“Religious freedom” is not a get out of jail free card

There’s something that’s been bothering me for a while now, especially with the Hosanna-Tabor Supreme Court decision last month and the Catholic Bishops’  push back against the Obama Administration’s regulation requiring that every insurance plan offer birth control without co-pays. It’s this: religious individuals seem to think “religious freedom” is a get out of jail free card.

Religious freedom means you are free to believe as you like. It does not, however, mean that you are free to do as you like. Here are some examples:

You are free to believe that infant sacrifice is the only thing that will appease the anger of the gods, but you are not free to sacrifice infants.

You are free to believe that God has ordained that the races must remain separate, but you are not free to refuse to serve interracial couples at your restaurant.

You are free to believe that fornicators and adulterers should be put to death, but you are not free to stone them.

You are free to believe that abortion doctors murder babies, but you are not free to assassinate abortion doctors or blow up abortion clinics.

And so on. The point is that while you are free to believe what you like, you are not free to do what you like if that action will harm others or violate the rights of others. If the government requires that all businesses offer their employees health care plans, and that all health care plans include birth control, you can’t simply opt out. Well, apparently you can, but you shouldn’t be able to. Similarly, if the government requires that people not discriminate on the base of race or sex, you are not allowed to refuse to serve interracial couples at your restaurant regardless of what you think of interracial marriage. Similarly, you are not allowed to refuse to serve an atheist in your flower store because you oppose atheism. In a civil society, there have to be rules. You can’t claim the rules don’t apply to you just because you believe X, Y, or Z.

Believe what you like, but don’t use your beliefs to justify violating the rights of others and then think “religious freedom” is some sort of get out of jail free card. It isn’t.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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