There is plenty of talk going around about “religious freedom” which is somewhat ironic in one of the most religiously free countries in the world. Believers in the country can already believe whatever they want and worship as they will in their tax free churches. The new horizon in “religious freedom” is now believers want to act however they want and even more, get you to toe the line to their religious beliefs. The biggest problem with this can even be seen in the phrase that is being used to champion this new kind of “freedom” the “sincerely held belief.”
“Sincerely held belief” is as vaporous as religion itself, in that it can be pretty much whatever you want it to be. At its worst it can be and has been a cover for bigotry pure and simple.
The latest example comes from Oklahoma. A “religious freedom” bill has been introduced by state senator James Silk. Why? “The L.G.B.T. movement is the main thing, the primary thing that’s going to be challenging religious liberties and the freedom to live out religious convictions,” Silk said. So, gay people are blocking the doorways of churches? Attacking people who are wearing crosses? No, of course not.
No, they are simply asking for the same civil rights others enjoy, the legal protections for partnerships that marriage provides. Silk’s bill provides a way for opponents of gay marriage to refuse to provide services, such as photography and catering to gay weddings under the guise of “religious freedom.” And this is where the wicket gets sticky, on many levels.
So, they may say they want to not provide services because they are “Christian.” But not all Christian churches oppose gay marriage. If the churches can’t agree with what’s right and what’s wrong, what constitutes a “religious” belief. Anything any preacher says? Anything someone thinks some holy book says? Anything god whispers in someone’s ear, even though no one else heard it?
For example, these people who don’t want to make cakes for gay weddings have almost certainly made cakes for second weddings. According to Jesus, that would be adultery and according to the old testament punishable by death. So their “religion” excludes homosexuality, but not adultery? How about mixed religion marriages? Also prohibited by the bible. Bet they have done cakes for them as well.
And the county clerks who “sincerely” don’t want to issue marriage licenses for gay marriages have almost certainly already issued marriage licenses for people who have given false witness, made graven images, molested children, raped their fiance, sold drugs, killed people, eaten shrimp and a host of other things that most religions look down upon. But now marriage is sacred?
How can we possibly tell when the belief is “religious” and when it is just bigotry? Keep in mind that similar to gay marriage, the Supreme Court ruled that laws against interracial marriage were unconstitutional in 1967. Many people (perhaps some of the same people?) argued in favor of laws against interracial marriage on religious grounds. The Supremes got it right that time and they should use similar reasoning this time as well.
That is because there is a real question as to where “religious” beliefs leave off and simple prejudice kicks in. People can say they belief anything for any reason. So, how do we determine what a “sincerely held religious belief” is anyway? All four of those words are extraordinarily debatable.
I have written before about the problem of “sincerely held,” before. People can say they believe anything. So, for each person who wants to claim this, are the courts going to spend hundreds of hours generating data to examine how “sincerely held” their beliefs are. Will they have to delineate their philosophy, back up their beliefs with passages from books and such? Will we have to look through their actions and see if they match up with the beliefs? Cross examine their spouse and pastor to see if they express doubt? Psychological tests to see if they are easily subject to suggestibility?
And then we would have to move on to the “religious” part. At what level does it become a “religious” belief? Does it have to be a proclamation of a whole church, like the Vatican for Catholics? Does it count if you pastor says it, even if it is in contradiction to the larger church? If it is based on the believers own reading of the bible or other “holy book?” Which books are deemed to be holy, anyway? If the person just believes that god told them so?
Let’s imagine that a Catholic county clerk wanted to opt out of issuing marriage licenses to gay couples because the church says this is wrong. Does she get to do this if she is also using birth control? Is it really a religious belief if you side with the church sometimes and sometimes not? If you are going to pick and choose, could it not be argued that then your beliefs are “personal” beliefs, not religious?
In the Hobby Lobby case, the owners didn’t want their money going to support what they considered immorality. Which I will, in principle, grant them. But I felt the Supremes really screwed this one up by not actually investigating what those beliefs were and whether they were “religious” or not. The Hobby Lobby people didn’t want to provide birth control because they “believe” birth control actually causes “abortions.” Well, science says most forms of contraception don’t work as abortifacients, so why is their belief “religious.” Does it say in the bible somewhere that the pill causes abortions?
And if they don’t want their money going to support immorality, why do they hire people who live together without the “benefit” of marriage? Once again, this is adultery according to the bible, a capital offense, just like killing. So their money is going to support “immorality.” Why tolerate one and not the other? Surely they hire remarried people as well. Why do they get to claim one part of the bible as their “religious” belief, but ignore other parts. Shouldn’t they have to spend weeks and weeks on the witness stand defending why their beliefs are “religious” and not “ideological?’
Or just plain old bigotry?
As soon as we allow people to do things because of what is unseen between their ears, attributed to an invisible sky god, their “sincerely held religious beliefs,” we end up where we were 60 years ago. Some people can’t rent an apartment, stay in a hotel, eat at a restaurant and maybe even shop in a grocery store because some yayhoos think god doesn’t like those people.
So, people like Silk seem to think that LGBT people offend his faith and therefore he should not have to deal with them. People knocking on my door trying to convert me are violating my religious beliefs (and the bible) so they should not be able to do that. Soon we have a country where everyone lives in their own religious enclaves. Hello holy wars? This is not religious freedom, this is simply intolerance.
People commit all kind of “sins” and practices that some religious folks don’t like. About one third of heterosexuals admit to practicing anal sex in their relationships. But, I am pretty sure they can get any kind of cake they want at their parties. If you are “straight” nobody asks you what you do in your bedroom before they take your order. LGBT people are just asking for the same thing. Do we really want a country where you have to pass some kind of made up religious test to rent an apartment, get a prescription filled or buy a cake?
That is where these so called “religious freedom” laws are sending us.