Thursday, April 13, 2006

Bigotry and freedom

The religious right sure has a funny idea of what constitutes freedom in America. It's pretty clear that when they talk about free speech and constitutional rights, they intend it to include only themselves and no one else.

This doesn't merely cover such matters as sexual orientation. It even appears to include the freedom of religion.

Take, for instance, their latest campaign to give themselves the right to bash gays and lesbians:
The legal argument is straightforward: Policies intended to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination end up discriminating against conservative Christians. Evangelicals have been suspended for wearing anti-gay T-shirts to high school, fired for denouncing Gay Pride Month at work, reprimanded for refusing to attend diversity training. When they protest tolerance codes, they're labeled intolerant.

What's revealing about their argument, as always, is that they insist that antidiscrimination laws should only cover such "inborn traits" as race and gender:
Others fear the banner of religious liberty could be used to justify all manner of harassment.

"What if a person felt their religious view was that African Americans shouldn't mingle with Caucasians, or that women shouldn't work?" asked Jon Davidson, legal director of the gay rights group Lambda Legal.

Christian activist Gregory S. Baylor responds to such criticism angrily. He says he supports policies that protect people from discrimination based on race and gender. But he draws a distinction that infuriates gay rights activists when he argues that sexual orientation is different -- a lifestyle choice, not an inborn trait.

By equating homosexuality with race, Baylor said, tolerance policies put conservative evangelicals in the same category as racists. He predicts the government will one day revoke the tax-exempt status of churches that preach homosexuality is sinful or that refuse to hire gays and lesbians.

"Think how marginalized racists are," said Baylor, who directs the Christian Legal Society's Center for Law and Religious Freedom. "If we don't address this now, it will only get worse."

We've heard this argument many times before, most often when the issue of hate crimes arises: Because being gay, we're told, is a "chosen behavior," it is undeserving of civil rights protections.

As I've noted previously:
It's the same reason given by many evangelicals -- and particularly black and minority evangelicals, and people who claim they support civil rights -- for not supporting gays and lesbians in hate-crime protections: "You can't compare being gay to being black. One's immutable, one's chosen."

Well, yes, this is true when it comes to race. And even ethnicity. These are, after all, two of the three main legs of anti-discrimination and hate-crimes laws.

But it's not true of the third leg of these laws: religion. Last I checked, this too was a "chosen behavior."

If we restrict antidiscrimination laws only to "inborn traits," then the right to choose our religious faith (or lack thereof) will immediately be at risk, too.

Of course, this doesn't much bother fundamentalists, since they already claim that they represent the only "true" Christianity, and consider anything that departs from their dogma to be "unChristian." Along similar lines, they also claim that this is a "Christian nation" that should abide by Biblical laws.

But it should bother the rest of us -- particularly those whose religious beliefs may not be in line with the fundamentalists'.

It doesn't take much imagination, after all, to see the same principle -- that free speech rights include the "right" to discriminate, harass, intimidate, and threaten -- applied to other "chosen behaviors" like religious faith.

So if you're a liberal Methodist, or Catholic, or a Jew, good "Christians" believe they should have the right to discriminate against you, too.

It all leads one to wonder: Is ignorant, unAmerican bigotry also an "inborn trait"?

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