The unholy misuse of “freedom” of religion

Posted on March 15, 2018

The radical right is engaged in political warfare to impose fundamentalist Christianity on all Americans.

To be more specific, they are trying to enact laws and policies to:

  • Allow businesspeople to refuse service to LGBT customers;
  • Prevent same-sex couples from adopting a child;
  • Direct taxpayer funds to religious schools;
  • Require public schools to teach creationism as science;
  • Allow any employer to exclude birth control from employees’ health insurance;
  • Require all sex education to teach abstinence only;
  • Post religious symbols, like the Ten Commandments, in buildings and on lands owned by the government;
  • Promote religious instruction and prayer in public schools; and
  • Ban all abortions in the long-run, and in the short-term to make abortion inaccessible through waiting periods, bans after 20 or 15 weeks, and other restrictions imposed on clinics, doctors and patients.

In a nutshell, their agenda is to make all of us practice their religion. That is, perhaps, not very surprising.

The astonishing thing is how they message that agenda: by asserting their policies represent the principal of “freedom of religion.” In fact, it’s the opposite; these are blatant violations of religious freedom.

In public policy, real “freedom” is the absence of government interference with individuals’ fundamental rights, such as the freedom of speech, religion, and association; the right to privacy; and the rights of the accused.

Government interference is the key. If some religious person or group wants to persuade others to adopt their beliefs, that is their right. Everyone is welcome to speak against same-sex relationships and abortion, or in favor of creationism and prayer. But freedom of religion is the right to practice your own beliefs without the government taking sides against you.

When fundamentalists try to get the government to deny adoption rights for same-sex couples, it’s the couples’ freedom of religion that’s being violated. They’re trying to be treated like everyone else while right wingers are trying to have the government enforce their religious view that gay people can’t be good parents.

When they try to get public schools to teach creationism or abstinence-only sex ed, it is the religious freedom of schoolchildren’s families that is violated. The right wing is attempting to get public schools to adopt their purely religious point of view—instead of teaching facts.

When extremists try to ban abortion, it is the religious freedom of women that is violated. The whole enterprise is to get the government to enforce the fundamentalist religious belief that a fetus is a person—while other religions strongly disagree. In short, the right wing misconstrues “freedom.” It is an exercise in religious freedom when anti-abortion advocates don’t have abortions themselves. It is the opposite—religious tyranny—when they use the government to force others to practice their religious beliefs.

It is Orwellian for fundamentalists to wave the banner of “religious freedom.” What they stand for is philosophically similar to the Taliban, not Thomas Jefferson.

Dear friends, we cannot cede “freedom” to the extreme right wing any more. Instead, we need to use freedom as our bully pulpit when arguing that government is out of control. We must point out that freedom is one of our most cherished values. We must remind Americans that Clarence Darrow was right when he said, “You can protect your liberties in this world only by protecting the other man’s freedom. You can be free only if I am free.”


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