Americans United often employs a simple metaphor when discussing religious freedom: Religious freedom should be a shield that protects your right to worship or not as you see fit, not a sword that lashes out at others and causes them harm.
When people are denied access to certain services, are subjected to discrimination or are cut off from health care because of someone else’s religious beliefs, that is real harm. That’s religious freedom being wielded as a sword.
In a recent column published by Religion News Service, the Rev. David W. Key Sr., director of Baptist studies at Emory University in Georgia, provided a helpful reminder of the dangers of allowing religious freedom to become an instrument to harm others, especially members of the LGBTQ community.
Key notes that dozens of states are considering laws that will allow religion-based discrimination in areas such as adoption/foster care, health care and student rights. Labeling these laws “vile and inhumane,” Key writes, “The Baptist tradition has long held religious liberty as a core conviction. At the same time, I am guided by that very faith which teaches that discrimination is wrong. There is no contradiction here. We are all created in God’s image. We are all called to treat others the way we would want to be treated. We are all deserving of equal rights and protection under the law.
“LGBTQ people are no exception,” Key continues. “Our LGBTQ friends and neighbors should have the same protections as everyone else: to live their lives with safety, privacy and dignity.”
Key’s powerful column is a welcome reminder that many Christians disagree with Christian nationalists, who are eager to use religious freedom as a sword at every turn.
Key advocates for a national law to protect LGBTQ rights. He also supports the Do No Harm Act, pending federal legislation that will amend 1993’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to ensure that religious freedom may not be used to harm others.
The Do No Harm Act will preserve RFRA’s power to protect religious freedom but at the same time make it clear that the law is not used to undermine nondiscrimination laws; evade child labor laws; deny access to health care; thwart workplace protections (such as fair wage and equal pay laws); or give protection to those who refuse to provide government-funded services or won’t perform duties as a government employee.
Key was one of several faith leaders to voice support when the Do No Harm Act was re-introduced last month: “Back in the 1990s, I personally knew the individuals responsible for crafting and passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Never did they imagine that their piece of legislation would be used to discriminate against others. They were trying to prevent discrimination. As a religious leader for almost forty years, I strongly encourage the passage of The Do No Harm Act. We need it now more than ever to protect those who are vulnerable in our country.”
You can learn more about the Do No Harm Act here. Please join us in helping to make it law.