Many leaders at a conference on religious liberty don’t understand liberty.

Leave it to religious people to hold a convention in the interest of protecting liberty to be oblivious to just what a negative influence they are to the liberty of others in the name of preserving religious privilege.

When Singh had finished, Rivers made clear that he holds differing beliefs, and draws the line of tolerance in a different place. “What the guy said on the radio … there’s actually evidence for the argument that in certain cases young women, in this case we’re talking about lesbians, have come to that orientation as a function of abuse.”

“The radio guy may have simply overstated the case,” continued Rivers, pastor of Boston’s Azusa Christian Community and senior policy adviser to the Church of God in Christ’s presiding bishop.

This must be evidence that has eluded the American Psychological Association.  The American Psychiatric Association is even more clear:

No one knows what causes heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality. Homosexuality was once thought to be the result of troubled family dynamics or faulty psychological development. Those assumptions are now understood to have been based on misinformation and prejudice.

And while good doctors/scientists attempt to purge misinformation, religion cannot live without it.  No wonder prejudice against LGBT people has found such a nurturing home among the faithful.

And what’s more, this is something that really bothers me about Christianity specifically.  It is claimed that to be Christian is to be humble.  Yet there are countless examples of Christians whose last contact with physics or psychology, at best, was in an intro-level college course telling the entire global community of actual physicists, psychologists, and psychiatrists that they know more about those disciplines.  It strains the mind to even imagine a more shameless display of monumental arrogance.

The theme of the conference was that religious liberty is under attack (which is news to me).

The panelists who came to assess the state of religious freedom in the nation accepted the point that their various faiths might not stand together on anything beyond the need to protect religious freedom, and that at times, coalition building would present grand challenges that needed to be met head on.

So what are some examples?

Among the evidence of a deterioration of religious rights offered during the daylong meeting sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center: the Obama administration’s rule requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception; several state universities’ refusal to accept student groups that require their leaders to accept certain tenets of a faith; and companies that are allowed to relegate Muslim women with headscarves to jobs where the public will not see them.

I think I know what’s going on here.  You know how Christians redefine words like love, family, fulfill, and all sorts of others in order to make their holy book/beliefs make some sort of sense?  I think that’s what’s happening here.  When they say that religious liberty is in jeopardy (even though it clearly isn’t) what they actually mean is that religious privilege is being opposed.  And in that case, they’re certainly right (though not as right as I’d like them to be).

“the Obama administration’s rule requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception”

The cross around your neck is not a “get out of compassion free” card.  Believe it or not, it is not the right of religious people to skirt the law.  It doesn’t matter how firmly you believe that you should be able to treat your employees less well than others, the law that protects your employees still applies to you.  If your religious convictions told you that employees shouldn’t get overtime pay until they’ve worked 60 hours, the proper response from the people tasked with ensuring humane work conditions is “I’m sorry, but the law still applies to you” (with the unspoken implication being that your religious beliefs are unfair and that fairness should be humanity’s primary concern, not doing what someone’s religion says).

If you think it is your right as a religious person to decide which laws you obey and disobey it’s time to…

1.  Get some perspective.

2.  Never again suggest that your religion makes you humble.

What is the point of laws if certain citizens get to ignore them?  This is not equality, even though that’s what this coalition says they want.

several state universities’ refusal to accept student groups that require their leaders to accept certain tenets of a faith

Those universities receive state funding and cannot be allowed to discriminate.  This goes for all groups: if a Christian wants to attend a secular club and even run for being an officer, they can.  LGBT groups cannot bar Christians.  If these universities abiding by the law are an affront to religious liberty, then they are an affront to everybody’s liberty.

But they’re not.  If “liberty” to you means your right to discriminate, then you are seeking a privilege you never had in the first place.  Nobody has a right to use government dollars to discriminate against others.

companies that are allowed to relegate Muslim women with headscarves to jobs where the public will not see them

If that’s the reason they are hidden, yeah, that’s bullshit.

But that would be an example of a business owner being a jerk, not of religious liberty being under assault.  Big difference.

“We see that religion is often treated with derision and ridicule,” Cohen said. “In these rough waters, it’s all hands on deck.”

You do not have a right to be free of derision and ridicule.  In fact, when you believe baseless and ridiculous things, you should expect derision and ridicule.  As a friend of mine once put it:

“On the matter of tolerance: While we must give everyone the right to the freedom of speech, we do not have to extend our respect for what they say. Nor should we. If someone is spreading blatantly incorrect or immoral ideas and “values”, it is our right (and I might argue duty) in a society that does not legally regulate its speech to point out how stupid and fundamentally wrong that person is. Don’t get offended if you cannot defend those ideas. Change your mind.”

You cannot claim to want liberty in the same breath you imply that other people’s freedom of speech should be curtailed in deference to your faith.

Well, you can, but it’s a silly, contradictory argument.  Claiming to be champions of liberty while casually calling for less liberty for anybody who isn’t from your interest group is like announcing your crusade to stop bullying as you push over kids and steal their lunch money.  That type of behavior should be treated with derision and ridicule.

Muslim theologian Shaykha Reima Yosif, who wears a headscarf and founded an organization to support Muslim women through art and education, said as an easily identifiable follower of Islam, she has often been told to “go back where you came from.”

Mostly by Christians, I’d wager.

“It’s not a priest or a rabbi or a pastor that will say such things. It’s the layman,” she said, referring to the insults that have been thrown at her. “These ideals that we have gathered here today for, we have to make sure that it trickles down to the average everyday American.”

The laymen are getting it from somewhere, lady.  Plenty of Christian leaders have made no bones about Islam (and Muslims) being a threat to Christianity and to humankind.  These include Franklin Graham, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Chuck Baldwin, and more.  Hell, Bryan Fischer, who has a multitude of Christian followers, says Muslims and mosques should be banned from America.

A situation where religious leaders are telling their congregations that Muslims (who live in complete violation of the 1st commandment and live to undermine it) are not evil, but where the members of many congregations (particularly in more conservative areas) are still somehow steeped in anti-Muslim fervor is highly unlikely.

Now anti-Muslim fervor (innate distrust and hatred of Muslims) should not be confused with anti-Islamic fervor, which I have in droves.  I think Islam is a terrible idea that is used to excuse ghastly behavior.  I think the same about Christianity.  But I, and those like me, aren’t the ones on the street calling anybody in a burka a terrorist.  We’re the ones saying they’re wrong about god and that their scriptures are barbaric.

Rivers said his tolerance ends where people force him to accept anything beyond what he knows as biblical truth, or when opponents threaten his tax-exempt status because of his beliefs. He said he would be willing to go to jail to defend his religious views.

“If you mess with the Bible, I’m going to jail,” he told the crowd, to an enthusiastic round of applause.

Nobody is trying to force you to accept anything.  What we are saying is that even if you don’t accept laws or if you think they are contradicted by scripture that you still abide by them (or expect to wind up in jail).  And as long as you don’t use your pulpit to engage in politics, you can keep your tax exempt status.  But if you want to be a political player, you have to pay the price.

Perhaps the most contemptible sentence of the entire conference came from the group often thought to be the nice guys: the Mormons.  Elder Lance B. Wickman, general counsel of the Church of People Duped by a Con Man from the 1800s Latter Day Saints said:

“A new closet is being constructed,” he said, “for those with traditional religious values on sexuality and family.”

It would be funny if it weren’t so depressing.  A man at a conference to support religious liberty fights to force others to conduct their personal lives  in accordance with his religious beliefs.  Ah, the liberty of LGBT people to be kept under the heel of Christianity.  It’s like tyranny, except for…no, it’s like tyranny.

Nobody should feel shame for loving the consenting adult of their choice (the Mormons should pay careful attention to the “adult” part of that sentence).  The shame religious people have tried to heap on LGBT folk over the years was drawn straight from their religious beliefs and the arbitrary hatred of gay people that came with them.  When people parade their hate by working to impact the happiness of others, they should feel ashamed.  They should be criticized.

It isn’t that we hate values because they are traditional, it’s that our compassion demands we must oppose hate and inequality regardless of whether they’re a matter of tradition.  Traditions should be fought and derided when they are no longer compatible with a healthy, happy, and fair society.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Zinc Avenger

    The gradual decoupling of words and their meanings for purely rhetorical purposes has left us in this mess.

    • baal

      That wasn’t an accident. Frank Lundtz etal did (do) it consistently and with talking points specific to that effect.

  • Stev84

    >”While we must give everyone the right to the freedom of speech, we do not have to extend our respect for what they say.”

    And again they show that they are immune to irony. They are the ones who demand that everyone give them respect and deference just for believing in some religion. They are the ones who demand to be free from any criticism and ridicule and get immediately offended when someone makes of them.

    >”If you mess with the Bible, I’m going to jail”

    I don’t see the problem here. He seems happy to go to jail, so it’s a win-win situation. More messing with the Bible please.

    • Art_Vandelay

      I was blown away by that at first as well but that quote was actually from one of JT’s friends…not the Christian Taliban.

      • Stev84

        Oh, right, damn :/

  • baal

    “Elder Lance B. Wickman, general counsel of the Church of People Duped by a Con Man from the 1800s Latter Day Saints said:”
    This historical fact is a tremendous indictment of religion. No, not of the Mormons but that Mormonism isn’t all that wackier* or more cultish than the rest of the various christian denominations in the US means those folks are on par with the folks who were duped by a con man from the 1800s.

    *aside from Kolob which sounds like an idea stolen from Scientology.

  • cloa513

    So true- When Obama made his statement about Catholic Church schools as being divisive which is clearly true (they divide the population of students), the vocal Catholics gave howls of protest. They are not happy about religious freedom except for themselves. They want the Catholic Church to be able push their religion on children.


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