Le Rire, May 20, 1905


Religious Freedom, an overview:

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. Freedom of expression consists of the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and the implied rights of association and belief.

Two clauses in the First Amendment guarantee freedom of religion. The establishment clause prohibits the government from passing legislation to establish an official religion or preferring one religion over another. The other, the free exercise clause prohibits the government, in most instances, from interfering with a person’s practice of their religion.

That’s freedom of religion. And that’s what’s behind the separation of church and state. But both are subject to restrictions of the law. Neither church, nor individuals with church beliefs, nor the state itself are given free reign. Religious freedom is not what the Right would have it.

In fact, the other “religious freedom,” of which the Evangelical Right speaks, is something else entirely. These people would take the term religious freedom to give them the right to impose, even in the public sphere, their own religious beliefs on others. And that may mean, as it often does, the freedom to discriminate, to not provide which may be their own but still public spaces to those with other religious or secular beliefs opposed to theirs. This “religious freedom” would allow them, even in the public sphere, where everyone’s freedom is and should be protected, to oppose abortion, same sex marriage, and most recently transgender use of public bathrooms of their own choice.

It’s just not true that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right that protects the conscience of all people. And in fact in the public sphere there need to be restrictions on the religious freedom of Churches, religious organizations and individuals. These organizations and individuals should not be free to do as they like, that is to discriminate. No more than people were once free to do as they liked, according to their religious beliefs, with their own slaves.

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