The Religious Liberty Ruse


Religious Freedom Restoration Acts [RFRAs] are the latest Trojan Horses bigots deploy to facilitate injustice toward those of whom they disapprove. This article explores and exposes all the false claims and fallacious arguments used to advance these hateful bills and  laws. Americans must arise and reassert that America is one nation, indivisible, dedicated to equality, liberty, and justice for all.


With the progress of the Marriage Equality Movement, the hydra-headed monster of bigotry has shown yet another face. The pundits, politicians, and pseudo-patriots who cloak their prejudice in demands for religious liberty are fooling too many of their willfully ignorant compatriots. It is time to trace the concept of religious liberty to its actual historic impact. It is also time to expose the uses to which this cloak has been put previously along with its partner in crime – states’ rights.

The Arizona legislature waged a frantic fight against allowing the state to participate in Medicaid expansion during the Affordable Care Act implementation, even though that would help thousands of Arizonians access affordable healthcare. It also pushed to legalize discrimination based on race, sexual orientation and sexual identity under the banners of “religious liberty and state’s rights.” In the course of their efforts to abrogate the foundational ideals of the revolutionary American Republic, these clueless ideologues prattle about reverence and fealty to the Constitution. Unfortunately, they do not get the ridicule they richly deserve. They remain in public life though they should face quarantine from all positions of responsibility and authority.

Now Indiana has joined the list of states that have followed the theocrat’s siren songs and made nonconforming citizens who defy the preferences and prejudices of the dominant sectarian creed second class citizens. In so doing, the deceitful proponents of “religious liberty” abrogate the religious freedom of these targeted citizens. They demonstrate neither understanding of nor compliance with the relevant clauses of the First Amendment. Clearly, they establish religion in the sense that the biases of a sectarian creed are excuses to violate the privileges and immunities of citizenship for disfavored classes. They also distort the free exercise of religion by taking it out of homes and houses of worship and thrusting it into businesses open to the public. Such laws in any jurisdiction directly contradict the principle that all citizens are equal and free. Such laws directly interdict the inherent right of American citizens to pursue happiness, or in less poetic language to live a life as well as to survive.

Americans have seen this roll-out of bigotry several times before. In the 19th century, the myth that Noah’s middle son, Ham, was cursed, made a servant and was the ancestor of all Black human beings. This myth is wrong on so many levels that it took willful ignorance and relentless rationalization for it to do its dirty work. “Genesis 9:25 makes it clear that after Noah had awoken, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” Thus, even in the fable, Ham was not the one condemned to servitude. Secondly, even in the fable, it was Cush, Noah’s mythical oldest son who settled in Africa and would be the likely candidate for the primogenitor of Black humans. Canaan, the cursed youngest son, was the progenitor, not of Blacks, but of the Canaanites who have a much more honored view in Judeo-Christian lore. Finally, no matter what the purported holy book says, it is not a scientific, peer-reviewed study. It is a collection of supposedly divinely inspired tales from the ancient oral tradition of largely illiterate people. It is worth precisely nothing in social policy deliberations and decisions.

Thought millions believe this mythical set of assertions and prescriptions to be inerrant they are without sound evidential or logical foundation. Thus, any applications to social policy or legislating would be constructive and wise only by sheer accident. If one’s mind if filled with fantastic nonsense, one is largely incapable of making rational and realistic political choices. The same collection of fables and biases underlie the discriminatory application of the ideal of religious liberty in Arizona and Indiana along sixteen other states. Nonetheless, the Indiana law, as well as the pending Arkansas law, have a glaring and crucial difference from every state with RFRA laws:



“The Indiana measure would prohibit state and local laws that “substantially burden” the ability of people — including businesses and associations — to follow their religious beliefs. Mr. Pence, a Republican, said the bill ensures “religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law.” This entire bogus line of argument misconstrues what the ideal of religious liberty means.  It does not mean what the Puritans did when they came to what is not the United States. The Puritans wanted the freedom to impose their sectarian beliefs and prescribed behaviors on all in their society. They did not want liberty; they wanted to harass and oppress those who did not conform! Eighteen legislatures have facilitated exactly such theocratic oppression by enacting laws based on a thinly disguised lie. Nobody’s “religious beliefs” justify behavior that precludes any of our brother or sister citizens from exercising the right to pursue happiness equally with us all. Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights expands on this foundational American ideal: “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community…” As with African Americans before 1965, so with LGBT Americans in 2015, freely participating in the cultural life of the community and pursuing happiness demands unbiased accommodation in commercial establishments.  Furthermore, the Preamble to the Constitution stipulates the final purpose of the Republic it is ordaining and establishing as securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

NOTE: On 31 March 2015, the Arkansas Legislatures passed a bill as abhorrent as the Indiana RFRA. Furthermore, the Arkansas Legislature  has enacted statewide protections for LGBT people in employment, housing, or public accommodations. Finally, in February,2015,  the state approved a different bill that prohibits cities and counties from establishing LGBT protections,  and apparently invalidating those protections some municipalities already have in place.

Should any object that neither the Declaration of Independence nor the UDHR have the force of law, the rejoinder is neither should the scriptures on any or all sectarian creeds. The American Republic imperfectly realizes the ideals of the Enlightenment, but it does not derive its idealistic foundation or guidance from any sectarian source. Religious beliefs pertain to citizens’ conduct of their private lives; they do not give any citizen the right to practice bigotry or ostracism against any other. Rationalizing bigotry by some citizens toward others is nothing new. More than five decade ago Judge Leon M. Bazile said: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”  It is evident that the Judge uses his religious beliefs as the launch pad for objections to and if he had his way, denial of, marriage services to interracial couples.

“Our nation’s story has been a story of efforts to expand the promise of American life to more and more people, including blacks, women, people of different religious faiths, of different national origins, and now, haltingly, gays.  Expansion has never been easy or linear.  Often the efforts have met fierce resistance.  Objections to expanding protection for civil rights of blacks and women (as well as arguments in favor of protecting these groups) were often religious and justified by citations to the Bible. These false prophets of religious liberty behave in especially ignoble fashion by their blatant selectivity regarding the supposedly infallible creed to which they demand complete compliance.  For some reason they insist that not discriminating would “substantially burden the ability of people — including businesses and associations — to follow their religious beliefs “despite the fact that one of the most widely known tenets of their professed faith is:

“37 “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” Luke 6:37-38 (NABRE)

Though famous and widely admired, the “Judge not” precept does not keep the Indiana Governor and Legislature from providing cover for judgmental, unaccepting, harsh, miserly, censorious actions toward others.  True believing Christians claim their sage is not merely a wise man, but a deity. How can they then insist on judging by discriminating against nonconforming, noncompliant residents of Indiana or other states? The Governor and Legislature of Indiana have it wrong regarding what religious liberty entails and allows. They also worked up a false fury to hide their true goal of enabling intolerant people to act on their impulses.

Professor Michael Kent Curtis of Wake Forest University asks two vital questions. : First, “Why should gays be treated differently from every other group protected by antidiscrimination laws, including Americans of African descent and women?” Second, “Can a claim for a religious exemption in the case of gays be supported on the theory that a religious and biblical rationale is present?” Although initially focused on same-sex marriage, the questions pertain equally to objections about providing any manner of services to LGBT citizens or visitors in Indiana and elsewhere. Finally – “Would the politicians and advocates think religious liberty arguments allow Muslim Americans to refuse service to women who are nonconforming and noncompliant with the dress standards of the full hijab?

“Civil rights laws have enhanced not only equality, but practical liberty as well. The liberty to buy a home or rent an apartment of your choice, to enjoy equal access to hotels, and to take advantage of many more practical liberties” all make the pursuit of happiness actionable. These laws operationalized the inherent right to pursue happiness by facilitating access by out groups to goods and services the majority took for granted. Of course, opponents argued that such laws contracted liberty, for employers, landlords, and merchants such as photographers, florists, bakers and hotel/motel operators. The freedoms abridged or values infringed allegedly included economic liberty and religious liberty. Thus, the advocates of bogus religious liberty and economic freedom arguments construed these values as justifying the violation of some people’s full citizenship rights so sectarians may push their religious convictions or private property contentions. These true believers trample genuine liberty as they push a license to let bigotry run wild.

Liberty is a social condition which lets all people pursue their happiness peacefully. There is no coherent concept of liberty that splits the populace into segments and turns the segments against one another so some people can use liberty as a pretext to interdict the peaceful pursuit of happiness by others. These foundational ideals of the American Republic mutually reinforce one another. Any proposal, practice, procedure, or party which puts them at odds subverts and sabotages critical elements of America’s raison d’etre. As President Obama correctly states: “The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit, and to choose our better history.” We must carry forward that precious gift and the noble idea that all are equal, and all are free. We must insist all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

America is an endeavor that is far from perfect and far from complete. It will never achieve perfection. It will never reach completion. Nonetheless, every American of authentic and principled patriotism must carry on to make these shining ideals more present in the lives of all our compatriots. This challenge confronts us all, not simply people in public office or the public eye. It is direct challenge the person looking back at each of us from the glass every morning and evening of our lives, Let us get on with work remaining before us. Let us precipitate a new birth of equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of among all Americans and around the world.

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  • Dani Heart

    Awesome article Larry.

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    • Larry Conley

      Thanks Dani! Hope you and yours have a wonderful Spring Festival aka Easter!

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  • jennifer kiley

    Brilliant. This is the battle before us. More judgment minus equality. The religious right just cannot grasp equality for all, especially when it comes to LGBT. They focus their vision on LGBT b/c they know it is more acceptable to be bigots when it comes to people who are Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Transgender. They are afraid of the power LGBT has gained and continues to gain. What are they afraid of? It has always puzzled me. What is feared must be destroyed in any backhanded way that can be found. Does Indiana and the other states who follow them think they are fooling anyone with their ploys of “religious liberty?” Why does difference bring out such contempt? To me “Religious Liberty” should stand for having the freedom to express your religious beliefs in a manner that does not infringe on anyone else freedoms of expression. Being prejudice and trying to attempt to deny someone else’s equality is an injustice needing to be fought against. Until there exists Equality for All, it does not exist. Something special I read about children growing up in LGBT families is they are the most loved and cared for b/c they are truly wanted. These “Religious Liberty” people should think about that before they go around trying to mess with the laws of Equality and disguising their motives behind lies to prevent Equal Justice for All.

    Thank you Larry for such a well written piece and showing what the bullies in Indiana and the other states who are trying to take away Equality and Rights of those who deserve their new gained rights, which have been fought for the many years LGBT has stood up to claim our Equality and its protection.

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  • Roco1957

    Thanks for the article pointing what the problem(s) are when dealing with religious liberty.

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