By now most everyone has probably heard about the county clerk in Kentucky who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. As these things tend to do, it has split the country into two angry factions. The people on her side whine about the loss of “religious freedom”. I say that’s rubbish; religious freedom has never extended as far as to give you the freedom to oppress others. That would be Christian privilege and abuse of power.
This is not a question of freedom for the clerk, whose position as an elected official requires her to follow the laws of the country. We could argue all day about whether or not private business owners should be able to discriminate against people because of their religious beliefs, but when it comes to government, the matter is totally clear. If we are going to uphold any sort of genuine religious freedom, then people who want to discriminate do not belong in government positions.
The reason should be obvious to anyone who takes a moment to think objectively about the issue. Let’s consider this example from a random twitter user:
If you think about it objectively, there’s really no difference. A theoretical Muslim DMV employee who believes women should not be allowed to drive and refuses to give them licenses would be acting on a sincerely held religious belief about a certain group of people, and treating them unfairly according to the laws of our country (rational people would call it what it is: sexism). Our “heroic” clerk in Kentucky is acting on a sincerely held religious belief about a certain group of people, and treating them unfairly according to the laws of our country.
The wording of the First Amendment has more to it than simply prohibiting laws that oppress religion. It says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. This means no favoritism, and no government-sponsored religion at all. People in public office must maintain this principle by being objectively fair to all people regardless of their beliefs.
Some Christians seem to have a hard time comprehending this, because their religion is the right one and it must rule the world! But if they really want religious freedom then they need to extend that freedom to everyone else equally. As I said in my article about human rights, “everyone should be just as free to believe, speak, and act on their own opinions, no matter what they are. In order for marriage rights to be truly equal, a heterosexual Christian and a gay atheist would both need to have the freedom to view marriage from their own perspective and to marry the person they love.”
People from every religion want laws to favor their beliefs. Since those beliefs are all so different and often contradictory, the only reasonable solution is to respect the rights of everyone to live their private lives according to what they believe. If one religion gains power and oppresses others, and then they lose that power while their victims gain power, they may face oppression themselves. It’s a vicious cycle, and that’s why it’s understandable that Christians are afraid of “losing their freedom”…they’ve oppressed the freedoms of others for so long that losing a position of privilege and power feels like a loss of freedom, and they’re afraid of backlash.
So if someone in public office is unable to set aside their own prejudice and treat people fairly, they need to be removed from that position. It doesn’t matter if they’re discriminating against gay people, Christians, Muslims, atheists, or members of a cult that worships a wax figurine of Donald Trump. True religious freedom will only be maintained if the government remains impartial.