US Agency Calls Religious Freedom a Form of Bigotry

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Over at Relevant is a great article on Multi-Faith Leaders Ask Pres. Obama to Reject a Report That Calls Religious Freedom Discriminatory. It opens by saying: “Last month, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a report on the topic of religious liberty called Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles With Civil Liberties. Recently, faith leaders including evangelicals Russell Moore and Leith Anderson asked President Barack Obama to reject the report‘s definition of religious freedom.”

Because of recent events in the USA and Australia, I’ve been researching this topic, so I’ve read the USCCR report on religious liberty and it is quite frankly one of the most disturbing things I’ve read by a US agency.

Sadly, we are now reaching the point where agencies of the US government are openly saying that religious freedom equates to bigotry and they are disparaging religious freedom as little more than a license to discriminate against minorities. The United States Commission on Civil Rights has argued that: “Religious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these civil rights.”[1] In other words, religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws are a fundamental attack on people’s civil liberties. The chairman of the commission Martin R. Castro claimed that: “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, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance … This generation of Americans must stand up and speak out to ensure that religion never again be twisted to deny others the full promise of America.”[2]  I know that sounds bad, but sadly it gets far worse.

The commission accepted and endorsed several submissions which had highly negative views of religious freedom and wished to curtail it as much as possible. Leslie Griffin of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas Law School argued that “religious liberty under the First Amendment should not be protected if expressed in conduct rather than belief, and that religious institutions should be subject to the same nondiscrimination laws as everyone else.” Note this, you are free to believe whatever you heck you want, but if that belief is expressed in any form of behaviour that discriminates against another person for any reason, then you should be liable to prosecution. Here religious freedom is exclusively cerebral,  it exists between your two ears, it only pertains to beliefs, and those beliefs do not have a right to be expressed in public, not among associations of the like-minded nor even in private institutions . On a more sinister note, Ayesha Khan of Americans United for Separation of Church and State stated that “throughout history, religious doctrines that were widely accepted at one time came to be deemed highly discriminatory, such as slavery, homosexuality bans, and unequal treatment of women, and that what is considered within the purview of religious autonomy at one time would likely change.” The commission affirmed that point and added that even “religions change accordingly” to fit with the times. Again, note what is implied. If cultures change their views on personal liberties over time, then they should also change their view of religious freedom to coincide with it. Don’t worry on how this might adversely affect religious freedom because most religions will follow suit. Of course, for those religions that refuse to get with the times, one seriously wonders what lies in store for them.[3]

The US Civil Rights Commission rendered a negative verdict on religious freedom as a threat to civil rights, it proposed severely limiting the protections of the First Amendment to personal beliefs and only applicable to ordained ministers, and it assumed that religions either will change or must change their beliefs and practices in accordance with social progressive values. If you read the document, you will not find a more vigorous attack on the US Constitution’s First Amendment nor will you encounter a more morally condescending attack on religion itself.

Peter Kirsanow’s lengthy and impassioned minority report within the commission unveils the secular fundamentalism behind his co-commissioners’s motivations. Kirsanow acknowledged that there is a tension between religious liberty and non-discrimination principles as it applies to sexual liberty. That tension can be conceptualized as a conflict between two legitimate rights – the right to fair treatment and the right to practice one’s religious beliefs – or as a question as to whether anti-discrimination exemptions for religion should even exist. His colleagues have chosen the latter. More importantly, Kirsanow recognized that the differences on this point are far from incidental disagreements of legal opinion. “The conflict goes deeper” he says, “it is a conflict between two worldviews, both held with the intensity generally associated with religious belief.” The conflict is between militant secularism and a Judeo-Christian worldview. He declares that the secularist project “requires purging the public square of religious symbols, denying the validity of public policy with religious origins, and ending long-standing public religious practices.” Kirsanow goes so far as to argue that “the effort to force traditional religious believers to bow to certain sexual mores is really an attempt to replace the old faith with the new. But if the old faith is destroyed, and with it the idea of human dignity, the adherents of the new faith may rue the day they did so. Secularists may believe that they are simply expanding the idea of human dignity to encompass various important facets of human behavior, but in so doing they are destroying the foundation of the idea and are unlikely to find a similarly compelling basis.” Kirsanow is quite damning of his colleagues for their arrogance and their efforts to infringe on religious liberties: “My colleagues do not even pretend to neutrality and instead simply declare that they are wiser than the accumulated wisdom of millennia of the world’s major faiths. It appears from the recommendations that they believe religious beliefs and practices that conflict with the sexual revolution should be cabined as much as possible. The entire point of having limited and enumerated constitutional powers and a Bill of Rights was to restrain the power of government and to protect inalienable rights regardless of changing fashions.” His final verdict on the report is scathing: “The findings and recommendations in this report should serve as an alarm to liberty-loving Americans … The fundamental problem with the approach embodied in the findings and recommendations is that it is in practice, if not intent, hostile to religion.” [4] Whoa, Kirsanow seriously dropped some knowledge that we should all take heed to.

I’ve currently writing a book on this topic, but if you want something to read in the meantime, I recommend Bruce Ashford’s list of 9 Books on Religious Liberty (And its Enemies)

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[1] Martin R. Castro et al. Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties. US Commission on Civil Rights., p. 25. http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/Peaceful-Coexistence-09-07-16.PDF. Accessed 5 October 2017.

[2] Castro, Peaceful Coexistence, p. 29.

[3] Peaceful Coexistence, pp. 21-22, 26.

[4] Peter Kirsanow, “Statement,” in Peaceful Coexistence, pp. 43-44, 46-47, 103, 108-9, 113.

Photo via pixabay.

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