What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet…
Religious discrimination wasn’t invented by the Indiana legislature in 2015. No, religious discrimination has been the source of suffering, death and destruction throughout human history, despite it being totally at odds with every major world religion. Sadly, God and one’s religious beliefs have been used as an excuse for men to commit unbelievable atrocities for a very long time. And now, this senseless, ungodly bigotry seems to be raising its ugly head again in the U.S.
Religious freedom, embodied in our Bill of Rights, in the First Amendment, is fundamental to our nation’s fabric. Say what you will about the U.S., our history is not about religious wars and sectarian violence. The wisdom of our forefathers to guarantee religious freedom is something for which we should all be thankful. The First Amendment protects the right of every American to the free exercise of one’s religion. It does not protect anyone’s right to use his religion as an excuse to commit murder, to steal property or to discriminate. Freedom of religion is a right to be protected, not a sword to be wielded.
Yet, history continues to repeat itself, and now, in the name of “religious liberty,” an organized effort is bent on discriminating and persecuting LBGTQ Americans. The first major victory of this effort came when Indiana Governor Mike Pence, as everyone by now knows, signed an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill into law .
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act — what’s in an atrocity of a name? — allows individuals and businesses to deny services to anyone on religious grounds. If your religion opposes five-year-olds, you can refuse to sell a glue gun to a Kindergartener.
Of course, the law isn’t aimed at five-year-olds, but you get the point. It’s the first of many proposed measures pending in statehouses around the country — all with the clear and unquestionable intent of allowing business owners and individuals to flagrantly discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. My home state, Arkansas, nearly approved a similar law before Governor Asa Hutchinson, partly due to a phone call from his enlightened son, asked lawmakers to “fix” the bill. Watching Pence’s massive political meltdown on TV last Sunday no doubt affecting his thinking, too:
These laws are not only morally repugnant, they set a dangerous and disturbing precedent — and not just for the LGBTQ Americans who are their direct targets. They open the door for further discrimination, further inequality, further prejudice against any citizen who is perceived as different or as a “sinner” by any particular legislative body. These laws are the product of an orchestrated, calculated, ruthlessly deliberated backlash against all efforts to ensure equal protection for LGBTQ Americans, and, if they are ultimately successful, they will invite further bigotry, masking it under the guise of religious freedom.
Do the supporters of these laws, and of the intellectual dishonesty demonstrated by Gov. Pence last Sunday, really intend to align themselves with the sins of the Inquisition and the intolerance of the Taliban? There’s not much difference here.
We watch history repeat itself on the news nightly with Middle East horror scenes that evidence the tragic consequences of religious discrimination. Even if we try to excuse LBGTQ discrimination by calling it a “restoration of religious freedom” or a support of “religious liberty,” it is still discrimination and the antithesis of all that our First Amendment and Declaration of Independence stand for.
I am hopeful that the courts will throw out this kind of bigot legislation sooner rather than later, but experience tells us that the wheels of justice turn very slowly. So it is incumbent on all of us to stand with those opposing this organized effort, including challenging it at the ballot box with recall petitions of governors like Pence and of boycotts of states that celebrate such intolerance. Our opposition must mirror the best of civil disobedience and never attack the messengers, just the message.
The roots of religious discrimination lie in ignorance, fear and misguided fundamentalism that historically have been exploited by the rich and powerful. It can spread like locusts, destroying everything right and good about our world. This blatant effort to exploit religion to attack LGBTQ citizens is more than reprehensible and more than wrong: It stinks all the way to high heaven.