Alex Blaze

The 'Religious Freedom' Argument against LGBT Rights Is Tribalism

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 03, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Politics
Tags: Bryan Fischer, Christian beliefs, homophobic behavior, islamophobia, LGBT, LGBT people, Muslims, religion, religious freedom, religious right, Thomas Jefferson, transgender

I've been writing for a while about the jingoism behind arguments that Christian religious freedom means that LGBT rights must be trampled. koran.jpgThe point, time and time again, isn't about increasing freedom for everyone or even increasing religious freedom for everyone, but making sure that people deemed sufficiently Real American can't be criticized or forced to act with any decency to people deemed less American.

The jingoism is made obvious by the fact that the people who say that, for example, a high school counselor who doesn't want to see queer students should be allowed to keep their job because of religious freedom are the very same people who oppose the construction of Muslim community centers and point to any act of Islamic homophobia as a sign that the religion must be destroyed. Their appeal isn't to a higher principle when they say that LGBT rights mean less religious freedom - their appeal is for Americans to stop thinking and support the people who look and act most like them.

Bryan Fischer, a rightwing crank and neo-Know Nothing, argued just that last week when he said that the First Amendment doesn't cover Muslims, just Christians:

Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.

His opinion is, of course, based on faulty data. He cites a fictional story about Thomas Jefferson realizing that Islam was going to destroy America and says that that means the Founders didn't want Islam protected by the First Amendment.

Here's how Jefferson described the debate over Virginia's 1779 Act for Religious Freedom (the precursor to freedom of religion found in our Constitution) in his autobiography:

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.

Oops. Maybe Fischer should have picked another Founding Father to cite as an Islamophobe.

But being right or wrong isn't important here since most of Fischer's audience isn't going to look up what Jefferson thought about Islam.

The reason I bring this up is that Fischer just plain says what we've been accusing the Religious Right of believing: that religious freedom is important to them insofar as it benefits them, not anyone else.

He put it right out there that claims for religious freedom are in fact about promoting Christianity. Last I checked, that was against the Constitution. Maybe someone should tell these folks.

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It is incontrovertible that the original colonies, Massachusetts (Plymouth Bay) in particular, were not founded on religious FREEDOM, but on a particular religious subgroup escaping persecution. The Puritans were perfectly happy to oppress anyone who didn't follow their brand of Christianity, other Christians included. (Rhode Island and Pennsylvania were exceptions; both were founded explicitly on the basis of religious freedom.) However, by the time of the Revolution, the Founding Fathers were much more enlightened than their predecessors. Both Washington and Jefferson wrote letters (still extant) explaining that America would encompass religious traditions other than Christianity. The First Amendment was never intended to protect ONLY Christians, and any such reading is entirely un-American.

Great post Alex. The sad truth is that with Fischer and most of the Cristian Right, the truth is irrelevant. It's all about push for special status for conservative Christians and to Hell with everyone else.

I'm glad you quoted Jefferson. Section One of his draft of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom - still part of the Code of Virginia although totally ignored by the GOP - is an indictment of what the far right Christians are endeavoring to do to those who hold differing beliefs.

And yet the sheeple won't look it up themselves. The herd will continue to listen to and follow him.

It's always interesting to me how the Christian right hijacks the discussion on religious freedom. My faith tradition, the United Church of Christ, allows me to perform same-gender marriages. It's the government (in most states) that steps in and denies my religious right to do so. No one is making the Christian right perform same-gender marriages, so their "religious freedom" argument is erroneous. But bigoted laws are infringing on my religious freedom to officiate at all marriages equally.

Why should sheeple (great term) have to check into or look up anything when their shepherds tell them everything? If the shepherds say it, it's as correct as if their lord-and-savior said it himself. We're not ever to argue or dispute what the gods tell us. They've said it, so we all must believe. ONLY BELIEVE! Thinking about anything is what brought about the downfall of that mean old devil. BEWARE: A thinking human is the devil's workshop!

Brad Bailey | April 3, 2011 10:49 PM

Well-said, Dr. Randy.

Kathy Padilla | April 4, 2011 2:33 AM

I think New Netherlands didn't quite fit the MA/Puritan mold either. If memory serves, prior to Gov. Stuyvesant religions other than Dutch Reformed were permitted - he outlawed them - people rebelled & drafted the Flushing Remonstrance - he arrested & deported them. They petitioned West India Company who overturned the Gov.

But - New Netherlands doesn't seem to get as much attention as other colonies - though the Remonstrance is usually cited as a forerunner to the First Amendment. And it was supplanted by NY.

Having a strong interest in the life and writings of Mr. Jefferson, I find often that he is misquoted and/or misrepresented. That said, our country was founded on the requirement of an informed electorate. We certainly have anything but that today. It is cause for concern and creates a need to combat the misinformation givers in a forum that is more likely to be read by the ignorant than this.

Certain factions of the Religious Right are totally unscrupulous -- this is a perfect example.

They are all about putting out messages -- true or false -- that are engineered to negate any other viewpoint. They want a society where theirs is the only religious "meme" in circulation -- and that is essentially a negation of religious freedom itself.

Paige Listerud | April 4, 2011 10:45 PM

Keep quoting Jefferson and his perspective on the First Amendment, Alex. It's educational and it keeps the flame of liberty alive.

This country needs the struggle for LGBTQ equality and justice to remind Americans of their heritage. Without minorities of all stripes rushing to protect and extend the principles of the First Amendment to all, the right would have silenced dissent permanently on this continent decades ago.

Other religionists don't need the suppression of Muslims or the curtailment of equal rights under the law for LGBT in order to justify their worldview. The religious right are cowards.