Religious freedom is not a license to discriminate


I didn’t realize just how much would come up for me with the recent passing of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act — some things I haven’t thought about in years.

During my first year of college, in 1998, I joined Chester First United Methodist church in Plumas County. Soon after, my minister asked if I wanted to become a certified lay speaker, a layperson trained and authorized to preach to a congregation.

Mathew Shepard had been killed only months earlier. So during the “final exam” — actually preaching a sermon — I used the parable of the good Samaritan to introduce the topic of Shepard’s murder and proceeded to tell stories about the homophobia I’ve seen and heard.

Including my grandmother’s comment that “queers and retardos shouldn’t breed their defects back into society.”

There were very few dry eyes in the congregation, though I never mentioned that I was gay — that this issue was personal.

A visiting couple approached me. Their grandson had come out, and they hadn’t reacted well. They were going to give him a call and see if the relationship could be healed.

The issues raised by Indiana — and I am glad that the law was amended — are still present in my head. There are serious people out there that, from their religious point of view, sincerely believe that people like me should be killed.

My current minister had shared an interesting little graphic from Facebook. The reality I see is that people who are in business shouldn’t really give a damn about who’s frequenting their place of business.

What may, or may not, be happening in my bedroom shouldn’t matter because I’m not going to be doing it in someone’s place of business.

The plain fact is that such laws and situations are about homophobia, plain and simple. Such laws and ideas lead not to “religious freedom” but to a culture that kills.

The God of my understanding informs me that all still means all.

Religious liberties are violated when people can’t practice their personal faith, not when others are allowed to practice and accept others in ways that they choose.

Yet let us reward a business, a pizza parlor, with more than $800,000 for not wanting to cater a same-sex wedding. Wonder what would have happened if their religious belief wouldn’t allow them to cater a mixed-race wedding.

Too bad a crowdfunding page for a Northern California/Nevada LGBTQ+ Christian camp wouldn’t get even a drop of that.

But then again, that’s probably another violation of someone’s “religious liberty.”

Joseph Rogers can be reached at [email protected] or @JosephLRogers1 on Twitter.