flickr.]

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  • Rob Ert

    I agree with nearly everything this article has to say. However, I think it goes deeper than that. We, being the the citizens of the USA, have been running entire election campaigns regarding abortion and gay rights ever since the Reagan era. It is an excellent way for the Republicans to dodge the important issues of the day that effect everyone, and it makes the Democrats seem like heroes when they stand up for the ” little guy”. As far as the USA being a Christian nation, one must not forget the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims were here more than a hundred years before the colonist Rebellion, and they came here seeking “religious” freedom. They were running from a tyrannical form of oppression that was fueled by the Vatican. Several generations later, the founding fathers wrote the Constitution with the guarantee that “religious freedom” be included. Many books and stories have been written about the founding fathers, and a famous quote from Benjamin Franklin is-“Christianity, especially Catholicism, can be a dangerous doctrine.” The Constitution and the Bill of Rights, guarantee religious freedom of all types, not just Christians. (Real Christians would help those who have been oppressed and shunned!)

    • Amy Lynn Smith

      Thanks for reading, Rob — and for adding some excellent points!

    • Churchlady320

      Good points, except they were fleeing the Anglicans (anti papists, too) and those who followed – the Puritans – were actually amazingly progressive on issues including abortion, regulated markets to protect the poor, equal rights economically for women, and many other things our Victorian historians have obliterated. What they were NOT was religious tolerant because of their fear of being overwhelmed by Anglicanism, the official Church of England. There was a move afoot right before the Revolution to make it the official church of the colonies, too. Hence the intolerance of New England coupled with the resistance to a state church led to the separation of church and state that has made both institutions free.

      For the Dominionist theocrats seeking to re-establish doctrinal supremacy of “Christianity” my only question to them is – whose Christianity? Surely not Liberation Theology. Catholicism? I think that’d be rejected by the Pentecostals. Born again End Times? Well – that’s what some of the Dominionists want but it would hardly sit well with mainline Protestants who don’t believe any of that or the Catholics who want to hang onto their saints, rites, rituals and Pope.

      So the idea – ridiculously simplistic – that this is a ‘Christian’ nation begs the fundamental question of WHOSE view is that of the Founding Fathers? And the answer is – NONE. They made it completely clear.

      Any of today’s Dominionists who claim they want to follow the Puritans are idiotic since the Puritans would have banished all of them. Nope – there is no state religion. Never has. Cannot ever be.

      • Rob Ert

        Sorry to take so long to respond, I do artwork on the computer all day, but don’t really know the “in’s and out’s”. ( Still learning) We are all children of Abraham. Most people know that Isaac was nearly sacrificed, but he had a brother named Ishmael who went to live with the “others”, and founded a religion called Islam. This is not spoken about very much in the Judeo Christian churches and temples. The New Testament was not written by Jesus nor any of the Disciples. We don’t know who wrote the Torah, but we do know who wrote every word of the New Testament. Many scholars think that Christianity was ” Hi-Jacked” by the Elders and even the Romans. Jesus was a reformer, he was not out to start a new religion. Leviticus, means ” Of the Levites .” (Greek) The Levites were very strict group of Judaism that Jesus was not in favor of. Paul, turns out to be Saul of Tarsus, a born wealthy pagan, who went around the area and spoke to other wealthy pagans and even Romans about this monotheistic religion. Just before Jesus, there was another messiah, Simon of Patreos. As the Romans were executing him, he said, “You can kill the messiah, but you can’t kill the idea!” After Jesus, the Romans realized this, and helped “promote” the idea in order to remain in control. Also, the book of Enoch, contains nearly word for word the same imagery as Revelations. John of Patmos wrote this very similar text 150 years after Jesus. Christianity can more accurately be understood by focusing on the words and teachings of Jesus Christ, than by any theological perspective.

  • judyms9

    I earnestly believe there are groups at work who profit from dividing our people at every opportunity because disunity assures no substantial resistance to things. The rightwing will not deal with immigration, minimum wage increases, equal rights for all citizens, and so on because keeping the nation fractured allows others to control our economy, our politics, and even our socialization and religious expression.
    The only thing that might unify the US for perhaps only a nanosecond would be an external threat of fierce magnitude, and with divisions so deep now, perhaps there would be no unity of purpose even then. When this last happened on 9/11 public discourse got all snarled up in religion. I hold out little hope.

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