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The new, inverted meaning for the terms
"religious freedom
" and "religious liberty."


Transitioning from:
"religious freedom of belief" to
"religious freedom to control,
discriminate against,
denigrate, and/or oppress others
in violation of the Golden Rule.
Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs).

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A Christmas message:

Being an Atheist is OK.
Being an Atheist and shaming organized religions as silly and not real is not OK.

Belonging to an organized religion is OK.
Being homophobic, misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, or an otherwise hateful person in the name of your religion is not OK.

Being a reindeer is OK.
Bullying and excluding another reindeer because he has a shiny red nose is not OK.

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A customer's imaginary exchange between a shopper and a supermarket cashier:

conflict with the cashier

In the U.S., state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) typically allow store owners and employees to discriminate on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs. The following imaginary exchange could occur between a customer and cashier at the checkout:

"I'm Catholic, so I won't be able to sell you those condoms. You will have to go to Register 5;
but she is Muslim, so she won't sell you that ham. You will have to go to Register 1;
but she is a Mormon, so she won't sell you those cans of Pepsi. You will have to go to Register 9;
but she's a Jehovah's Witness, so she won't sell you that birthday card. You will have to go to Register 3;
but he's an Atheist, so he won't sell you that Bible. You will have to go to Register 2.
but she's a Southern Baptist, so she won't sell you anything, because of the LGBT ribbon and pro-choice button you are wearing. You will have to go to Register 7.

Fortunately, Register 7 is staffed by a non-religious person who believes in tolerance, equality, and the Golden Rule. He will sell you anything you want because he doesn't hide his bigotry behind religion.

Have a nice day."

Actually, from my personal experience with Atheists, it is very unlikely that one would refuse to sell a Bible. They would might even discount it because they regard it as a work of creative fiction.

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image of two elephants opposing each other The transition from religious freedom of belief to religious freedom to hurt others:

While we monitored:

we noticed a radical drift in the definition of both "religious freedom" and its near-synonym "religious liberty:"

The terms changed meaning:

  • AWAY FROM the historical meaning: the freedom of religious belief, speech, practice, assembly, and proselytizing by believers. At the time, attacks on personal religious freedom typically:

    • Involved governments or larger faith groups as perpetrators, and

    • Involved smaller faith groups or individuals as victims.)

  • IN THE DIRECTION OF the new freedom sought by some faith groups or believers to apply their beliefs in a way that oppresses or denigrates others, discriminates against them, and/or mounts political campaigns to deny them equal rights. These attacks typically:

Religious freedom once referred mostly to the believers' right to express religious ideas and to engage in religious practices. Now it is becoming mostly about the freedom for individuals, store owners, or religious groups to take actions that discriminate against others by limiting other people's human rights and freedoms, without the believers incurring negative consequences themselves.

The terms "religious freedom" and "religious liberty" have been turned on their head, and few seem to have noticed.

People who exercise their religious freedom to discriminate rarely consider their actions as violating Jesus' instructions in two Gospels -- Matthew and Luke. Here, he commands his followers to obey what is now called the Golden Rule. It is sometimes expressed:

"Do unto others as we hope they will do unto us in return."

That fundamental moral precept is found in all of the major religions in the world, in many secular belief systems, and in many philosophical writings.

In short, the term religious freedom is rapidly changing from personal beliefs to discriminatory actions, in violation of the Golden Rule. When this new form of religious freedom to discriminate is exercised by store owners who are in business to provide products or services to the general public, they sometimes find themselves in conflict with municipal, state, or federal human rights laws. As a minimum, they are contributing to social unrest, friction, and intolerance.


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Topics covered in this section:

Scope and meaning of the terms "religious freedom" and "religious liberty"

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Years 2010 until now: The new "religious freedom to discriminate" laws in various states.

Some of the following links are to essays that describe new "religious freedom to discriminate" bills in various states. Others describe owners of for-profit businesses who have:

  • Run afoul of existing state or municipal human rights laws, and

  • Violated the Golden Rule,

because they have refused goods and/or services to customers because of the owner's deeply held and sincere religious beliefs:

  • Year 2010: Federal hate crime and employment discrimination bills. Transit ads in Toronto.

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  • Year 2011: An Apple app; Ontario Catholic schools. Kansas House passes bill.

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  • Year 2012: New Hampshire: Catholic Church and HHS birth control mandate. Hawaii: Civil unions.

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  • Year 2013: Arizona: Part 1: House passes discrimination bill.

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  • Year 2014:

    • Part 1: Kansas: Second try. Fails again in the Senate.

    • Part 2: Tennessee House passes discrimination bill; Senate delays it.

    • Arizona:
      • Part 2: Arizona Legislature passes discrimination bill. Reactions. Is Arizona's SB 1062 bill really needed?

      • Part 3: More reactions to Arizona's bill. Again, is it really needed?

      • Part 4: Massive opposition & some support for bill SB 1062 mounts

      • Part 5: Opposition & support continues

      • Part 6: Arizona Governor vetoes "license to discriminate" bill SB 1062 bill!

      • Part 7: Review of other states' anti-gay legislation. What groups are generating these bills?

      • Part 8: starThree factors that are rarely considered in this type of legislation

    • Mississippi:

      • Part 9: Mississippi "Religious freedom bill SB 2681" (aka "License to Discriminate" and "Turn Away the Gays" bill)

      • Part 10: Quotes. House Committee passed revised version of SB 2681. Webmaster's note. Bill signed into law

      • Part 11: Details about SB 2681. Reactions

      • Part 12: More reactions to SB 2681

      • Part 13: Still more reactions to SB 2681

      • Part 14: Even more reactions to SB 2681

    • Part 15: More instances of discrimination by public accommodations Sorry, this essay has dissapeared. We are looking for it.

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star symbol Other aspects of the religious freedom to discriminate:

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Details of specific cases exercising the freedom to discriminate against others:

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Not a sponsored link
ACLU banner

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Two recommended books:

  • The first book debates both sides of the religious freedom to discriminate:

book cover "Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination: 1st Edition"

by authors Ryan T. Anderson, John Corvino, and Sherif Girgis

Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store.
21.95 plus postage in Paperback, or $9.99 in Kindle format.

Amazon's book review:

"Virtually everyone supports religious liberty, and virtually everyone opposes discrimination. But how do we handle the hard questions that arise when exercises of religious liberty seem to discriminate unjustly? How do we promote the common good while respecting conscience in a diverse society?

This point-counterpoint book brings together leading voices in the culture wars to debate such questions: John Corvino, a longtime LGBT-rights advocate, opposite Ryan T. Anderson and Sherif Girgis, prominent young social conservatives.

Many such questions have arisen in response to same-sex marriage: How should we treat county clerks who do not wish to authorize such marriages, for example; or bakers, florists, and photographers who do not wish to provide same-sex wedding services? But the conflicts extend well beyond the LGBT rights arena. How should we treat hospitals, schools, and adoption agencies that can't in conscience follow anti discrimination laws, healthcare mandates, and other regulations? Should corporations ever get exemptions? Should public officials?..."

" In point-counterpoint format, Corvino, Anderson and Girgis explore these questions and more. Although their differences run deep, they tackle them with civility, clarity, and flair. Their debate is an essential contribution to contemporary discussions about why religious liberty matters and what respecting it requires."

  • The second book takes a stand against the religious freedom to discriminate:

book cover image Robert Boston, "Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn't Give You the Right to Tell Other People What to Do"

Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store. Available on 2016-AUG-26, for $15.45 plus postage in Paperback; for $7.41 in Kindle format . book description:

"Increasingly, conservative religious groups are using religious liberty as a sword to lash out at others. In this forcefully argued defense of the separation of church and state, Robert Boston makes it clear that the religious freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment is an individual right, the right of personal conscience, not a license allowing religious organizations to discriminate against and control others. The book examines the controversy over birth control, same-sex marriage, religion in public schools, the intersection of faith and politics, and the 'war on Christmas,' among other topics.

Boston concludes with a series of recommendations for resolving clashes between religious liberty claims and individual rights."

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Site navigation:

    Home > Religious freedom > here

    Home > Important essays > Religious freedom > here

    Home > Religious information > Religious freedom > here

    Home > Human rights > Religious freedom > here

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    Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Agenda & news > here

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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 was a posting by an reader of an article on who identified themselves only as "anneutral." It is dated 2012-FEB-15. The quote was apparently later picked up by others, attributed incorrectly to President Obama, expanded, and "liked" or re-blogged by more than 28,000 other web sites. See: "Rick Santorum Wants to Fight 'The Dangers Of Contraception,' at: for the original posting.
    2. From the King James Version of the Bible. Other translations differ.
    3. "Using Religion to Discriminate," ACLU, at:
    4. Shadee Ashtari, "Kansas State House Passes Bill Allowing Refusal Of Services To Same-Sex Couples," 2014-FEB-12, at:
    5. Chas Sisk, "TN lawmakers drop wedding vendors bill," The Tennessean, 2014-FEB-18, at:
    6. Paul Guequierre, "New Extreme Cincinnati Archdiocese Teacher Contract Takes Anti-LGBT Discrimination to a New Level," Human Rights Campaign, 2014-MAR-18, at:

    Copyright © 2009 to 2020 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
    Originally written: 2009-DEC-08
    Latest update: 2020-JUL-09
    Author: B.A. Robinson

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