As I noted in my post of December 2nd, I am doing a brief ‘mini-series’ about ‘rights’ as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and how they are often abused or misinterpreted. This post is Part II of that series.
The ‘freedoms’ that are guaranteed to the people of this nation under the U.S. Constitution are often misunderstood, sometimes intentionally, and other times out of genuine confusion. But I would like to make one thing very clear … a ‘right’ is a right for everyone. If I give you a chocolate bar and tell you it’s okay to eat it, that doesn’t give you the right to force someone else to eat a chocolate bar.
Specifically today I’m addressing a touchy topic: freedom of religion. Let’s start with the facts. This is what the First Amendment has to say about it …
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
These are known as the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. Together with the constitutional provision prohibiting religious tests as a qualification for office these clauses promote individual freedom of religion and separation of church and state. Where in this simple sentence does it state or imply that any one religion is the sole or ‘official’ religion of the country? Where does it say that one person has the right to force another to share their beliefs or values? It doesn’t. It doesn’t actually even say that anybody has the right to any religion, only that Congress shall not make laws regarding religion or prohibiting religious practices. For some, that would be enough. Ask an atheist living in Iran … they would be thrilled to have such freedom.
Through the years, freedom of religion has been interpreted to mean one thing and another, and in recent years still another. One of the most significant areas of debate is LGBTQ rights. Let’s return for a moment to the chocolate bar analogy. Say Judy is allergic to chocolate and cannot eat it, but her neighbor Bobby loves chocolate and is not allergic. Now, Judy certainly has a right to steer clear of the Cadbury, just as Bobby has a right to buy it and devour it. Are you with me so far? What would you say, though, if Judy tried to make it illegal for anybody on her street to buy or eat chocolate simply because she cannot eat it? Laughable, yes?
But it isn’t laughable when a person whose religious beliefs are that marriage can only be between a male and a female as identified at birth tries to force their views on an entire nation of 330 million people! Okay, nobody is going to tell those people they can’t believe that, for it is their right. However, not everyone shares those beliefs. Other people who do not belong to person A’s church and do not share their beliefs, have rights too. Joe and Thom have a right to fall in love and marry by law in most states, yet there are some who would take that right from them because and only because it is not in sync with their own religious beliefs. I’m trying to be nice here, but that is bigotry, plain and simple. It is saying that you do not have a right to be different than person A. It is every bit as wrong as saying that Black people don’t have a right to live in your neighborhood or Jewish people don’t have a right to send their children to the same school your children go to, or women don’t have a right to earn the same pay as men for the same job.
Nowhere in the Constitution or any other government document does it say that one religion takes precedence over another. You have the right to be you, and I have the right to be me, and Joe has the right to be him, as long as we do no harm to others by exercising our rights. For Joe and Thom to be in love and marry does no harm to anybody, and yet … and yet millions of people would like to see their marriage declared illegal, would like to take away their rights.
Religion is a choice, and here in the United States it is a choice that we are fortunate to be able to make freely, for there is no state-sponsored religion, no Sharia law, no religious mandates such as there are in other countries. We should exercise that freedom as we see fit … each of us as individuals … but we should not attempt to force our views on others, for that is depriving them of their rights. It’s all a matter of respect. Live and let live. Why is that so hard for some to understand?