Religious freedom laws give me concern

As a Christian and American citizen, I have concerns over the religious freedom laws and movement. Why? There is a subtle, but important difference between being given the freedom to discriminate and those seeking protection from discrimination.

While our forefathers purposefully included the separation of church and state in our constitution, religious mantras have caused troubling discriminatory practices in our country as well as others. During the unfortunate Jim Crow era, too many ministers preached exclusion and segregation, with some even speaking of white supremacy, using the bible as a weapon not as an invitation.

The following example happened in the UK, but is germane to the US as it easily could have happened here. Alan Turing is a key figure in the creation of computer analytics. During WWII. Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower said Turing led a group of people who shortened rhe war by two years and probably saved 750,000 lives. They broke the Nazi Enigma code. Yet, Turing had to hide the fact he was gay and was even arrested after the war. If he had been arrested before breaking the code, we may be speaking German as a second language.

Vivien Thomas was a black carpenter who was quite skilled with his hands. This led him to wanting to be a surgeon, but his efforts were frowned on, he was denied access and was grossly under paid due to the Jim Crow south, even at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Thomas was not allowed into operating rooms, until a white doctor (he partnered with) said he needed Thomas there. Thomas’ delicate hands and sharp mind helped pioneer the repair of hearts of the “blue babies” in a way that the repair grew up with them. Before, these babies turned blue due to poor citculation and died early on in their lives.

The Vivien Thomas story is captured in the movie “Something the Lord Made” given the groundbreaking nature of the heart surgery. I cite this title, as contrary to ministers who faclitated Jim Crow, a black man was the messenger of a miraculous technique. Overcoming Jim Crow discrimination is also the theme of the movie “Hidden Figures,” as three black women helped NASA land on the moon with their mathematical, engineering and leadership skills.

Along these same lines, a significant amount of groundbreaking mathematical ideas evolved out of predominantly Muslim countries. And, after European Jews escaped fascism before WWII and fueled a piece goods industry in New York city, a high percentage of their offspring became professionals – doctors, lawyers, etc.

Religious freedom laws permit and have permitted unhealthy discrimination in our country. Lately, these laws are permitting discrimination against LGBTQ and Muslim, Jewish and Hispanic Americans. My mantra is when religious leaders promote exclusion, religion is at its absolute worst. When they preach inclusion, religion is at its finest. Jesus said to treat people like you want to be treated – he did not list any caveats. We should not add any to this beautifully succinct golden rule.

Do you have standing?

Do you have standing? What does that mean? It is a legal term that asks whether you are personally impacted by what you perceive as a slight.

Before the US Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was a protected right, it first ruled on California’s Proposition 8. This state law banned gays and lesbians from marrying. What was interesting is a conservative and liberal attorney joined together to fight this injustice. The key part of their argument was do people who marry have any impact on other people? They argued successfully that other folks do not have standing to prevent such marriage.

If what I do with my life does not impact you whatsoever, even though you may not like it, you do not have standing. And, vice versa. I have no standing in what you do, as long as you are not harming me. If you choose to have multiple affairs, marry a lesbian lover, worship as a Muslim, Evangelical or Universalist, or walk around naked inside your house, that is your business. I do not have standing to take legal action about my complaint. It is only when you harm me, that makes it an issue.

I mention this as people who want their freedoms somehow forget this point when they look to deny yours. This is a human shortcoming we must guard against. My rights cannot be more important than another person’s. This is where religious freedom laws often go a bridge too far. They remind me of when African Americans could not eat in a whites only restaurant. They had to go around back and get a to-go order.

When I see the Supreme Court say it is OK to decline service because of religious freedoms, let’s change the equation around and see if it stands up. Could a Muslim bakery refuse to provide a wedding cake to a wedding between a Muslim and a Baptist or interracial couple as these run counter to their religious beliefs. What about a Catholic bakery that refuses to make a wedding cake for a second marriage? What about a gay baker refusing to serve an Evangelical couple who openly advocated against his rights?

Even though the Supreme Court narrowly ruled that the baker could deny service to a gay couple’s wedding, it was a narrow ruling. Yet, did the baker have standing? He was not harmed by the gay couple. Go back to the previous examples to see the slippery slope.

I write this today as a result of the second anniversary of the Charlottesville riots. While groups have a right to peaceful assembly and protest, there is a subtle but important distinction on standing. A white supremacist who advocates against equal rights for non-whites does not have standing. A Black man’s rights do not impact the White man’s. Yet, someone who is protesting that you are advocating against my equal rights does have standing. A white supremacist is infringing on another’s rights.

We all have equal rights. Mine are no more important than yours. And, vice versa.

 

Huge distinction – discriminated against vs. freedom to discriminate

There has been a concerted effort with Religious Freedom Acts to allow people to discriminate because of “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Today, I saw a reference to the Supreme Court Ruling against Abercrombie and Fitch because the company denied employment to a woman who wore Hijab, (a head covering) per her religious beliefs. The reference tries to equate the two issues – if this person can get a ruling for her religion, the government is discriminating against another religion by requiring its members to serve someone who is doing something against the member’s beliefs.

This effort to allow discrimination has gone one step further in some states like North Carolina, which have passed bills to allow magistrates to opt out of marrying same-sex couples, if they had sincerely held religious beliefs against such marriages. In North Carolina, this law was vetoed by the Governor, but the Senate has overturned his veto and the House is considering it. Other states are further down the path on this issue and have passed laws to permit such unfair discrimination.

People who are making this argument are missing a very important point. Per the Supreme Court ruling which upheld our constitutional rights, no one should be discriminated against for their religious beliefs. Yet, it is not OK to discriminate against someone to honor your freedom of religion or any belief for that matter. When your freedom infringes in a discriminatory way on another person’s rights and freedoms, then that is not just. Giving you the freedom to unfairly discriminate is not in keeping with the constitution. This is a key basis for why the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, as African-Americans were getting unfairly discriminated against by white business owners and government officials.

This last part is key as the efforts to tell magistrates they can choose to not uphold a law is unconstitutional. A simple exercise can demonstrate this. During the height of the Jim Crow era, there were some ministers who used the bible to placate their parishioners, saying it was OK to treat African-Americans differently. These parishioners also had sincerely held religious beliefs, as their minister said it was OK. Even after the 1964 Civil Rights Act which gave equal rights to African-Americans, white officials in some southern cities imposed a rigorous test on African-Americans to earn the right to vote, a test whites did not have to take. This selective testing was deemed unconstitutional by the Voting Right Act, which was passed a year later.

Every state that is considering passing a bill or law like the North Carolina one or has already done so, needs to accrue about $1 million for legal fees. Why? Any law which memorializes unfair discrimination will be taken to court and it will be overturned as unconstitutional. So, that is my strong advice to our legislators and similarly minded folks in other states  – don’t waste taxpayer money fighting an unjust bill – just don’t pass it.

Our forefathers got it right when they separated church and state. Our forefathers and their parents left countries where religious persecution occurred. And, for some that do not believe this assertion feeling our nation was ordained by God, they may find of interest that several of our forefathers were Deists in faith. The main thesis of a Deist is God created the world, wound up the clock and let us live out our lives. That belief is inconsistent with God ordaining our nation. I would love to hear your thoughts.