Freedom Of Religion vs. License To Discriminate

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on April 8, 2015. 

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding, or perhaps, a deliberate mischaracterization, of what constitutes religious freedom in a pluralistic society; of the role governments should play in protecting religious liberties, the extent to which citizens are obligated to facilitate the customs of another, and what it means to be unjustly targeted for holding contrary views.

On March 25, a cadre of evangelical leaders and activists took to Parliament Hill to decry “unjust infringements of the State” against Christianity, assail the perceived granting of rights to “others” at the expense of their own, lament being violated by “activist” courts, ostracized by business leaders, and vilified by media. MP James Lunney cited their grievances in his withdrawing from the Conservative caucus to better fight the “unprecedented attack” on his Christian beliefs.

These self-appointed spokesmen of Christianity, the beliefs/values they espouse, their connections and affiliations, merit a deeper examination than space permits, but the following brief should offer some insight into why they, and the various, inter-connected organizations they represent, feel so spurned by modernity:

Bill Prankard of the Bill Prankard Evangelistic Association is a faith-healer who claims that faith through the laying-on-of-hands has cured everything from quadriplegia to cancer; he has written books claiming that the power of God holds the cure for all ailments. He has bemoaned that while Christians “stand on guard” for Canada, “other groups have been coming with agendas that are very anti-Christian and anti-God and they’ve been doing a lot of stuff in our nation. I believe it’s time for Canadians to rise up and to take back what the enemy is stealing.”

André Schutten is a lawyer for the Association For Reformed Political Action. When Alberta lawmakers passed legislation affirming students’ rights to form gay-straight alliances, Schutten declared such a law “would make the Bolsheviks proud.”

And of course, there’s Canada Christian College president Charles McVety, whose most recent claim of religious persecution was evidenced by the coming-together of major corporations in committing to diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.

Seriously.

The concept of religious freedom has long been exploited to justify discrimination: Many religious conservatives, for instance, deemed God “the original segregationist,” and when the couple at the heart of Loving v. Virginia (1967), the landmark Supreme Court case striking down America’s ban on interracial marriage, were initially charged in violating “anti-miscegenation” laws, Judge Leon Bazile contended “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

As America’s march toward full marriage equality presses on, the Supreme Court set to rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage shortly, Conservative lawmakers, backed by Christian leaders like James Dobson, Franklin Graham, and Tony Perkins, are scrambling to preempt a ruling many expect as inevitable, enacting legislation under the guise of protecting religious liberties which would grant the right to refuse service to those who might “burden” the conscience.

As the recent backlash in Indiana against such license to discriminate has shown, however, the majority will not stand for replacing White with Straight on “[X] Only” signs.

Given the ongoing, real persecution faced by religious minorities – Christians hunted down by Islamic extremists throughout the Middle East; Muslims slaughtered by Christian militias and Buddhist extremists in Central African Republic and Burma respectively – it’s appalling that such affluent, privileged members of society cast themselves as the victims of tyrannical government; oppressed by an “overly-secular, militant atheistic” society.

Much to traditionalists’ dismay, society has progressed, and those who continue to preach hatred, foster intolerance, are finally learning the Bible is no longer the impenetrable shield it once was.

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