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Religious Tolerance logo

Conflicting definitions of "religious freedom"

Part 2: Introduction to the two meanings of the
term "religious freedom:" the freedom of belief
vs. the freedom to discriminate
against others.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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2014-FEB-24: The New Day program on CNN broadcast a segment on "Religious freedom or license to discriminate?:"


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Circa 2014-FEB-25: "Sparking a firestorm:" An ABC News segment about the "freedom to discriminate" bill in Arizona:

This was broadcast shortly before the conflict was at least temporarily resolved by Governor Brewer's veto:


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A few examples of religiously motivated discrimination and denigration:

  • On 2014-FEB-11, State Rep. Charles Macheers (R) of Kansas gave a very sincere and impassioned speech against discrimination. He said:

    "Discrimination is horrible. It’s hurtful. ... It has no place in civilized society, and that’s precisely why we’re moving this bill. "There have been times throughout history where people have been persecuted for their religious beliefs because they were unpopular. This bill provides a shield of protection for that." 3

    The bill that he supported would be a "freedom to discriminate" law. It would allow "public accommodations" -- companies that provide goods and services to the general public -- to refuse to serve individuals that violated the company owner's religious beliefs on marriage. The law would even give protections to government employees who wanted to freely discriminate against same-sex couples seeking government services. Apparently Macheers has never heard of the ethic of reciprocity -- commonly called the Golden Rule in Christianity and by other names in all the leading religions in the world. It requires believers to treat others as they would wish to be treated.

  • The next three examples below were featured in an anti-same sex marriage ad prepared by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) in 2009. Its ominous title was "A Gathering Storm." NOM is the main national group that opposes marriage equality. In the ad, NOM suggests that fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians are the real victims of the drive towards marriage equality. They see the GLBT community as posing a massive threat to Christians' religious rights.

    Three such rights are mentioned in the TV ad:

    • The religious rights of physicians, psychologists, and other therapists who refuse to serve lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals (LGBT), even though the clinics at which they are employed have a policy of treating the general public.

    • The right of a church group to continue to discriminate against LGBT's in the provision of services even after the group had entered into a financial contract with the state government that stipulated they had to provide services to everyone.

    • The religious right of parents in Massachusetts to require their local public school board to keep information secret from their students that same-sex couples can now marry in the state.

  • Pharmacists who refuse for personal religious reasons to dispense prescribed medication of which they don't approve. This almost always involves birth control pills or emergency contraception.

  • Religiously motivated crisis pregnancy centers who don't want to reveal to clients the exact range of services they provide and that their main reason for existing is to reduce the number of abortions in their area.

  • More examples

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On a positive note, an example of religiously motivated acceptance and inclusion:

Commenting on the "license to discriminate" bill passed by the Arizona Legislature and vetoed by Governor Brewer the Religion News Blog posted the following:

"Allow us to interject something here: We, the publishers of Religion News Blog, are Christians ourselves. We can assure you that, had we been bakers asked to bake a wedding cake for a homosexual or lesbian couple, we’d bake them the best cake ever — as we would do for any and all of our customers.

Jesus was a friend of people whose actions and lifestyle he did not necessarily agree with. He ate with them, in their homes! What could more Christlike that lovingly interacting with people to the best of your ability?

When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus replied:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

That doesn’t say anything about excluding people whose lifestyle you don’t agree with.

What if those bakers had been firemen. Would they have refused to help put out a fire in a home that belong to a homosexual couple?

Site navigation:

Home > Religious freedom > Transition > here

Home > Important essays > Religious freedom > Transition > here

Home > Religious information > Religious freedom > Transition > here

Home > Human rights > Religious freedom > Transition > here

Reference used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Religious freedom or license to discriminate?," You Tube, 2004-FEB-24, at:
  2. "Arizona Measure Has Gay Community Claiming Discrimination," You Tube, 2014-FEB-21, at:
  3. Shadee Ashtari, "Kansas State House Passes Bill Allowing Refusal Of Services To Same-Sex Couples," 2014-FEB-12, at:

Copyright © 2009 t0 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Originally written: 2009-DEC-08
Latest update: 2014-MAR-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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