National Commentary

The Cynical Redefining of Religious Liberty

besen-Mug

Rowan County clerk Kim Davis is in the pokey – exactly where she belongs.

Citing “God’s Law” she arrogantly thought she could abrogate Caesar’s law by refusing to marry gay couples. While right wing activists are foolishly trying to portray her as a modern day Martin Luther King Jr., she will be remembered as a contemporary George Wallace, the segregationist Alabama governor.

Tellingly, Davis would not allow willing clerks in her office to marry same-sex couples, elevating her Jurassic beliefs over theirs. Although married four times, Davis dug-in and preened as marriage’s great savior. While she rots in jail, the opportunistic right wing organizations that exploited Davis will parade her mug shot next to shiny donate buttons on their websites. They will send out breathless direct mail campaigns, riling up yahoos, so the panicked will part with their paychecks.

In a money-grubbing frenzy, the Family Research Council, (Josh Duggar’s former employer) is ratcheting up the red meat rhetoric. In one direct mail piece, FRC offers an avalanche of lies and hysteria with the group making the bogus claim that the Supreme Court’s ruling is forcing churches to participate in same-sex weddings.

“Not long ago, liberals were insisting that churches would never be forced to violate their faith in the event of pro-same-sex marriage ruling. Now, in the blink of an eye, the march toward oppression is on,” Perkins wrote in his direct mailer.

Of course, not a single church in the U.S. has been forced to hold weddings for gay couples. This has never been a goal of the LGBT movement because it is undesirable and unconstitutional. But this does not stop the fomenting of fear to bilk Christians, who are made to quiver and quake at FRC’s militant and manufactured gay marriage mirage.

In their latest direct mailer, FRC disingenuously writes on the outside of the envelope: “After the disastrous same-sex marriage ruling – here comes the CRACKDOWN ON CHRISTIANS.”

In this histrionic letter, FRC’s President Tony Perkins bellows:

“I told you barely eight weeks ago that I believed a crackdown was coming and your own religious freedom would be in jeopardy. I didn’t know it would hit this fast and this hard…What we’ve witnessed since the same sex marriage ruling is a colossal push toward snuffing out your most cherished freedom, your religious freedom — your right to believe – crushing your constitutional rights as a Christian by forcing you to embrace practices that contradict biblical truth…the onslaught is underway.”

Perkins and his ilk are deliberately undermining the rule of law and speak the fraught, yet barely coded, language of insurrection. They ferociously rip at the nation’s fabric and deliberately attack the underpinnings of democracy, blithely unconcerned that the end result is anarchy and chaos. If every person got to decide which laws to follow based on individual belief, our country would collapse and have as much stability as The Purge. Perhaps, that’s what Perkins genuinely wants – so he can marshal his brigade of bigots to fill the power vacuum and install the theocracy he seemingly pines for.

More disturbing is that the Religious Right’s overheated language may lead to hate crimes. If gullible followers are deceived into believing “enemies” are “snuffing out” religious freedom, and “crushing” their constitutional rights, some may feel compelled to resort to violence.

The rabidly anti-gay protesters in front of the Rowan County courthouse last week proved that there is no shortage of zealots, many of whom own guns. It is irresponsible for Perkins to incite these unstable powder kegs, with reckless rhetoric that doesn’t match reality.

Factually, Perkins and those who echo his anachronistic views are wrong. He claims that Christians will be forced to “embrace practices that contradict biblical truth.” What he is doing, however, is conflating “embracing” with having to deal professionally with members of the public that fundamentalists find distasteful. Simply working with or serving people with differing views or backgrounds is not embracing them. It is not forcing anyone to surrender his or her view of “biblical truth.”

No one was forcing Kim Davis, for example, to marry a woman against her will. She was simply asked to do her job and provide state documents to gay couples whose marriages have been ruled constitutionally legal. But the hypocritical Davis and the self-righteous Perkins have cunningly redefined religious freedom to go far beyond an individual’s ability to practice their faith unencumbered.

They erroneously believe that religious liberty includes expressing moral disapproval while working at taxpayer-funded jobs, persecuting minorities without consequence, and refusing service to customers they look down upon. But such intolerance only curtails the rights and freedom of others, while adding no appreciative expansion of religious expression to those discriminating.

Freedom of religion allows a person to live by his or her conscience, not commit unconscionable acts against others in the guise of liberty.

 


Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”

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