The Lie of “Religious Freedom”

Arizona’s legislature has passed a law that would in effect legalize discrimination against gay people. Full disclosure: I’m gay and married, but on the other hand I have no particular wish to visit Arizona anytime soon, so maybe it balances out. Anyway, the people promoting this law claim that it is actually a law for tolerance, that when people want to discriminate against gay people, that is part of their religious freedom.

This is bullshit.

I am in an airport lounge watching a silent TV on which Anderson Cooper is posing the question: “License to discriminate or religious freedom?” and an Arizona legislator is quoted as saying, “I’m against all discrimination and I want maximum religious freedom.”

So okay, where is the lie in all this? It’s in the phrase “religious freedom.” The First Amendment to the constitution says that Congress shall not make “any law respecting an establishment of religion [or] impeding the free exercise of religion…” and this is where people are going when they talk about religious freedom.

But the problem is that serving gays and lesbians is not proscribed by any church that I know of. Refusing service to people is not an exercise of religion. Exercising religion means that Muslims must be allowed to pray five times a day, that Jewish people cannot be forced to work on the Sabbath, that Christians cannot be barred from saying Grace before meals (most of the Christians I know who do this do it silently to themselves anyway). The Church’s official position on gays and lesbians varies from “come on in, daughters and sons” to “get out of our church,” but in no case is a practicing Christian required by their faith to refuse service to someone who is not a member of their church–the sole exception being an actual official of the Church, who cannot be required to perform a marriage ceremony within the Church for people he does not believe can receive the sacrament of marriage. But churches are already protected BY THE FIRST AMENDMENT from having to perform marriages for gay people. So the only people this law will affect is bigoted service industry owners who want to blame their bigotry on their religion.

Guess what? Your church might be bigoted, but bigotry is not part of the practice of your faith. And it’s not part of your religious freedom. So until someone starts the Church of Assholes, shut up and try to actually behave like a human being to other people–which, guess what, IS part of the practice of the Christian faith.

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