Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Columnist—
Sex and love advice columnist and author Dan Savage told comedian and TV host Bill Maher during an interview that Democrats fail to get the message right. His observation has a wider application to “religious liberty.” Social conservatives have co-opted the phrase to argue liberty of faith and religion are under attack.
In the interview, Savage points out the LGBTQ community shifted from using the phrase “gay marriage” to “marriage equality.” It made all the difference in the world. Who could be opposed to equality for everyone? If you call it gay, a negative stereotype kicks in making a loving, committed relationship into a sexual act and nothing more.
This same logic applies to the phrase “religious liberty.” Increasingly, it’s being used as a ruse to limit and scale back LGBTQ civil and human rights. Who could be opposed to protecting an American’s constitutional right to worship in accordance to his or her conscience?
Social conservatives are succeeding in the misinformation war arguing the First Amendment is threatened. The inference is clear. LGBTQ people are a threat to morality and religious freedom. Of course it’s fake news, but take the absurdity seriously.
In July 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke before the Alliance Defending Freedom, described as an organization of “Christian First Amendment Lawyers.” The Southern Poverty Law Center (www.splcenter.org) designated it a hate group last year.
According to Sessions, “the cultural climate has become less hospitable to people of faith and to religious belief … many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.” Although last time I checked, government wasn’t closing down megachurches in the south or taxing televangelists making millions in salaries.
The attorney general pledged the government will never “demand that sincere religious beliefs be abandoned.” In short, businesses should be allowed to discriminate based on “religious freedom.” In the near future, Sessions promised the Justice Department will issue “guidance” to help federal agencies protect religious liberty.
What about the religious liberty of LGBTQ Unitarians, Episcopalians, or members of the United Church of Christ, among others? These are denominations that support marriage equality and want an expansion of civil and human rights. By the way, and in case you weren’t already aware of it, no clergy person of any denomination can be forced to use a place of worship or be required to marry anyone—straight or LGBTQ.
There is a rainbow in the cultural storm now unfolding. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, “most American religious groups support” marriage equality and “oppose religiously based service refusals. Overall, a majority (58 percent) of Americans support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally.”
The 2016 poll of over 40,000 people also found “six in ten (61 percent) [of] Americans oppose allowing a small business owner in their state to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people, if doing so violates their religious beliefs.”
This important cross section of the religious community in the poll must be made aware of what’s occurring. They’re natural allies against an ugly darkness unfolding in the nation supposedly done in the name of God and all that is holy.
One U.S. Supreme Court decision in a very close vote allowing marriage equality can still be undermined, especially in these surreal, unsettling times. In the extreme, the constitutional right that has been extended can also be potentially withdrawn by the same judicial body. Take nothing for granted.
The phrase “religious liberty” has become nefarious. Let’s take it back and make it “religious liberty for all.” Otherwise, it will become a form of spiritual or religious terrorism. The LGBTQ community did a great job messaging equality. Now it’s time to do the same for religious liberty for all.
*Paul is a corporate chaplain, seminary trained priest, and lawyer in greater Albany, NY. He’s also author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis.”