I feel like I’ve written about religious freedom ad nauseam, and with all of the information out there – the articles, the discussions, the actual laws available for the public to read – the lack of understanding of this topic is truly astonishing. It’s a well defined idea, but it bears repeating given the outlandish statements I keep hearing from people who just don’t get it.
Every time religious privilege is taken away, people get their backs up in a panic. By religious privilege, and my perspective is culturally conditioned for North America in particular, I mean preference for Christianity in various institutions – namely schools. So for example, when prayer was taken out of schools, the churches lost their minds. Every time the teaching of Intelligent Design is denied by the courts, social media blows up. The uttering of “Happy Holidays” actually spurs outrage. People are taking their children out of school and putting them into Christian schools (or homeschooling), to keep them sheltered from exposure to the fact that LGBTQ+ people exist; and are not disordered or sinful, but just perfect the way they are. Some even go so far as to claim that us fighting against this is tantamount to a hate crime. (*As a disclaimer here, I am NOT saying that homeschooling is bad. I am saying that homeschooling for religious purposes is not a good idea.*)
People removing their children from public schools for biblical reasons is increasing in popularity in the area I live in, and often when it’s talked about, the issue of religious freedom comes up. I’ve broken the argument down into two parts. The first goes something like this: the public schools are “denying Christ,” teaching a “false morality,” and exposing our kids to “those sinful gays.” The solution: Put our kids in the basement of a church and teach them about the world from a biblical perspective. The result: We know from research into the ‘Bible Belt’ areas of the U.S. that strictly Christian teaching results in many social problems, including increased teen pregnancy, higher than usual porn use, domestic violence, drug use, and family discord within the evangelical community. It’s not even hard-to-find information; a quick Google search reveals this, and yet more and more people are doing it. It’s an exercise in futility. These negative effects are not true for every individual, but the mass social effects can’t be denied.
The second part of the argument sounds something like this: the examples above are the method for taking away religious freedom. You have to respect everybody’s beliefs, but now we have a society where anything goes. In addition, you’re committing a hate crime by trying to advise people against this. So, the removal of privilege does not equal the removal of freedom, and respect for one’s beliefs is NOT required. As I’ve said time and again, beliefs do not deserve respect just because they are held. If you believe that “the gays should burn in hell,” I am free to disrespect that belief, and because I feel very strongly about it, I’m going to tell you so. We do NOT have a society in which everything goes, nor do we want it. There are restrictions on our behaviour, laws that we have to follow, so that those who do harm to others are held accountable. Is it a perfect system? No, but we have it and it’s worth improving upon; and that’s what we fight for. If you mean anything goes morally, well that’s an interesting conversation. The moral decay argument is one that I wouldn’t dare to tread if I were in the anti-gay camp, and as far as hate crimes are concerned … the idea that I am committing a hate crime by fighting to stop religiously fuelled discrimination and social division is just wrong.
Religious freedom IS worth fighting for … but only when it’s actually in danger. Legalizing same-sex marriage, banning hate speech, and taking God out of schools, moves us toward equality. Fighting for those things does not qualify as a hate crime, nor does it qualify as the removal or denial of freedom. Christians are not being persecuted against here in North America. They are losing their privilege, and that has to happen for equality to be possible. If the government tries to deny religious freedom, I will march against that. Religious freedom is vitally important. I will not, however, stand idly by and say nothing when a community considers their desire to persecute and misinform a matter of that freedom. If your religion requires you to reject other human beings and keep your kids away from “those sinful gays,” perhaps you should question whether or not it’s worth following in the first place. In truth, the Christian religion does NOT require that, at least not scripturally anyway, but sadly people are being taught otherwise.