It has occurred to me that religious freedom, the latest American catchphrase, is not only a misrepresentation, but an oxymoron. First, to the deceptive manner in which it is being employed. Those who invoke religious freedom as a defense for some action they wish to take, or not take as the case may be, seek to avoid any adverse consequences from refusing to deal with people they don’t like, no matter the reason. They want to refuse goods, services, benefits, even employment to anyone who behaves in a manner, or lives in a manner that they don’t approve of, and they want to hide behind a religion to do it.
The Hobby Lobby case brought the highest court in the land into the fray and arguably opened the flood gates to what we are witnessing across the US seemingly every day. The owners of the Hobby Lobby corporation sought to avoid having to provide certain health insurance benefits to female employees and claimed a religious objection to do it. The Supremes let them have the win, and the downstream effects are still being felt and will undoubtedly continue.
The entire state of Indiana went viral recently when they created a law that protects those who refuse to do business with homosexuals, thereby providing legal cover to discriminate against them. All the offenders need say is that they have a religious objection to the customers they refused to provide goods and services to. My curiosity is piqued by the notion that the religious claim they need to discriminate in order to be free to be religious. It seems an absurdity to make such a statement, yet this is the cloak of deception the intolerant are using. By combining the popular and positively connoted word “freedom,” and the automatic respect infuriatingly granted to the religious, the bigoted play spin doctor and wrap their bigotry in a freedom flag. However, there is nothing that is actually preventing the people of Indiana, or the owners of Hobby Lobby from freely being as religious as they’d like. Women can take birth control, have abortions, engage in lesbian sex, get married to other women, and I can still go to church, sing psalms, praise and beseech the Lord for mercy and eat Jesus’s body and drink his blood. There could be 100 homosexual weddings happening today in my town and I’m still free to convert to Islam and pray all day tomorrow. No, this has nothing to do with anyone’s freedom to be religious. This has everything to do with some people wanting to control what other people choose to do with their lives. It is the outright goal of violating the human rights of people they don’t even know, just because they don’t like what they do. It is shameful, and it is disgraceful, but for those in power to use their position to actually legislate the denial of human rights is a particuarly despicable action.
Allow me to illustrate just how contemptible these laws are. If you’re religious and in the US, the odds are high that your chosen religion is Christianity. Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior and there are observances, practices and rituals you partake in. Depending on your brand of the faith, you may eat the body of Christ in the form of a communion wafer. Consider being denied employment, or being refused to be seen by a doctor on your insurance company’s plan, or having a pharmacist refuse to fill your legally obtained prescription because the employer, doctor and pharmacist are dedicated and devoted Sikhs, and find your practices offensive. If your government has enacted a law like that of Indiana’s or the ones being debated in Arkansas and Louisiana, your government has taken away your recourse. The government has legally granted your prospective employer, doctor and pharmacist a right that trumps yours. The Sikh need only claim that hiring you, treating you or providing you medication conflicts with their deeply held religious beliefs and your rights have been stripped from you. Now consider what this has to do with so-called religious freedom. The employer, doctor and pharmacist were all freely practicing their religion before the law was enacted, and no one was trying to stop them. What the law has done is what it is actually intended to do: legalize discimination.
The ultimate irony in the combination of words chosen for these laws is that the truly religious are the least free people on Earth. A devoted Christian for example, is literally trapped in the dogma and doctrine of their faith, subject to 24 hour surveillance by the divine tyranny that they both worship and fear. Their Lord God in Heaven is both judge and jury, and there is no appeal process, and the Lord’s punishment is eternal. They cannot escape His grasp, they cannot evade His prying eyes, they cannot shield their thoughts from Him. Even death will not free them as that is when their Heavenly Father doles out His Judgment. The religious are not free people in any sense of the word, but they sure can claim a false moral outrage about how others are trying to take that non-freedom from them. The whole thing is an embarrassment.