Fighting Discrimination

Americans endorse religious freedom as a broad principle, but the devil’s in the details

  Rob Boston

A poll released a few days ago by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs found that 84% of Americans agree that freedom of religion is extremely important or very important to the identity of the United States.

The AP, which asked Americans about their views on a number of other constitutional rights, spun the results as indicating that we may not be as divided as some believe.

I think a claim like that only gets you so far. Yes, it’s clear that most Americans agree that the right to believe or not as you choose is one of our nation’s core values. The problem is, once we get beyond the obvious point that the government has no right to compel you to attend a house of worship or deny your right to attend one, anything like a consensus breaks down.

No hostility toward religion  

Despite wild claims by Christian Nationalists, the U.S. government is not hostile to religion and isn’t trying to shut down anyone’s church. Religious freedom in that regard is rock solid.

The problem is that there are people today – led by Christian Nationalist groups – arguing that “religious freedom” includes the right to ignore certain laws if you don’t like them, discriminate against others in secular, for-profit businesses or cause harm to others because your religion teaches that there is something wrong with the way they live.

After the poll results were released, the American Family Association (AFA) issued a press release attacking progressives, whom, AFA President Tim Wildmon asserted, are working to “chip away at our long-standing interpretations of those critical freedoms.”

Discrimination in the name of religion

What Wildmon and the AFA want, however, isn’t religious freedom. It’s the right to discriminate against others, deny them certain rights and treat them as second-class on the grounds of religion. That is quite a different thing.

I’m glad that the vast majority of Americans recognize the importance of religious freedom (although I do wonder about the 5% who told AP that they consider the concept to be “not too or not at all important”). It’s always easy to endorse a human right in the abstract. The execution of that right is what matters, and there we remain divided – thanks largely to Christian Nationalists who, with the aid of the Supreme Court, have twisted the vital concept of religious freedom beyond all recognition.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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