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RFRA: Codified discrimination & hate

In 2015, Americans began learning more and more about the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA).  The subject is seeing light again in the Georgia Gubernatorial race between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp.

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I don’t know what other provisions that may have been in [the bills outgoing Governor Nathan Deal vetoed]. But I would support a bill that is in line with federal law. It would be simply codifying what is already in the Constitution.”

 

I grew up in red Southwest Georgia in a steadfastly Southern Baptist family.

Even so, I've never had to bear the pain and indignity of a non-accepting community or an unloving family. In my religious life, I've been encouraged and fully supported as a human being with the right to exist. I have never been chastised for who I was, what I represented and who I wanted to be. I've had the privilege of having friends and family stand by me and loving me into being without regard to my sexual orientation. I consider myself lucky to work in a sector of industry and for a company that has a tendency to embrace infinite diversity in infinite combinations. All of that said, it confuses me all the more that people who I love and respect keep voicing support for RFRA legislation. It angers me deeply and makes me question the value of some of these friendships.

RFRA bills are well-aimed at what their authors hope to carry out.

Same-sex marriage is legal in all states now following a ruling by the United States Supreme Court.  Even before that, marriage equality was affirmed in South Carolina after Charleston County Councilwoman Colleen Condon successfully sued Governor Nikki Haley and SC Attorney General Alan Wilson.  People who are resistant to the affirmation of well-defined civil rights in this country are trying to create a vehicle that allows businesses to not get sued every time they refuse to bake cakes or arrange flowers for gay couples.  If you think for a second that this is only about flowers and cakes, you're grossly mistaken

Hate groups and evangelical extremists are directing the show behind the scenes.

Rather than to rely on what I am fed through the news media, I've taken it upon myself to read as much as I can that has led up to the existence of the RFRA bills. What I've found in my reading is that the proponents of these bills are predominantly persons with deep ties to fundamentalist and evangelical Christian organizations, churches and lobbying 17-7-27-SouthernPovertyLawCenter-graphic615groups such as The American Family Association.  To underline what they stand for, The American Family Association has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

That these bills don't focus at all on any one religious persuasions is purely an accident.

The vitriol that is rife in AFA publications tells me that the RFRA bills aren't about religious freedom and religious liberty for all religions. The bills existence deeply rooted in the idea of a "fundamentalists Christians only" club.  They were never intended to specifically grant religious liberty to Buddhist, Islāmic, Hindu, Jewish persons or even Christian denominations who are New Testament based, such as the Episcopal and Lutheran churches.

What you wind up with is a culture where all religious practices would have to be observed in all circumstances.  For example, if were a male Islāmic business owner, I would be well within my right to deny public accommodation to white Christian women who don't conform to my interpretation of Quranic law.  Another example would be if I were a hair stylist and denied service to a straight person who I knew wrote letters to the editor exclaiming how gays should be put to death because they are all pedophiles (bearing false witness).

The vague language inherent in each and every one of the bills could result in some pretty awful thing happening.

Now I'm by no means an Islāmic scholar.  I can tell you though that the persons and entities pushing for these RFRA bills aren't either.  Bearing the above in mind, and bearing in mind that we've already seen lawsuits brought against businesses by members of the LGBT community, it seems plain to me that purpose of these bills seem to specifically benefit fundamentalist Christians against the LGBT community.

Some of the things that could come into being through the open doors of an RFRA include:

  1. An RFRA could be used to roll back protections for children at child care ministries.  This includes state required background checks for anyone who interacts with a child.
  2. Under an RFRA, it could become possible to ignore laws in local municipalities designed to protect LGBTQ persons from discrimination.  For instance, a high school councilor could deny help to a gay student.  A faith-based adoption agency could refuse to place a child with loving gay parents.
  3. Domestic violence could potentially get a pass under an RFRA if a husband claims that his religion condones and calls for disciplining his wife and children in any way he sees fit.
  4. Police could refuse to defend a mosque or synagogue under the protection of an RFRA.  All the officer would have to say is that it goes against their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Without getting into a theology lesson, one which I would be horribly under-qualified to give, I feel like that people on both sides of the issue, purporting themselves to be Christian seem to be missing one important tenant of Christianity:

If it doesn't look like love, and it doesn't look like Jesus of Nazareth, then it cannot be claimed to be Christian.

- Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry

So, the question I'm left with is "Why?"

I like to think that I have a keen understanding of what my religion directs me to do.  Bishop Curry's analysis is simply a condensed version of love God, love your neighbor and love yourself.  It seems that in an age of power grabbing through fear, people who are pushing these RFRA bills are not so much Christians as much as they are Christian-ists. If we're all called to love one another regardless of who or what we are, why is this even a debate?  It seems like settled theology to me.  Number one, love God.  Number two, don't be a dick.

RFRA is but one symptom of a larger dysfunction.

While this post is about a specific subject, it relates to so many other subjects that LGBTQ community faces daily.  The things that come to mind as being inextricably linked to the debate include:

  • Psychological horrors introduced into youth who have been forced into conversion therapy
  • Parents who have disowned their children because they are gay or trans.
  • Religious organizations inciting violence against gays and transgender persons.

We didn't start the fire, but we're damn sure being tried and convicted for wanting nothing more than to live in peace and love and with the same benefits given opposite-sex couples.  The emerging question is, what do we do about it given Christ's commandment to love God, love our neighbors and love ourselves?

You have a responsibility in this.  First and foremost, keep reading.  Keep abreast of new developments.  Don't rely on talking heads in the 24-hour news cycle to make up your mind for you.  Second, when the moment calls for it, speak out loudly and unafraid.

 

Pros and Cons are opposites, that fact is clearly seen. If progress means 'to move forward.' then what does congress mean?