For anybody who watches and reads the American social and political news sources on a daily basis, there is one phrase that keeps popping up in relation to religious freedom. Spoken by Christian zealots and charlatans cornered after putting their bigotry on display for the world to see, this phrase is used as a line of defence. On almost a daily basis, I come across yet another story of a person claiming some terrible wrong has befallen them for doing nothing more than merely expressing their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” For some time now, legislators in various states have been attempting to enact laws and statutes to allow discriminatory exemptions for “sincerely held religious beliefs,” effectively allowing businesses to refuse service to people of any given minority; so long as that refusal is done on religious grounds. Fortunately, those proposed laws are continuously being struck down by the courts, but this widespread misunderstanding of what religious freedom actually means is disturbing. Freedom of religion is just like freedom of speech. We may practice any religion we like, but that freedom ends at our neighbour’s nose. Sincerely held belief or not, the denial of rights or services based upon subjective interpretations of a given holy book, is entirely unacceptable, ignorant, and ultimately detrimental to civilization.
This idea of protecting one’s actions based on “sincerely held religious beliefs” is a raging issue in America, so there is no shortage of controversy surrounding it. Outrage among the religious right was recently sparked by President Obama’s signing of non-discrimination orders, orders that extend federal protection against discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity. This has been done specifically to protect LGBTQ people from religious bigotry, and the faith-based groups opposed to it are furious. In every argument I have yet seen put forward, the issue of religious freedom is raised; and every time there is an underlying misunderstanding of what religious freedom is. We as a society must realize that freedom, inasmuch as freedom can exist at all, is not all-inclusive to the individual. We are all free, and because of that our freedom depends upon our consideration of others. You may speak, but you must accept the consequences of what you say. You may practice your faith, but you must respect the freedoms and rights of those who do not. This is not a negotiable idea. If your religious beliefs require you to oppress, control, and condemn, then perhaps you should re-evaluate what it is you believe and why.
Slowly and steadily, allies and outspoken minority people are winning the war against religious oppression. You can join us and accept that religious freedom protects you as long as you do not impose harmful “beliefs” on others, or you can choose to close yourself off to reality. Either way, the world is heading toward acceptance and equality. We are moving in the right direction, and as we progress, it is important that we maintain our freedoms and use them in the ways they were intended. I support Religious Freedom. I do NOT support religious justification for exclusion and inequality.