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.

Hidden Figures make America great

My family had the opportunity to see the movie “Hidden Figures” recently. It may be one of the finest movies I have seen in the past few years. From the online movie summary, it is about the “incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit….The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big.”

The movie stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, with a key role for Kevin Costner. These three mathematicians helped plot a course into space, so that our astronauts could return safely. And, when computers were destined to replace them, one taught other African-American women in the computing department how to program in Fortran to save their jobs and supply capable talent to the NASA space effort, since so few folks knew Fortran.

We must value diversity for its own sake, but also from economic and development standpoints. If we limit where ideas can come from, we limit ideas. It gets no simpler than that math equation. As Johnson notes, math does not care what color you are. The other key point is the math to launch, orbit and return safely was breaking new ground, so innovative thinking was key. Johnson offered that kind of innovation, which married some old school math to solve the new problems.

Throughout history, ideas have come from those who understand and are in proximity to the problem. A gay man named Alan Turing saved over a million lives in World War II and shortened the war by two years per General Dwight Eisenhower by solving the Nazi Enigma communication code. Yet, he had to hide his homosexuality and was later imprisoned for it when discovered. This WWII hero died in jail. The 2014 movie “The Imitation Game” is about Turing’s efforts.

A black man named Vivien Thomas helped solve the Blue Baby death problem by restoring the full flow of blood from the heart through groundbreaking open heart surgery on a baby. Yet, like the NASA mathematicians, he had to battle racism which would not allow him in the operating room, at first. His story is told in the 2004 movie, “Something the Lord Made.”

Jesus said we should treat each other like we want to be treated. It is the right thing to do, but it is also the wise thing to do. Please remember this quote from an economist who advised Presidents Reagan and Clinton, “Innovation is portable.” And, where it occurs is where the jobs start. So, we need to let innovative ideas flourish regardless of their source.