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"Religious freedom" changing from freedom of
religious beliefs
freedom to hate and discriminate

2010: Examples of the new meaning of
"religious freedom:" various types of
attacks by believers on other groups.

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Recent examples of this new meaning of "religious freedom:"

As of 2010, most of the time that religious freedom is invoked to discriminate against and oppress others, it is to victimize sexual minorities, like lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and/or transgender (LGBT) individuals:

  • Hate-Crimes Bill: This bill was debated by Congress in 2009. It was an extension of an earlier civil rights law, modified to include more protected groups, and a wider range of hate crimes. It was written to protect persons from physical attacks \motivated by hatred of their religion, gender, nationality, race, skin color, degree of disability, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity. The bill increases the sentences given to criminals who are motivated by hatred against a group because, in addition to harming their victim(s), their crime terrorizes the victim(s) group(s). The latter, in turn, destabilizes society.

Many social and religious conservatives mounted a major fear-based campaign, saying that the bill did not really propose a hate-crime law, but rather a hate-speech law. Even though the terms "homosexual," "gay," "lesbian," etc. did not appear in the bill, and even though the law would protect heterosexuals as well as homosexuals, they concluded that the bill dealt almost entirely with giving preferential protection to lesbians and gays. They feared that pastors who merely read the famous clobber passages in the Bible that discuss same-sex sexual behavior could find themselves charged under the law. An amendment was included in the bill to specifically prevent any such prosecutions, but most conservatives were not convinced that it would be effective.

The bill was signed into law on 2009-OCT-29. As this essay is being updated, over four years have passed and there have been zero "hate speech" charges under the bill to date. It is most unlikely that there will ever be any because of the freedom of religion and freedom of speech protections of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It gives people unlimited freedom to express hatred against women, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals (LGBTs), model train collectors, cat owners, or any other minorities. More details.

  • Same-sex Marriage: Many religious and social conservatives are unalterably opposed to changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. One of their concerns is that the government may intrude upon the freedom of religious groups that wish to continue discriminating against couples who want to solemnize their relationships through same-sex marriage (SSM) in their church.

    One example of a bill to legalize marriage for same-sex couples while protecting the right of religious congregations to discriminate against these couples was proposed for Washington, DC. It begins:

    " establish a code of law for the District of Columbia to clarify that marriage between two people in the District of Columbia shall not be denied or limited on the basis of gender, to ensure that no minister of any religious society who is authorized to solemnize or celebrate marriages shall be required to solemnize or celebrate any marriage, and to ensure the protection of religious freedom with regard to the provision of services, accommodations, facilities, or goods related to the celebration or solemnization of a same-sex marriage. ..." 1

    This bill, which later became law, is described in a separate essay.

    It is extremely unlikely that a imam, minister, pastor, priest, or priestess would ever be charged with discrimination because they refused to marry a same-sex couple. Religious groups have a long history of discriminating against couples that they find unworthy to marry, either because the couple was interracial, or one of the couple was regarded by the clergyperson as being too young, immature, too closely related genetically, of the wrong religion, or in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, when one spouse was disabled. To our knowledge, no clergyperson has ever been convicted or even charged for refusing to marry a couple.

  • ENDA bill: Various federal Employment Non-Discrimination Acts (ENDAs) had been proposed between the mid-1970's and 2014 to stop employers from discriminating against employees -- or potential employees -- on the basis of their sexual orientation. The most recent bill would protect against gender identity as well.

    Various conservative Christian parachurch group have strongly opposed ENDA. The Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) is one. They discussed the ENDA bill on their web site:

    "... the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) bill ... will be a nightmare for business owners in general and a denial of First Amendment rights for Christian business owners." 

    "ENDA is designed to get homosexuals, bisexuals, cross-dressers, and transsexuals added to the list of federally-protected minorities. If this is accomplished, the LGBT agenda will be imposed on businesses, local, state and federal governments, including public schools, Christian day care centers and camps, plus many other Christian entities, including religious broadcasters, etc. It will affect any business with more than 15 employees. ..."

    "Christian-owned businesses will have to accommodate gay, lesbian, bisexual and even transgender individuals ... who believe they are the opposite sex. ..." 

    "ENDA includes a weak religious exemption in Section 6. It does not protect Christian businesses or Christian camps, religious broadcasters and other religious entities! An independent Christian camp with 15 or more employees would be covered by ENDA. This camp would be in violation of the law for not hiring homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals or cross-dressers. ..."

    LGBT activists are admitting that they are willing to violate First Amendment freedoms to impose their agenda on Americans. They have claimed on several LGBT web sites that “Deeply held beliefs are no excuse for discrimination of any stripe.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what the First Amendment says about religious freedom – the LGBT political agenda trumps the U.S. Constitution.

    "They will want quotas, training programs, shared shower and dressing facilities, gay marriage, married couple benefits, data collection to ensure compliance with their demands, jail time for non-compliance, and attorney fees for lawsuits." 2

    More details on ENDA.

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Conflict over transit ads in Toronto, ON, Canada:

Bus Stop Bible Studies (BSBS), a Toronto-based evangelical Christian group has as its goal the posting of one of their panel ads across Canada on every bus, subway car and streetcar. 3 Their slogan is "God on every bus." They estimate that there have been more than 750 million viewings of their ads since they launched their program in 2006. By mid 2011, they have over 200 different panel designs in three different languages.

The vast majority of their ads appear to have a positive topic, like: "Want to live life to the full?," "God wants to make a trade - your worry for his care," "Grace," "Are you one of God's people?" "Am I a Christian?" "What would it take to convince you of God's love?"

During 2010-APR, Denise Balkissoon wrote an article in the Toronto Star that discussed one of the BSBS posters that asked the question: "Does God care if I'm gay?" 4 The URL supplied at the bottom of the ad led to an essay that said in part: "We know from passages throughout Scripture that God hates homosexual acts. ..." The ads had been installed on the outsides of busses and streetcars of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) on 2010-MAR-18. By MAR-31 the TTC said that they were reviewing the ad after having received some complaints. Later that day, BSBS removed the gay essay from their web site. They replaced it with a statement that said:

"It has become apparent that, while one is free to ask the question, 'Does God care if I’m gay?' one is not so free to answer the question from a Biblical perspective."

Their reference to "a biblical perspective" instead of "the biblical perspective," is positive. It suggests their recognition that there is more than one biblical interpretation for each of the seven "clobber passages" in the Bible that conservative Christians regularly used to criticize the LGBT community. Many liberal and progressive Christians interpret these passages as referring to same-sex rape, sexual abuse of children by adults, engaging in sexual behavior that contradicts one's sexual orientation, and other topics. But they believe that the Bible does not comment specifically on sexually active, loving, committed, same-sex relationships.

During an interview the next day, BSBS's president David Harrison said that the poster was being removed, but other ads would be continue to be shown. He said: "It seems that some are offended that the question should even be asked."

Rev. Brent Hawkes is the pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, which is LGBT-positive, supports same-sex relationships, and performs same-sex marriages. He called the BSBS ad "despicable" and "an abysmal interpretation of scripture." He said:

"We need to sort out what we mean by religious freedom. ... Religious freedom was first put in the [Ontario] human rights code to protect the right to worship without interference from the government. It was not meant to protect people who use religion to attack others."

“MDB,” who identifies himself as openly gay, posted a note to "concerned riders of the TTC" on the BSBS web site saying that he helped to create questions for the ad campaign. He wrote that:

"... there was great sensitivity given to my feelings regarding the passages that were posted for this question. ... I do not endorse or agree with the response, but am tolerant and understand the answer’s origin. We as homosexuals ask for tolerance of our lifestyles, so we must also respect the lifestyles of others. For that is true equality."

That is a curious response. It is the first time that I have heard a LGBT person use the term "lifestyle" to refer to anyone's sexual orientation. Still, it makes sense in this context. Although homosexuality is not a lifestyle itself, there are many homosexual lifestyles: the single and dating lifestyle, the married lifestyle, the single and celibate lifestyle, etc. In the same way, there are many heterosexual lifestyles.

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This topic continues into 2011

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References used:

  1. "A bill 18-482 in the council of the District of Columbia," Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, 2009-NOV-10, at: This is a PDF file.
  2. "Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA): Threatens Christians & Business Owners," The Traditional Values Coalition, 2009-SEP-22, at:
  3. The home page of Bus Stop Bible Studies is at:
  4. Denise Balkissoon, " 'Does God care if I'm gay?" ads pulled from TTC." Toronto Star, 2010-APR-01, at:

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    Copyright 2009 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
    Originally written: 2009-DEC-19
    Latest update: 2014-APR-19
    Author: B.A. Robinson

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