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

More examples of the new definition of religious
freedom and liberty.   What is the basic question?
How to eliminate the problem

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A review of the transition from freedom of religious beliefs to freedom to hate and discriminate:

As noted in the menu associated with this topic, there has recently been a radical shift in the definition of religious freedom and liberty:

  • FROM the historical meaning involving freedom by believers to hold their whatever religious beliefs they wish, to observe religious practices related to those beliefs, to enjoy freedom of assembly with other believers, to change their religious affiliation at any time, and being able -- within reasonable limits -- to proselytize non-believers to convert them. Historically, attacks on these forms of religious freedom and liberty typically victimize faith groups or individuals. The perpetrators have been governments or other larger faith groups.

  • TO the freedom sought by faith groups or believers to oppress or denigrate others, to discriminate against them, or to mount political campaigns to deny them equal rights. Typically, the victims are either women or members of sexual minorities, while the perpetrators are generally individual believers, faith groups, or parachurch organizations.

Religious freedom once referred mostly to the believers to hold and express ideas and to engage in their religious practices. Now it is mostly about the freedom for individuals and religious groups to take actions that limit other people's rights and freedoms without incurring negative consequences in their own lives.

Some attempts are being made to legalize religiously motivated discrimination by faith groups, faith-based agencies, individuals, etc. They are sometimes called "conscience clauses."

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Some example of religiously motivated discrimination and denigration:

Five examples were described in the menu associated with this section. Additional examples involve:

  • Religiously affiliated groups in most states dedicated to prevent loving, committed same-sex couples from being able to marry. They promote the passage of constitutional amendments or legislation to limit recognition of such couples. In some states, the goal is to allow same-sex couples to enter only into civil unions or domestic partnerships which have some or all of the state benefits given to opposite-sex married couples without the right to call their relationship a marriage. In other states, the goal is to have same-sex couples recognized only as "legal strangers" -- as roommates with little or no protection for their relationship and their children.

  • Movements within religious denominations and traditions to prevent women, lesbians, gays, transgender persons and transsexuals from being ordained as clergy.

  • Religiously motivated groups that are dedicated to supporting the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. This is a bill passed by Congress in 1996 and signed into law by President Clinton (D). It ended over two centuries of tradition in which the federal government recognized marriages whenever they were legally solemnized in individual states, and provided all married couples with access to federal programs. Since passage of the law, loving committed same-sex married couples have received none of the approximately 1,150 benefits that are automatically given to opposite-sex married couples. The constitutionality of DOMA is being attacked in numerous lawsuits in federal court. A congressional group, the Republican-dominated House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) is attempting to defend DOMA's constitutionality in federal courts. They have had zero success so far, because DOMA clearly violates multiple clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

  • The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and a few other fundamentalist Mormon faith groups who claim the religious right to ignore laws that criminalize bigamy and polygamy. They often require teen age girls to marry men who are decades older. In order to maintain a large female to male adult ratio, it is generally necessary to expel most teenage boys from the community. They generally have to fend for themselves without emotional or financial support.

  • Adoption agencies, and/or their employees, who refuse on religious grounds to consider same-sex couples as adoptive parents.

  • Fertility clinics, and/or their employees, who refuse on religious grounds to provide services to same-sex couples or to single gays, lesbians or bisexuals.

  • Town clerks who refuse, on religious grounds, to provide marriage licenses for same-sex couples even though the former have sworn an oath to follow state laws and not discriminate in their provision of state services to the public.

  • Store clerks who believe, on religious grounds, that pre-marital sex is immoral and thus refuse to sell condoms to unmarried customers.

  • Religious groups who receive funding under the federal government's faith-based initiative program but want to have the freedom to discriminate in hiring employees on grounds of religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.

  • Wedding photographers; stores providing flowers, dresses, and tuxedos for marrying couples; halls and restaurant renting space for receptions, etc. who refuse on religious grounds to make their services available to loving, committed same-sex engaged couples who are getting married.

  • The Roman Catholic Church resisting the 2011 Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation that most employee health insurance plans must include the option for employees to choose to obtain birth control medication, devices, and procedures without copays. This regulation covers health insurance for Catholic and non-Catholic employees of the hospitals, agencies, colleges, universities, etc. affiliated with the Catholic Church, and may also include students of Catholic colleges and universities.

  • Back in the mid 20th century, during the civil rights battles against racism, segregation, and discrimination against African Americans, there were individuals who wanted to withhold services on the basis of race. Today, they are part of the dustbin of history. Two examples were:

    • Restaurant owners whose religious beliefs direct them to separate customers by race in their eating establishments.

    • Town clerks who feel that interracial marriages are immoral because they believed that God placed the different races of people in different areas of the world and did not intend that they mix. Thus, the clerks wanted to follow what they believe is God's will by not issuing marriage licenses to such couples.

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What is basic question involved in this new form of religious freedom & liberty?

It is often who should win in a conflict between:

  • A person or group whose religious beliefs direct them to withhold equal treatment from another person or group, and

  • The other person or group who wants equal rights and treatment to everyone else.

To express the question more simply: under what conditions can discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. be morally justified by a person's or group's religious beliefs? This can be a difficult question to answer in some cases, particularly if there is a clash between two groups' religious freedom and liberty, where only one side can win.

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How to eliminate the problem?

One method is to simply wait until it disappears. Previous cases of hatred and discrimination against groups in American have largely dissipated over time:

  • Racially based: African American slavery ended in the 1860's. The Jim Crow laws against blacks have died off. There are still substantial minorities in some Southern states who would prefer that interracial marriages be banned again. Also, some legislatures are attempting to deny African Americans the right to vote once more. However, that effort will not be able to stand for long.

  • Gender based: The drive for equal rights for women has lasted over a century and a half. The fight to allow women to vote started in 1848 with the "Declaration of Sentiments" at the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY. Women were guaranteed the right to vote when The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1920-AUG . Starting in the late 19th century, various professions were opened up for women. Currently, restrictions on women's employment are numerically few. The U.S. Armed Forces still restricts certain combat roles to men. The Roman Catholic Church refuses to ordain women as deacons or priests. The Southern Baptist Conference and a few other conservative Protestant denominations still restrict the role of pastor to men only.

  • Disability based: There are now many laws that prevent discrimination against disabled persons. However, the Roman Catholic Church still occasionally refuses to marry couples where disability would prevent conception.

  • Sexual orientation based: Prior to the mid 20th century, lesbians and gays were believed to be mentally ill and same-gender sexual behavior was widely criminalized. Evelyn Hooker conducted some studies into sexual orientation during the 1950s, proving that sexual minorities were not mentally ill. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association dropped homosexual orientation from their list of mental illnesses. The other major professional mental health and counseling associations followed suit, leaving behind only one very small mental health professional organization the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state laws criminalizing consensual same-gender sexual behavior in private were unconstitutional. Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2005. An average of one additional state has been added yearly. The military "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law that prohibited lesbians and gays from openly serving was repealed in 2011.  Also starting in 2011, most American adults now support marriage for loving committed same-sex couples. Proposition 8 which terminated same-sex marriages in California in late 2008 has been found unconstitutional in multiple federal courts. Teens who will be the voters of tomorrow and young adults overwhelmingly support equal rights for the LGBT community. Equal rights for the LGBT community appear to be inevitable

The message is clear. Whenever discrimination is recognized as unjust, and people work to eliminate it, it eventually fades and the U.S. takes another step towards the goal of "liberty and justice for all."

Unfortunately, at the moment, most of the problems with discrimination and oppression involve the LGBT community and many of their youth cannot wait until "It gets better." Many are seriously depressed; some give up hope and commit suicide. It would help greatly if there was dialogue between the groups involved:

  • Religious conservatives who -- based on their interpretation of the famous "clobber passages" in the Bible heavily favor religiously-based discrimination, and

  • Religious liberals, secularists, the LGBT community, therapists, human sexuality researchers, etc. who generally favor equal rights for all.

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Portions copyright 2009 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Essay originally posted: 2012-JUL-06
Latest update: 2012-JUL-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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