Dr Jennifer Wilson

Religious freedom is not freedom to discriminate

With the Catholic Church reserving the right to fire any staff that enters a same-sex marriage, it’s worth point out that freedom of faith, and freedom to discriminate on the tenets of that faith are two very separate entities.

 

 

Yes, I know, this might at first blush seem an odd choice of the topic given our current circumstances but really, what can one usefully say about the political shenanigans that currently overwhelm any possibility of good governance?

One can only cling to the words of the late George Harrison: all things must pass, all things must pass away, and hope to dog they don’t take too damn long in their passing.

The erudite and decent Father Frank Brennan published this piece in the Guardian recently on the necessity to protect religious freedom as well as to support marriage equality. As far as I can tell from the piece, Brennan is arguing that while he hopes for the prevailing influence of good will all round, there must be room made for the religious to discriminate against same sex couples. He does not quite frame his argument in those terms, of course, however it seems to me that in this instance religious freedom equals the unchallengeable right to discriminate, on the sole grounds that the sexuality of some humans offends your religious sensibility.

If the religious are to be granted a legal right to discriminate against same-sex couples, they better provide some sound evidence of the need for that discrimination. Otherwise, discrimination on the basis of sexuality becomes normalised as “religious freedom”, with no justification other than “it’s against my religion.”  I’m going to stick out my neck and declare that this isn’t good enough.

Why should your religious belief trump another’s human rights? On what basis does your religion condemn same-sex couples as humans you are entitled to discriminate against and therefore inevitably less fully human than you, be it in baking them a wedding cake or employing them in your schools?

And why should the secular state support you in your deliberate creation of a lesser class of beings?

 

Freedom of religion ought to mean, the freedom to practice your religious beliefs without oppression and persecution. It does not mean you are granted freedom to oppress and persecute those whose ways of being do not accord with your beliefs, and discriminatory behaviour towards such people is inarguably oppressing and persecuting them.

 

It isn’t religious freedom to discriminate against others who don’t fit your vision of how humans ought to live. It’s religious exceptionalism. The language of religious freedom serves to obfuscate the reality: it is unjustified and unjustifiable dehumanisation of those whom it excludes.

Freedom of religion ought to mean, and in my opinion does mean, the freedom to practice your religious beliefs without oppression and persecution. It does not mean you are granted freedom to oppress and persecute those whose ways of being do not accord with your beliefs, and discriminatory behaviour towards such people is inarguably oppressing and persecuting them.

If your religious beliefs demand that you must, through discrimination, oppress and persecute a particular group of your fellow humans, perhaps you need to seriously consider the worth of that religion.

 

Religious freedom in this instance sounds an awful lot like justification for homophobia. And as long as the religious can’t offer sound reasons for needing this discrimination based on sexuality, it will continue to sound and look like homophobia.

If it quacks like a duck…

 

 

 

Dr Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer is an independent scholar, eclectic writer and prolific political blogger at No Place for Sheep. She has published academic papers, book chapters, short stories, memoir and poetry. There is no box she will not think outside of. So far.

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