Freedom of religion, as the founding fathers intended, constituted the ability of different religions to worship and practice in peace, without discrimination. Despite its origins in Catholicism, Protestantism, and thus caucasity, this constitutional right has broadened to allow the protected freedom of worship for countless religious minorities in the United States. In the context of protections for religious minorities, freedom of religion is a necessary and equitable tool. A tool that is an essential piece of the American ideal of freedom; a piece as American as bald eagles, Smokey Bear, mass gun violence, and cherry pie.
However, in the context of American Christians, recent events and social attitudes have highlighted that religious rights are now a tool of bigotry and nothing more. To illustrate, I levy the accusation that Christians, in their all too common – and all too unjustified – pursuit of religious protections safeguard nothing but their right to intolerance.
The debatable nature of Christian religious morality
Why do some Christians feel that their ideals, their very religious beliefs, are under attack in the first place? Well, because they are. The ideals that Christians have used to ascertain privilege, such as this article’s focus on religiously rooted homophobia, are certainly under attack. A favourite saying of mine “When you’re accustomed to privilege equality feels like oppression,” is aptly applied here. For centuries, if not millennia, Christians have used the biblical and discriminatory, “moral” and sectarianist, theological and elitist denunciation of homosexuality to propagate their privilege over one more group.
Now, as equality prevails for the countless lgbtq+ members of this country, many Christians still hold this sincere but discriminatory homophobic view. So, equality for all does in fact spell persecution for the more outdated members of American Christendom. Simply put, as equality progresses for homosexuals, a select group of Christians, many of which wielding political authority, now feel discriminated against, and no longer safely able to practice their homophobia without consequences.
A prominent example of this is Mike Lee, a Republican Mormon Utahn Senator (no further context needed), supporting the amendment to protect religious liberties that was added to the 2022 Respect For Marriage Act. The Respect for Marriage Act was designed with the express purpose of requiring all states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and to grant federal recognition to these marriages. This concerned Lee, something which may be telling in itself. Let’s hear what Lee had to say in his 2022 op-ed:
“without robust protections in place, federal recognition of same-sex marriage could […] inflict harm on those who, for reasons rooted in sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction, do not embrace same-sex marriage.”
He then added,
“Once same-sex marriage is recognized nationwide, many colleges, universities, and other non-profits could lose their tax-exempt status based on their refusal, rooted in religious belief, to recognize same-sex marriage.”
Lee, shockingly and unwittingly, is saying the quiet part out loud. He is concerned that if equality in marriage is granted to homosexuals, this could “inflict harm” on the religious folk who would want to continue discriminating against the lgbtq+ populace. Lee is equally concerned that organizations who refuse to treat same-sex couples as equal, a now federally recognized human right in the states, will face consequences.
As previously mentioned, Lee’s idea of protecting the American devout against persecution simply involves them not losing their ability to discriminate against same-sex couples. Lee, and his Republican colleagues who supported the amendment, fear persecution, or more specifically fear losing their holily “justified” ability to uphold privilege via religious beliefs. And now, in the circus that constitutes American politics, these individuals manipulate the well-meaning concept of Freedom of Religion to support their dogmatic and archaic views. Simply put, figures who share values with Lee have created a tool, via religious protections, to cling to an outdated past, and fight necessary and equitable change.