US moves closer to re­li­gious re­pres­sion

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Ian Boyne Ian Boyne is a veteran jour­nal­ist work­ing with the Ja­maica In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

THE UNITED States, the much-touted home of the brave and land of the free, is edg­ing fur­ther away from that leg­endary free­dom, forc­ing re­li­gious, par­tic­u­larly Chris­tian be­liev­ers, to ex­er­cise bravery in stand­ing up to its en­croach­ing sec­u­lar­ist tyranny.

The just-pub­lished 296-page re­port of the US Com­mis­sion on Civil Rights ti­tled Peace­ful Co­ex­is­tence: Rec­on­cil­ing Nondis­crim­i­na­tion Prin­ci­ples with Civil Lib­er­ties has been send­ing shiv­ers down the spine of many a Chris­tian who has heard of its con­clu­sions. This re­port deep­ens the cul­ture war in the United States, par­tic­u­larly over is­sues of ho­mo­sex­ual and trans­gen­der rights, height­ened by the Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion to le­galise gay mar­riage.

Es­pe­cially since that rul­ing, there have been at­tempts all over the United States to have ex­emp­tions en­acted so that Chris­tians are not forced to ac­com­mo­date gay mar­riage. More than 100 anti-gay bills have been, or are be­ing, con­sid­ered in 22 states. Com­plain the ma­jor­ity com­mis­sion­ers in this re­port: “In re­cent months, there has been noth­ing short of a tsunami of leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als, the pur­pose of which is to evis­cer­ate the civil lib­er­ties of les­bian, gay and trans­gen­der (LGBT) per­sons — us­ing ‘re­li­gious lib­er­ties’ as the al­leged jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. In late March and early April alone, both Mis­sis­sippi and North Carolina en­acted statutes that con­done LGBT em­ploy­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion, re­strict ac­cess to LGBT per­sons to pub­lic ac­com­mo­da­tions and ser­vices, and pro­scribe re­stroom use when an in­di­vid­ual’s gen­der iden­tity con­flicts with the sex as­signed to him or her at birth.”

The com­mis­sion­ers are deeply of­fended and an­gered by this and have risen in right­eous in­dig­na­tion to de­fend civil lib­er­ties and hu­man rights. Chair­man Martin Cas­tro has these fighting words: “The phrases ‘re­li­gious lib­erty’ and ‘re­li­gious free­dom’ will stand for noth­ing ex­cept hypocrisy so long as they re­main code words for dis­crim­i­na­tion, in­tol­er­ance, racism, sex­ism, ho­mo­pho­bia, Michael Rhen (left) takes a selfie with his part­ner, the Rev Rick Sosbe, of Metropoli­tan Com­mu­nity Church of Our Redeemer, dur­ing a pro-gay rally in Augusta, Ge­or­gia, on June 26, 2016. The mil­i­tancy of the gay-rights move­ment has been blamed for a rise in re­li­gious re­pres­sion.

Is­lam­o­pho­bia or any other form of in­tol­er­ance.

He is not through: “To­day, as in past, re­li­gion is be­ing used both as a weapon and a shield by those seek­ing to deny oth­ers equal­ity. In our na­tion’s past, re­li­gion has been used to jus­tify slav­ery and, later, Jim Crow.”

CUL­TURE WAR

The cul­ture war is get­ting more in­tense, and the rhetoric is in­creas­ingly hos­tile and acer­bic. The ma­jor­ity com­mis­sion­ers feel that the push­back against LGBT rights by Chris­tians in Amer­ica has lit­tle to do with gen­uine pro­tec­tion of re­li­gious lib­erty and free­dom of con­science, but has to do with an­i­mus against gay peo­ple. “There is no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for these laws and pro­pos­als. They are pre­tex­tual at­tempts to jus­tify naked an­i­mus against les­bian, gay bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der peo­ple.” They go on: “These laws and pro­pos­als rep­re­sent an or­ches­trated, na­tion­wide ef­fort by ex­trem­ists to pro­mote big­otry cloaked in the man­tle of ‘re­li­gious free­dom’ ... . It is a care­fully planned strat­egy be­ing un­der­taken to pun­ish LGBT peo­ple for hav­ing the temer­ity to pur­sue equal­ity and

pre­vail­ing in the US Supreme Court.”

Well, the US Com­mis­sion on Civil Rights is hav­ing none of it. It is felt that re­li­gious peo­ple are us­ing the ex­emp­tion clause to con­tinue their dis­crim­i­na­tion against gay peo­ple.

What if re­li­gious peo­ple should de­mand that they have a right to dis­crim­i­nate against black peo­ple be­cause they be­lieve the Bi­ble says the races should be seg­re­gated, or that there should be no in­ter­ra­cial mar­riage? What if they feel they should have a right to polyg­a­mous mar­riages be­cause they ac­cept Old Tes­ta­ment only? Why should re­li­gious peo­ple have the right to ex­empt them­selves from na­tional laws? This is the is­sue which the US Com­mis­sion is bring­ing across force­fully.

Among its rec­om­men­da­tions to Pres­i­dent Obama is that “overly broad re­li­gious ex­emp­tions un­duly bur­den non-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws and poli­cies. Fed­eral and state courts, law­mak­ers and pol­i­cy­mak­ers at ev­ery level must tailor re­li­gious ex­cep­tions to civil lib­er­ties and civil rights pro­tec­tions as nar­rowly as ap­pli­ca­ble law re­quires.” Com­mis­sioner Karen

Narasaki warns that there are those who are try­ing to use the First Amend­ment guar­an­tee­ing re­li­gious free­dom as “a sword that can be used against oth­ers who do not conform with their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of their faith”.

She quotes the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence Ed­u­ca­tion Fund ap­prov­ingly: “Free­dom of re­li­gion, like free­dom of speech and other con­sti­tu­tional rights, is not ab­so­lute: One per­son’s re­li­gious lib­erty does not give him or her right to harm an­other per­son or im­pose their re­li­gious be­liefs or prac­tices on some­one else.”

RE­LI­GIOUS LIB­ERTY

She says, “Great care must be taken to en­sure that claims of re­li­gious lib­erty, how­ever sin­cerely held, do not be­come a li­cence to dis­crim­i­nate.” Is a Chris­tian baker who re­fuses to bake and dec­o­rate a wed­ding cake cel­e­brat­ing a gay cou­ple guilty of in­fring­ing on the rights of that gay cou­ple? Is a Chris­tian pho­tog­ra­pher who de­clines to take an as­sign­ment to pho­to­graph (won’t say shoot!) a man kiss­ing his hus­band guilty of dis­crim­i­na­tion? Should Chris­tians be forced to rent their apart­ments to gay cou­ples? So

why can they refuse to rent their premises to gay cou­ples but by law they can’t refuse to rent to a black cou­ple?

How does one ex­er­cise his re­li­gious con­science with­out vi­o­lat­ing an­other’s civil lib­er­ties? Let’s take some con­crete cases. First, the Chris­tian Le­gal So­ci­ety vs Martinez case in the United States. This con­cerns the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Hast­ings Law School’s re­fusal to grant of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion to the Chris­tian Le­gal So­ci­ety be­cause it vi­o­lated its “all­com­ers” pol­icy. That is, the school says no­body can be de­nied mem­ber­ship in any school-spon­sored recog­nised group based on that per­son’s be­liefs.

So, for ex­am­ple, if an athe­ist or a Satanist wants mem­ber­ship in the Chris­tian Le­gal So­ci­ety, he should be free to be ad­mit­ted! These are the ab­surd lengths that these civil-lib­er­ties ad­vo­cates have reached. The law school says there should be no state­ment of be­liefs that mem­bers are re­quired to sign. So an openly gay per­son should be ad­mit­ted to the Chris­tian Le­gal So­ci­ety be­cause deny­ing him mem­ber­ship is “view­point dis­crim­i­na­tion”.

By that rea­son­ing, a white su­prem­a­cist ac­tivist should be free to join a black stu­dents’ group and a meat lover should be free to lead the Ve­gan So­ci­ety on cam­pus! An Or­tho­dox Jewish group on cam­pus should not have mem­ber­ship rules that bar Salafi Mus­lims to join, and no Calvin­ist group should de­bar a vir­u­lently anti-Calvin­ist stu­dent be­cause that is dis­crim­i­na­tion.

In the Martinez case, the court ac­tu­ally ruled that the Chris­tian Law So­ci­ety could not get any of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion and there­fore, no univer­sity sup­port, be­cause it had dis­crim­i­na­tory stan­dards of mem­ber­ship. Many univer­sity cam­puses in the United States are the great­est bas­tions of re­pres­sion.

US law grants min­is­te­rial ex­emp­tion that pro­tects clergy from dis­crim­i­na­tion suits. For ex­am­ple, the Catholic Church can­not be forced to ad­mit women in its em­ploy as priests un­der the rubric of equal em­ploy­ment. The­o­log­i­cal schools can de­ter­mine cri­te­ria for em­ploy­ment that are con­sis­tent with their spe­cific the­o­log­i­cal tra­di­tions with­out be­ing con­sid­ered equal – op­por­tu­nity vi­o­la­tors.

If some sec­u­lar­ists have their way, these ex­emp­tions would go and there would be one law for ev­ery­one. This is a ma­jor strug­gle go­ing on in the United States right now. It goes fur­ther. Re­li­gious peo­ple are also be­ing per­se­cuted for even speak­ing out for their be­liefs.

One Chris­tian busi­ness cou­ple who catered to gay peo­ple told them be­fore serv­ing them what their be­liefs were but, they were ad­mon­ished by the courts not to do so for they were vi­o­lat­ing those gay peo­ple’s “dig­ni­tary rights”. The peo­ple were “de­meaned” by be­ing told their be­hav­iour was im­moral, and us­ing John Rawls’ prin­ci­ple of peo­ple’s “right to self-re­spect”, which is also de­pen­dent on the re­spect ac­ceded them by oth­ers, their hu­man rights were be­ing vi­o­lated.

An eye-open­ing book with many alarm­ing cases of re­li­gious re­pres­sion has just been pub­lished, ti­tled It’s Dan­ger­ous To Be­lieve: Re­li­gious Free­dom and Its En­e­mies. Think­ing Chris­tians should get a hold of this. Also, they must wade through the US com­mis­sion re­port, for in it the dis­senters have put for­ward a most so­phis­ti­cated le­gal and philo­soph­i­cal cri­tique of the ma­jor­ity po­si­tion.

Chris­tians have to be pre­pared philo­soph­i­cally to deal with this sec­u­lar­ist on­slaught. Praise and wor­ship are just not enough.

I

AP

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