A Threat to Justice Everywhere: Behind the Veiled Bigotry of Religious Freedom Laws

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by Nyah Levone Molineaux 

No, your religious beliefs do not give you the freedom to discriminate.

Religious freedom in the United States particularly of the Christian variety mostly is engrained, respected, and often unquestioned. The government allows for the free expression of religion under the first amendment. Church finances are not taxed and audited. Movies like War Room, Miracles from Heaven, and Tyler Perry’s The Passion have been praised and very profitable. Black people take part in this freedom every week by being one of the highest church attending groups in the United States.

When religious freedom can negatively affect the lives of marginalized people, where does the unquestionable respect stop and the critical inquiry begin? There is a law in North Carolina that bans cities from enacting anti-LGBT discrimination laws and reduces the humanity of transgender people by not allowing them to use the restroom that aligns with their identity. There is a law in Mississippi that gives government, businesses, and individuals the right to deny LGBT people housing, employment, and other services if it is for religious reasons. Then there is a law that was signed by Tennessee's governor just last week that allows therapists to deny potentially life-saving counseling services to LGBT people under religious beliefs. As a queer person, I would have committed suicide if I was denied valuable coping skills and insight from therapists and counselors
We have to collectively stop and realize a few verses in a religious text, in this case the large source of it being the bible in the United States, can not always guide us in how we should treat a person who may be different. Furthermore, we have to let go or revise certain religious beliefs in order to have peace in a diverse society.

We need to face the reality that the bible, which is the inspiration behind these religious freedom laws, is not a completely moral book. For many, it is the “Word of God” and inspired men of God wrote it. Since men are fallible, their creations are fallible.

The fallibility includes verses that support slavery (Ephesians 6:5, 1st Peter 2:18-20; Leviticus 25:44-46; Exodus 21) and are against interracial marriage (Ezra 9, Ezra 10, Nehemiah 13: 23-27). There are verses that demean women by promoting rape (Deuteronomy 22:28-29; Genesis 19, where Lot offered his daughters to be raped by the men in Sodom). There are the verses that promote the silencing of women (1st Corinthians 14:34, I Timothy 2: 11-15). On a lighter note there are verses that ban the eating of pork (Leviticus 11:7) and haircuts (Leviticus 19:27). 

When it comes to most of our people we know there is not a good barbecue we will not partake in; or a salon or barbershop if we need a nice blowout or shape-up. When it comes to this the Bible, people should take the text and apply it for a deeper meaning to their life instead of taking it literally. People who do not look at the text critically have treated people who are different with fear and ignorance. The recently passed anti-LGBT laws are a glaring example of this.

The legislators who have created these ordinances restricting the lives of LGBT people are the same legislators who have limited the rights of black people in the past and continue to do so today. One historical example was the case of the Lovings, an interracial couple, who were fighting to have their marriage recognized in Virginia which banned interracial marriage. In 1959 Judge Leon M. Bazile, who probably under the influence of biblical verses that bans interracial marriage, explained God made races separate and did not intend for them to mix. 

In 2016, it should come as no surprise that in addition to the anti-transgender law, North Carolina also passed restrictive voting laws which included an ID requirement; limited days of voting; and ended pre-registering voters who would turn 18 by election day. This is the same region where Shelby County, Alabama successfully convinced the court to rescind Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits states from conducting voting practices to limit the voting of minority/marginalized groups. The legislators who make these laws have their religious freedom bills and their faith dipped in a stew of confederate flags, church bombings, lynching, and other forms of Christian-straight-White-male supremacy. These past couple of months it has been the LGBT community that legislators have chosen to restrict. We've already started seeing the reduction in the voting and political influence of people of color in this election cycle and expect to see even more as the general election draws nearer. 

We must seek to counter these religious freedom bills, which restrain the lives of LGBT people. There may be religious reasons why Black people may feel a person may face eternal hell for being LGBT. But that does not give a green light to make the lives of LGBT people a living hell by denying services, employment, and access to restrooms where they feel safe. Black people are one of the most marginalized groups in this country. The same hell we allow or create for others will come back to us. At times the best thing to do is to accept people where they are and love them because perfect love does drive out fear (I John 4:18) and ultimately create peace and more freedom for everyone.

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Nyah Levone Molineaux is a public health and information technology professional based in Washington, D.C. When she is not involved in data, she seeks to find ways to provide understanding primarily in subjects concerning areas of religion and social justice. She also enjoys house, soul, and hip-hop music.

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