Conservatives, LGBT, Racism — February 17, 2014 at 11:51 am

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.]