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Legalized Discrimination Repackaged as Religious Freedom

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I was talking to a friend after church yesterday and mentioned to him the new tactic and recent rash of “religious freedom/liberties” legislations being introduced in various states.

He questioned, “What are they?” I told him, “These legislations would make it legal to discriminate against other Americans, in particular gay and transgender Americans, in business transactions and public services.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 8.56.26 AM“No!” he responded, “That can’t be happening. That’s like the old Jim Crow Laws (1) in the the south. How can that possibly be legal?”

And therein is the hypocrisy. How can legalized discrimination be the desire of Americans, let alone Christians?

Under the guise of “religious freedom,” 20 states (2) already have, or have recently introduced, legislation which gives a business or person the right to discriminate against other citizens in the business or public sector in order to protect the expression of their own faith.

The very distant cousin to the new strain of legislative activity is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The 1993 Act states that the federal government should not “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” The 1993 Act, while it applies to all religions, was initially most significant to Native Americans helping to protect their sacred land from the encroachment of the Federal government, and to ensure their cultural and religious use of peyote in ceremonies.

Oh my, has time and motivation changed the concept and original protective intent of the legislation!

OK State Rep. Sally Kern (R) introduced 3 bills dealing with religious freedoms in OK.

OK State Rep. Sally Kern (R) introduced 3 bills dealing with religious freedom in OK.

The current rash of state legislations, also often called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, or some variation of “religious liberties” laws, seeks to ensure the “right” of businesses or citizens to withhold civil liberties from other citizens under the premise that their own ability to practice their religion is somehow at risk.

The clear target of these legislation is the gay and transgender communities.

Not only is the desire to enforce a religious sexual ethics code and Bible interpretation not a right, the inability to enforce moral code on others does not impinge on the practicing of one’s faith.

Americans abide by a secular constitution. Time and again, the Constitution has been interpreted to protect the civil rights of one group from restriction simply because another group condemns their “way of life” “because it is different, odd or even erratic.” (3) Some conservative politicians and Christians believe their level of disapproval, disgust, or feelings of “ickyness” about same-sex activities should compel the state to interfere in the lives and with the civil right of  gay and transgender people.

Oh well.

1400 LGBT Christians and allies gather at the 2015 Gay Christian Network conference.

1400 LGBT Christians and allies gather at the 2015 Gay Christian Network conference.

Every major professional medical and psychological association in the U.S. has deemed a homosexual orientation as a normal variation of human sexuality, and trangenderism as a naturally occurring medical condition.

The initial reintroduction of the new variation of state-sponsored Religious Freedom Restoration Acts began in 2013. What motivated the sudden new interest in state legislations?

Well, once the Supreme Court ruled in favor of striking the Defense of Marriage Act in Windsor v. the United States, District Courts and State Attorney Generals began, in rapid succession, to overturned states’ laws that had prohibited two people of the same-sex from seeking the civil right of marriage (4). At this writing, same-sex marriage is legal in 36 states, and the District of Columbia.

The Supreme Court will likely rule in favor of federal marriage equality in June 2015. Therefore, the once polarizing wedge issue of marriage equality is practically a done deal. The combined forces of conservative politics and religion need a new wedge issue to keep the voters engaged and going to the polls. Thus, the re-birth of the religious freedom dialogue.

This time, however, legal protection of the practice of ones faith is really not the focus as it was in 1993. The new state level variation seeks legal protection for persons and licensed businesses to discriminate against classes of people, gay and transgender people specifically, in order to “protect” their religious freedom and its expression.

So, who is behind the new and ever-widening push for legalized discrimination by persons and businesses in the public sector?

Let’s peek behind the curtain and we will see the usual suspects.Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 10.16.02 AM

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) founded in 1994 is a conservative Christian advocacy group known for taking on the “persecution cases” of bakers, florists, and photographers who believe they have the right to act counter to state and local business licensing agencies and deny service to some members of the public. ADF is joined in this movement by the Family Research Council founded in 1983 as the lobbying arm for Focus on the Family. Some of the most anti-gay rhetoric in the U.S. is spoken publicly by its leaders, including Tony Perkins.

Two other organizations striving to enact the right to discriminate are Liberty Counsel and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Liberty Council, founded in 1989, is now pushing for the withholding of civil rights from gay and transgender Americans under the guise of a perilous threat to religious liberties and freedom of speech. ALEC was originally launched in 1985 by conservative political mastermind, Paul Weyrich, to, in part, counter the Environmental Protection Agency. ALEC entered the “gay business” in 1985 in the midst of the AIDS crisis with the messages that being gay was a choice, and gays were pedophiles. ALEC is heavily funded by the Koch Brothers.

How can anything holy, just, or moderately godly possibly come from this combination of power-motivated backers? Sadly, their messaging will and has impacted people of faith.

The power seekers repeat terms like “persecution,” “religious freedom,” and “religious liberties” until the people in the pews feel the encroaching terror and demand that their legislators legally protect them. All the while, the intention is not really protection of the flock, but instead, legalized discrimination.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 10.15.04 AMThis deceptive ploy was attempted before and temporarily succeeded during the Civil Rights movement.

Bob Jones University wanted to secure their “right” to segregate after the 1964 Civil Rights Bill was signed. In 1971, the university’s tax exempt status was threatened unless they complied with the law, desegregated, and allowed for the admission of black students. The Christian university’s “right” to discriminate was cleverly repackaged by the newly formed Religious Right to the conservative voter base as a threat to religious liberty and freedom .

And here we are again repackaging the “right” to discriminate as a “threat” to religious freedom.

It would be too generous to say this is just a political ploy.

ADF at the SBC ERLC. Standing ovation for a "persecuted" Christian florist.

ADF at the SBC ERLC. Standing ovation for a “persecuted” Christian florist.

In October, I attended the Ethics and Religious Liberties Conference sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention with a handful of other Christian LGBT advocates. It was a three day, the-gays-are-out-to-take-away-our-freedoms fest. Sadly, denominations have joined the political ploy, and are echoing the “threat” to religious liberties mantra as the fear-fueled rhetoric du jour.

Encapsulated by political ideology, then dangerously wrapped up in a twisted interpretation of Scripture, it is the latest attempt to pretty up an ugly, un-American, un-Christian concept — the perceived “right” of businesses and citizens to legally discriminate against specific groups of people — gay and transgender American — so that they might protect the ability to substantively practice their faith.

The new tactic and messaging has been effective.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 10.19.02 AMMany conservative Christians may never stop to really consider the most simple questions, “Is the practice of my faith prohibited or diminished by extending a civil right that I enjoy to another citizen?” Or, “Does my moral disapproval give me the right to limit the civil rights of another group?”

Don’t be fooled by the messaging. The new rash of “religious liberties” law are seeking a protected “right” to discriminate.

The substantive practice of Christianity is not at risk by extending civil rights and equal treatment to gay and transgender Americans.

What is at risk is the real message, public image, and good influence of the faith; that is, equality and justice for others, all others.


  1. Jim Crow laws were enacted at state and local levels by southern legislators during the Reconstruction Period after 1865. They remained in effect until 1965 and allowed for racial segregation and discrimination, and a separate, but equal status making African Americans inferior to white Americans.
  2. Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, South Carolina, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
  3. Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) a decision protecting the lifestyle of the religion and educational practices of the Amish, in particular, exemption from compulsory education. This case was eventually cited when overturning sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas (2003).
  4. Marriage has been declared a civil right for American citizens in Loving v. Virginia (1967) and Zablocki v. Redhail (1978).



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