Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Religion Question: 2. Religious Freedom

The next canard of the religious right is that religious freedom demands that they be allowed to discriminate against gay people.

First, as pointed out previously, they don't even speak for all religious groups; what about the freedom of the liberal groups to marry their gay parishioners?

Second, of course, is the myth that somehow they will be arrested for hate speech if they preach against homosexuals. The actual FACTS are that both under guarantees of freedom of religion and freedom of speech, they can say what they want within the context of their own church. Events in Sweden and Canada are irrelevant, as those countries do not have the same absolute free speech guarantees as the US. So anyone can, and does, use the pulpit for whatever viewpoint he chooses.

The real crux is, however, that they claim that simply by recognizing gay rights in the secular sphere, their freedoms are abridged. And this argument isn't even about gay marriage, mind you. It's about discrimination law, pure and simple: laws that already exist to protect gay people. They want to be free to discriminate.

One example frequently used is that of a Methodist church in NJ "forced to have a gay marriage in their church!" as the other side breathlessly tells us. Except that's not true at all. The church owned a seashore pavilion, and asked the city for help in its upkeep. In return for the tax dollars, hundreds of thousands of them, the church had to guarantee the public access to the pavilion. Take the public's money, you have created a public resource. You don't get to pick and choose WHICH public is allowed to partake. So they became upset when a lesbian couple wanted to use it (not for marriage which was not legal at that time). The solution was easy: don't take public money, and you owe the public no accomodation.

But the issue here is not that simple. They wanted it both ways; to have public money (including the gay dollars) but without public access. Now, replace the words "gay" with "black", "Jewish", "disabled" and you can see why there's a problem--but only if they have entered into a public partnership.

This isn't about religious freedom at all. It's about using religion as an excuse for discrimination. We need to call them on this, with the following: No church will be "forced" to marry gay people. Indeed, any pastor, priest, rabbi or imam is completely free right now, at this minute, to deny ANY couple marriage rights in their church, synagogue, or mosque. They already have, and will continue to have, absolute right of refusal to anyone. Which is exactly as it should be.

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