Taking Liberties: A New Book Explains Why The Religious Right’s View Of ‘Religious Freedom’ Is All Wrong

Religious Right groups can’t handle the tides of cultural change that are buffeting the nation – especially when it comes to LGBTQ rights.

Pardon me for engaging in some blatant self-promotion, but I wanted to let members and friends of Americans United know that my new book, Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You The Right To Tell Other People What To Do, is being released today.

Two issues inspired me to write this book: the controversy over the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act and the spread of legal same-sex marriage in the states. 

In both cases, leaders of the Religious Right and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church anchored their opposition in arguments wrapped in claims of “religious freedom.”

To me, these groups seemed to have a most curious definition of religious freedom. It wasn’t enough for these conservative religious activists to make decisions for themselves – they wanted to control the actions of others. Thus, a woman’s decision to use birth control pills somehow became a threat to her boss’s religious freedom, and a same-sex couple’s marriage undermined the “religious liberty” of a church the couple doesn’t even attend.

As I dug deeper, I realized that this is nothing new. Time and again, religious fundamentalists have used a bogus “religious freedom” argument to exercise control over others and, as much as possible, to tell other people what to do. I expanded the book to examine how the Religious Right has used this strategy in areas like education, politics, culture and others.

I also wanted to go a little below the surface. I’ve worked at Americans United for 26 years, and have spent a good bit of time tracking Religious Right groups. Their leadership has never seemed more defensive and aggressive. What’s going on here?

The short answer is that these groups can’t handle the tides of cultural change that are buffeting the nation – especially when it comes to LGBTQ rights. Public opinion is rapidly shifting. One recent poll showed support for same-sex marriage in the Deep South at an even split – the Deep South!

Standing on the losing side of history is bad enough. But the recognition that you can’t fight that tide of progress that is washing over the nation is truly terrifying to the people who lead and support these groups. They are lashing out.

As recent events in Arizona prove, the perspective being put forth by fundamentalist forces is a hard sell. But that doesn’t mean they are giving up. Later this month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case challenging the application of the contraceptive mandate to private, for-profit corporations. This is the infamous Hobby Lobby case, and if the company wins, it will reopen many of these questions.

Religious Right groups and their allies in the Catholic hierarchy insist that “religious freedom” gives them the right to meddle in the private affairs of others. They say that doctrine grants individuals the right to discriminate against other people and ignore some secular laws that they dislike.

Taking Liberties explains why that view is wrong.

You can read an excerpt from the book here, and this link takes you to the book’s Amazon listing (and yes, there is an e-book version). Finally, AU webmaster Tim Ritz made a great site for me here.

I would be honored if you would take a look at my new book.