Sunday, February 23, 2014

Religious Freedom Does Not Mean You Have the Right to Oppress Others

I grew up Southern Baptist and was taught by my Southern Baptist minister father and later Southern Baptist college professors that being truly Baptist meant supporting separation of church and state and promotion of religious liberty.  Once upon a time, Baptists were a persecuted minority, and it was Baptists like John Leland who helped get the "establishment of religion" clause placed in the first amendment of the United States Constitution.  Of course, Southern Baptists, along with other Christian conservatives, gave up on religious liberty opting instead for attempts to impose their religious views on others.  (This is one of the many reasons neither I nor my father are any longer Southern Baptists.)   

Still, I am grateful that I had instilled in me a devotion to religious liberty.  One of the main reasons religion has flourished in our nation is because of its lack of a state church.  We are more religious not less, because of the first amendment.  Despite the cries of Christian conservatives that they are a persecuted minority in need of protection, their political clout and financial power prove they are far from being persecuted.  In fact, their claims of being victims are nothing more than excuses to impose their form of religiosity upon others.  It is sadly ironic that religious liberty, an idea created to protect minorities, is not being used to justify the oppression of minorities. 
One of the latest efforts to use "religious liberty" as a justification for oppression is a spate of bills popping up across the United States in state legislatures seeking to allow business, individuals and event government officials to deny service to same-sex couples if doing so goes against their religion.  Arizona just passed one of these bills.  Similar ones have been introduced in Oregon, Idaho, Tennessee, South Dakota, Tennessee, Ohio, Oklahoma, Hawaii and Mississippi.   

Of course, we know locally about the bill passed by the Kansas House (HB2453) that would allow anyone to discriminate against LGBT people and protect them from being fined or being sued.  Thankfully, the bill did not pass the Kansas Senate.  Major employers in Kansas made their displeasure known (talk about a HR nightmare) which certainly stalled the bill's progress.  The fear of same-gender marriage opponents in Kansas is that the Kansas ban will be overturned by the federal district court, just as it has in many other states.   

They want to ensure individuals and businesses can opt not to support same gender marriage.  The way this bill was written, however, went far beyond wedding ceremonies, but would have allowed for anyone in any position to discriminate against LGBT people. Slate's Mark Stern described it this way:   

"When passed, the new law will allow any individual, group, or private business to refuse to serve gay couples if "it would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs." Private employers can continue to fire gay employees on account of their sexuality. Stores may deny gay couples goods and services because they are gay. Hotels can eject gay couples or deny them entry in the first place. Businesses that provide public accommodations-movie theaters, restaurants-can turn away gay couples at the door. And if a gay couple sues for discrimination, they won't just lose; they'll be forced to pay their opponent's attorney's fees."        

Furthermore, the bill would also allow government officials to discriminate as well.  Stern explains:

 "Any government employee is given explicit permission to discriminate against gay couples-not just county clerks and DMV employees, but literally anyone who works for the state of Kansas. If a gay couple calls the police, an officer may refuse to help them if interacting with a gay couple violates his religious principles. State hospitals can turn away gay couples at the door and deny them treatment with impunity. Gay couples can be banned from public parks, public pools, anything that operates under the aegis of the Kansas state government."  

Proponents of the bill say such scenarios are "far-fetched," but c'mon!  If you legally allow the right to discriminate, history shows us that there are many people who inevitably do so. 

What is truly sad about the whole HB2453 debacle is that under current Kansas discrimination law no provision is made for sexual orientation.  Unlike other states which explicitly prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation, in Kansas there is nothing in the law that mentions sexual orientation.  The larger fight is not just over HB2453 (although efforts are already underway to rewrite the bill and keep it going) but over whether or not you can discriminate against LGBT people and get away with it in Kansas. 

On Tuesday (Feb. 25), groups are rallying and lobbying state legislators at the state capital in Topeka.  The sponsoring groups include Equality Kansas, Human Rights Campaign, ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Mainstream Coalition.  I will be attending the rally with several church members.  People who claim to follow Jesus are leading the fight to legalize discrimination against LGBT people, so I feel strongly that the time is now for Christians who support same gender marriage and oppose discrimination in all its forms to make their voice heard in response. 

When HB2453 was before the KS Senate, a rally was put together.  I could not attend, but I'm proud to say Aaron Roberts, pastor of Colonial UCC in Prairie Village (our previous interim minister Doug Roberts' son) did attend and lobby his legislators.  His efforts got press in the Prairie Village and Topeka newspapers.  For his work in support of justice for LGBT people, Aaron received hate mail and even threats.  That's what happens when you stand up for oppressed minorities.

This time, I will make it to the rally.  I hope you will come with me if your schedule permits you to do so.  Let me know if you want to join us.

If you are a KS resident, here's the list of state legislators who voted in favor of KB2453.  If you don't know who your state legislator is, click here.  Here are the ringleaders that the KC Star especially condemned
Grace and Peace,

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