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Part 1 of four parts:

Introduction to past and present
human rights conflicts in the U.S.

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Past human rights conflicts in the U.S.

At any given time in the history of the U.S., there have been a few, active, and serious human rights controversies that have involved discrimination against women or certain minorities. They have caused misery to many tens of millions of people. They are often religiously based or at least have a significant religious component. Yet, some religious groups have often played a major role in eradicaing these same conflicts.

In the past, the main controversies in the U.S. involved:

  • Human slavery: This was once justified on the basis of the biblical passage at Genesis 9:20-27. It explains that Ham, the son of Noah, committed an unspecified but apparently immoral sexual act with his father, while his father was drunk. Noah later responded by issuing the "Curse of Ham." He did not actually curse Ham. Instead, he cursed Canaan, Ham's son and his grandson, -- a family member who was not actually involved in the sexual act.

    An analagous situation today would involve a police officer arresting a person for a crime where all evidence pointed to that person's father as the perpetrator. By today's religious and secular standards, that would be considered scapegoating. It would defy logic. It would be a profoundly unethical act. However, there are many stories of similar scapegoating in the Bible -- passages in which guilt and punishment for an illegal or immoral act is transferred from the guilty person to one or more an innocent persons.

    Noah's curse was that Canaan and his descendents, the Canaanite people, were to become slaves of the Israelites in perpetuity. The Curse of Ham was later interpreted by some Jews, Christians, and Muslims as an explanation for both the existence of people with black skin and as a justification for human slavery. 7 This belief has since been repudiated by all but a very few Chritians sects in the U.S.

  • Racism and racial segregation: Originally, segregation was justified by the religious belief that God created different races of humans with different skin colors and facial features. Some faith groups believed that God placed each race in a different area of the world with the intent that they stay separate and never mix. That naturally led to the abolishing of interracial marriage in many U.S. states and criminal charges against interracial couples who legally married in one state and moved to another state where such marriages were illegal. Segregation remains active in many Protestant churches today, where individual congregations are either almost completely black or almost completely white. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that 11 A.M. on a Sunday morning is "the most segregated hour in this nation." 6

  • Sexism: With a few exceptions, the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) viewed women as inferior to men, as individuals who had restricted rights and whose behavior was tightly controlled. These led naturally to treating women in the U.S. as second class citizens within the family, the church, the government, etc. Women were not permitted to vote until 1920. Only recently have their incomes approached that of men in the same job assignments. In spite of decades of effort by feminist groups, women are still not permitted to enter the clergy or leadership roles in many conservative faith groups, like the Roman Catholic Church, many conservative Protestant groups like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Mormons), or in Islam.

The long-term effects of some of these controversies are still with us today. They will be present -- hopefully at diminishing levels -- for the foreseeable future.

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Currently active conflicts:

Currently, there are a few serious, widespread, active human rights controversies, often with a religious component. The main ones deal with abortion access, equal treatment of women, equal rights and protections for sexually active persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation, and equal rights and protections for transgender individuals and transsexuals. We group them together under the single acronym "WABHOBIT" where W stands for Women, AB stands for ABortion, HO for Homosexual Orientation, BI for BIsexuality, and T for Transgender individuals and Transexuals.

If one drills down through any of these controversies, one often arrives at a basic, core difference in belief that is the main cause of the conflict. We feel that the most effective method of resolving these controversies is through the use of honest dialogue. This involves people holding different beliefs meeting together, suspending their natural desire to convince others that their belief is correct, and genuinely seek the truth together.

This web site, www.religioustolerance.org, promotes religious tolerance, and coexistence in a religiously divided world. This is an uphill battle, because random, religiously-based, mass murder and terrorism is increasing in frequency in many areas. Some of this violence is between followers of different religions. Other conflicts are between followers of different denominations, sects, or traditions within a single religion.

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This site covers a wide range of topics in its almost 8,000 essays. 1 We feel that this section of four essays deals with three of the most important topics of all, at least for persons living in the United States during the 2010's. They are conflicts over:

  • Abortion access: Specifically, whether, and under what conditions, a pregnant woman who has:
    • thoroughly studied her options, perhaps after consulting with her medical and/or spiritual advisor,
    • has decided that her least worse personal option is to have an abortion,
    • should be able to obtain a safe abortion close to her residence.

  • Homosexual and bisexual orientation: that is whether:
    • a person who lesbian or gay, and thus is sexually attracted only to members of the same sex,
    • or is bisexual, and thus is sexually attracted to both sexes, although usually not to the same degree,
    • should be accepted as having the same rights as are enjoyed by the heterosexual majority,
    • including freedom from hate crimes, discrimination in employment, discrimination in accommodation, marriage egibility, etc.

  • Transgender individuals and transsexuals who have:
    • been immediately identified as male, or female shortly after birth, or
    • have been initially identified as intersexual at birth 4 and shortly thereafter may have been identified as male or female after a DNA test,
    • is now identifying as the opposite gender, (or rarely of no gender, or of both genders),
    • should have her or his current gender identity accepted as valid, and
    • given full rights as enjoyed by the cisgender (non-transgender) majority, including:
      • being accepted by others as being of the gender that matches their gender identity, and
      • enjoy freedom from hate crimes, discrimination in employment, discrimination in accommodation, marriage egibility, etc.

Other social conflicts are important but will not be discussed in this section. They are:

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Why are these, and similar conflicts, important?:

  • 1. These conflicts adversely affect the lives of hundreds of millions of children and adults worldwide. Some of the more serious conflicts involve limitations on the freedom, behavior, education, and potential of females, the judicial murder of sexually active lesbians, gays, and bisexuals in some countries of the world, the execution of Atheists, and the court-ordered murder of some individuals who change their religion from the state religion to another religion.

  • 2. We feel that these conflicts can be resolved most quickly and effectively through honest dialogue. This would give both or all "sides" the opportunity to learn what others believe, and why they believe it. Through dialogue, changes can be brought about relatively quickly. Without dialogue, change is often a generational process, spread over many decades. This is because many people tend to develop their moral and religious beliefs during their teen years or young adulthood, and retain them throughout their life. Current teens and young adults are probably the first generation to have one or more friends who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Persons of that generation are therefore more accepting of sexual minorities. It takes many decades for this acceptance to propogate through the population.

    If we focus on the United States, the two most recent moral conflicts show how slowly change can be:
    • Inter-racial marriage:
      • During 1958, only 4% of U.S. adults favored allowing loving, committed, black-white interracial couples to marry.

      • By 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized interracial marriages, 72% of adults were still opposed. A plurality and near majority of the adult population (48%) not only favored a ban on such marriages, but supported criminal charges against such couples if they did marry.

      • By 2013, 87% of adults favored legalizing interracial marriage.

    • Same-sex marriage (a.k.a. gay marriage):
      • During 1996, only 27% of U.S. adults favored allowing loving, committed, same-sex couples to marry. Such marriages were not legal anywhere in the U.S. at that time.

      • By 2010, this had risen to 44%.

      • By mid-2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriages everywhere in the U.S. except for the territory of American Samoa. Polls showed that slightly over 60% of adults favored expanding marriage access to include same-sex couples.

If dialogue had been extensively employed, these trends would probably have been greatly accelerated. Unfortunately, such dialogue has been rare, as with other conflicts based on race, human sexuality and gender.

  • 3. Many people prefer to read, listen to, and watch media outlets and web sites that match and reinforce their political, social and religious beliefs. This isolates them from exposure to arguments from "the other side" [or sides]. Honest dialogue short-circuits this arrangement and actively engages "both sides."

    This web site is one of the very small percentage of all religious web sites that attempts to objectively discuss all viewpoints on each topic, and to encourage dialogue.

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This topic continues in the next essay, which
discusses abortion access.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. This web site first went online in 1995-MAY. Essays have been added at the rate of about one per day. As of 2016-APR-18, they totaled 7,757.
  2. An mammalian ovum becomes a zygote after fertilization. It then contains a full set of human DNA -- half from the mother and half from the father. During the next few days, the zygote passes down a fallopian tube and repeatedly divides to form a blastocyst -- a spherical-shape object consisting of many cells. It may implant itself in the inner lining of the uterus, grow, and subsequently pass through an embryonic stage, a later fetal stage, and be born at about 40 weeks gestational age, which is measured from the first day of the woman's last menstrual cycle prior to the pregnancy. This is about 38 weeks after conception. The gestational age is generally used to measure the development of a pregnancy, since the date of conception is usually not known.
  3. Genesis 2:7 refers to God creating Adam from dirt, dust, soil, or slime. The Hebrew word can refer to any of the four meanings. The King James Version states: "God ... breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Another 21 English translations of the Bible end with "being," 13 others with "soul," 12 with "person," and 4 with "creature."
  4. An intersexual person is an individual whose external genitalia do not follow the usual female or male pattern. Thus their gender at birth is not immediately obvious.
  5. "Curse of Ham," Wikipedia, as on 2016-MAY-20, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  6. "Christena Cleveland, "How Divisions Are Killing Us and Why We Should Care," InterrVarsity Christian Fellowship, 2023-OCT-21, at: http://thewell.intervarsity.org/
  7. Felicia R. Lee, "From Noah's Curse to Slavery's Rationale," The New York Times, 2003-NOV-01, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  8. The Intersex Society of America's web site comments:

    "If you ask experts at medical centers how often a child is born so noticeably atypical in terms of genitalia that a specialist in sex differentiation is called in, the number comes out to about 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births." See: "How common is intersex," at: http://www.isna.org/

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How you may have arrived here:

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Home > Christianity > History, practices... > Christian practices > Transgender/Transsexual menu > here

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Copyright © 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2016-MAY-07
Latest update : 2016-MAY-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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