Leading Into the 2016 Presidential Election Battle, “Religious Liberty” Has Become Code for a License to Discriminate Against the LGBTQ Community (and Women)

Posted in: Civil Rights

With the 2016 presidential election battles looming, the conservative Republicans are arming themselves with deceitful rhetoric to fight for the nomination. They seek a platform focused on abortion, “religious liberty,” and same-sex marriage. That is really only a two-issue platform, because the “religious liberty” they want most is to (1) discriminate against the LGBTQ community in the law and the private sphere and (2) outlaw abortion and make contraception as hard to obtain as possible, putting women at a medical and health disadvantage. Thus, the generic “religious liberty” in the middle is really just rhetoric.

In fact, the conservative Republicans’ “religious liberty” is not liberty for all. Just for them. So if your faith takes you down different paths—for example, if it requires (1) fair and equal treatment of all regardless of sexual orientation; or (2) sensible and responsible family planning in the best interests of the family and children; or (3) a loving home for all children, regardless of the sexual orientation of the couple; or (4) that the mother’s life and health be preserved in the abortion context—you are out of luck. Conservative Republicans will not be fighting for your rights under cover of their glorious mantle of “religious liberty.”

The Evidence in the States

Where is the evidence for my thesis that “religious liberty” is being used to sanitize a drive to discriminate? Simply look at the fight for state RFRAs across the United States last year and already this one, including Arizona (2014), Kansas (withdrawn), Michigan (no action in state senate), Indiana (pending), and Georgia (pending). They were sponsored by Republicans opposed to same-sex marriage, and many of them expanded the existing RFRA formula to include rights for private business owners to refuse business based on their faith. Who, in this era, is agitating to refuse to do business with anyone? Answer: Conservative Christian business owners who do not want to provide products or services for gay marriages, and, in many cases, who simply don’t want to serve the LGBTQ community at any level.

While the RFRA bills did not explicitly refer to same-sex marriage, it was obvious, in the political climate, what was really going on. Because the civil rights community has mobilized against these threats, the only one that passed was in Mississippi.

The Federal RFRA Was a Product of a Drive to Discriminate

What few people know, especially those pushing the state RFRAs, is that the federal RFRA was not born out of some magnificent re-incarnation of the founding of our country. The Mom and Apple Pie part of the RFRA history is Discrimination and Baloney. In fact, it was motivated in no small part by the Christian Legal Society, and other conservative religious groups, seeking to overcome state fair housing laws, which were making it more difficult to pick and choose tenants based on faith. These believers did not want to have to rent apartments to unwed mothers, unmarried couples, and, later, same-sex couples. Thus, the RFRA movement can be traced from a religiously-motivated desire to discriminate. So it should come as no surprise that a statute that began with discriminatory motives has transmogrified into a tool for further discrimination.

How Does Intentional Discrimination Become a Right to “Religious Liberty?”

The mantra of the anti-same-sex marriage contingent is that their constitutional rights are being violated, because their religious beliefs do not permit them to aid or abet in any way the same-sex marriage movement. Of course, the First Amendment has never provided support for the notion that one’s faith gives one a license to impose it on others to their detriment. American religious liberty simply does not include a right to impose one’s beliefs on others. When it edges in that direction, as it does with the RFRAs, it starts this country on a path toward a theocracy. Surely no one needs me to remind them of the terrors of the Tower of London, where the wrong believers were put to death by one monarch after another (bouncing back and forth between Catholicism and Protestantism) or of the Islamic State now in operation (who just this week killed French journalists who dared to criticize their religion)? Do not tell me that Christians are not capable of horrific acts when they have too much power. Every human is, and that is the core insight that the Framers embedded in the Constitution and which we forget at our peril.

The anti-same-sex marriage movement players also say that their constitutional rights are being harmed, because they cannot speak out against same-sex marriage and homosexuals without being attacked. This is more misleading rhetoric. They have the right to speak out as loudly as they choose on any issue they choose. The First Amendment protects a robust marketplace of views. The problem for them is that it protects their critics as well, and their argument they cannot speak is really only a complaint that they don’t like the criticism leveled against them when they say such things. That is the American way. The attacks this week in France remind us of the perils of theocrats who believe their religion should not be criticized, and of the preciousness of our respect for vigorous and robust debate on all issues.

Any party platform that includes within it the extreme and discriminatory “religious liberty” that these believers seek is a betrayal of all that is best about this great country.