One’s personal religious beliefs is not a license to discriminate

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

On a host of social issues, from contraceptive coverage in the Affordable Care Act to access to safe and legal abortions, from the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) to marriage equality for gays, there is one recurring theme: religious organizations who are opposed to these measures want to be exempt from complying with the law because it conflicts with their religious beliefs. More importanty, they are arguing for an individual exemption, i.e., that one's personal religious beliefs should exempt them from complying with the laws.

Religion has long been used as justification for the most inhumane treatment of one human by another. Just look to our own American experience.

European settlers viewed the Native American cultures as inferior to their own. Some considered the native peoples subhuman. This mindset fueled the justification that Native Americans could be enslaved, forced to live in confined communities, or converted to Christianity under the concept of the white man's burden (the supposed or presumed responsibility of white people to govern and impart their culture to nonwhite people). In many other cases, entire native civilizations were simply wiped out by acts of genocide.

Europeans settlers held similar views of Africans, whom they viewed as inferior
because of the color of their skin. A prevailing religious theory at
the time taught that white represented light and godliness, while black
represented evil and the malevolent forces of the underworld, allowing them to justify  slavery of Africans. A New World: Colonial Societies. As with Native Americans, Europeans viewed Africans as subhuman, and thus, well-suited for mindless, grueling labor. The few critics of slavery focused on the inhumane treatment of Africans and not the practice of slavery itself. This led to the establishment of black slavery as lifelong and hereditary.

Throughout American history, religion has played an integral role in the
contentious political debates about many controversial social issues,
especially when civil rights are involved. Liberty Education Forum | The Bible Tells Me So:

In the 19th century, religious leaders frequently used the
Bible to justify the institution of slavery.  George Armstrong, an
influential protestant, wrote The Christian Doctrine of Slavery, an 1857 book that defended the practice of slavery as acceptable in Christianity. Armstrong argued that slavery was not a “sin or offense.”

* * *

George Armstrong wasn’t alone in using the Bible to justify slavery. 
Various slavery proponents cited [Bible] verses . . . not only to justify slavery but
also to condemn those who spoke out against it as un-Christian.

* * *

The Bible Argument, written in 1860 by Baptist minister Thornton Stringfellow, criticized abolitionist ministers who condemned slavery.

* * *

Segregationists made similar biblical arguments to oppose integration efforts in the 20th century . . . One segregationist, S.E. Rogers, argued that support for segregation was rooted in Christian love. Other opponents of racial equality argued that the Gospels justified
segregation.  Just as Jesus Christ refused to associate with certain
people, they too could refuse to associate with black people and not be
considered un-Christian.

* * *

Many Southern Baptists in the nineteenth century "legitimated and
celebrated the domination of white Southerns over their black neighbors"
according to Nancy Tatom Ammerman, a professor of Sociology of Religion
at Boston University. One Baptist newspaper in Virginia stated in 1866, "as for equality,
either social or political, between the races, that cannot be, must not
be…Let no man try to bring together what God has set so far asunder." This was common throughout the south as Baptist papers spoke out against the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Leaders of the SBC in the 1940s and 1950s were more open to integration
and improved racial relations, but those efforts found strong

* * *

While some in the SBC applauded the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ruled “separate but equal” unconstitutional, many in the SBC decried the decision. Wallie Amos Criswell, pastor of the Dallas First Baptist Church, the
nation’s largest Southern Baptist congregation at that time, bitterly
denounced the ruling, calling those who supported it “infidels.” Two churches in Georgia required their pastor, who preached at both
establishments, to leave the churches after he vocally supported the

* * *

The SBC apologized for its position on slavery in 1995, over 130 years after slavery officially ended. In its statement, the SBC offered an apology for “condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime." The organization sought repentance for "racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously."

Today, only fringe extremists still use the Bible to condone racial oppression. America's "original sin," the institutions of slavery and state-sanctioned racial segregation (Jim Crow laws. black codes) have been ended by force of law. No major religious organization today still advocates for such racial oppression. America has evolved on race (but still has a long way to go).

Exceptions for religious organizations under the law are narrowly tailored. For example, Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, "religious organizations are permitted to give employment preference to
members of their own religion. The exception applies only to those
institutions whose 'purpose and character are primarily religious.'" . . .  "However, it only allows religious organizations to prefer to employ
individuals who share their religion. The exception does not allow
religious organizations otherwise to discriminate in employment on the
basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability." Questions and Answers about Religious Discrimination in the – EEOC.

What still remains in the debates today about contraception, marriage equality and civil rights for gays (ENDA) is this notion that one's religious beliefs gives them license to discriminate against people of other religious faiths, or no religious faith, who do not share their particular religious beliefs. Worse, there are echoes of the religious justification for slavery and segregation in denying equal treatment under the law to gays and lesbians simply because they are "different."

No one is arguing that religious organizations may be compelled to solemnize same-sex marriages — this would violate the First Amendment free exercise clause. This is fear mongering. No one is arguing that religious organizations may not give employment preferences to
members of their own religion, under current Title VII practice.

But this does not extend to an individual's personal religious beliefs — your personal religious beliefs do not give you a license to discriminate in rejection of the law. To recognize such a concept would allow individuals to exempt themselves from numerous laws from which they could pick and choose to comply. This would be anarchy.

As the Liberty Education Forum concludes:

No mainstream theologian or religious leader today would use the Bible
to justify slavery or segregation, but unfortunately many still use it
to condemn gays and lesbians and deny them equal rights.  One day, most
people will look back, as they did with slavery and segregation, to see
how the Bible was misused to isolate one segment of society.  They will
understand that the Christian message is one of love and acceptance for
all people, including gays and lesbians, who have been created in God’s

America has evolved on race; it's time to evolve on sex.

One response to “One’s personal religious beliefs is not a license to discriminate

  1. Serious Shade

    Great article! Could easily be the basis for an op-ed somewhere.