Religion, Gays, And Freedom: It’s Complicated

This week’s Courier Herald column:

The attack on the night club popular with the LGBT community was conducted by a terrorist that fit the usual profile. He had limited formal education, with much of his worldview set by by a stint at a fundamentalist camp that represented some of the most extreme views of his religion. He was a radicalized American citizen. He stated that while those who practice of homosexuality in private “should not be hassled”, those demanding that this become accepted in public should be met with “force if necessary”.


This was a week where the leaders of Georgia’s largest religious denomination sought to put some distance between the good religion(s) and the bad ones. Dr. Gerald Harris, editor of The Christian Index (the official publication of the Georgia Baptist Convention) published an Op-Ed asserting that Muslims do not qualify for First Amendment protections for Freedom of Religion.

The conclusion of Harris’ piece shows that his view is that the extension of rights is a zero sum game. For some to win, others must lose. Writes Harris, “The more leniency we give in the present to Muslims who may desire Sharia Law, the less freedom we will be giving in the future to ourselves.”

One of the major points of contention in the years’ long battle for a “religious freedom” bill here in Georgia is the recognition and protections of the civil rights act to extend to members of the LGBT community. One of the more often repeated lines against this creation is that those in opposition want “equal rights”, not the creation of “special rights”.


Twelfth District Congressman Rick Allen read scripture to the House Republican Caucus prior to a vote on an energy bill a couple of weeks ago. The bill contained added language extending protections against LGBT discrimination in federal contracting. Allen’s verse, Romans 1 versus 27-32, contained the following: “And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet…Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”


The murderer of at least fifty souls in Orlando is an American citizen, yet pledged allegiance to ISIS in a call to 911 just prior to the shooting. He personifies many of the fears articulated in the Op-Ed by Dr. Gerald Harris. He will likely be used to further the debate that Muslims don’t deserve the same protections that the rest of us have when it comes to religion.

The murderer’s father says the killer became enraged a few months ago when he saw two men kissing in Miami, though he never knew his son to be “particularly religious” according to CNN.

This murder, however, shouldn’t be confused with the one mentioned in the opening paragraph of this column. That one was Eric Robert Rudolph. In addition to bombing Centennial Olympic Park and abortion clinics in Atlanta and Birmingham, he injured six with a bomb left at Atlanta’s lesbian-friendly Otherside Lounge. Rudolph wasn’t a Muslim. He was a Catholic that had been radicalized by the “Church of Israel”, an outpost of the “Christian Identity” movement which mixes elements of Christianity with white supremacy.


Politics is often overly complicated. Many an armchair legislator has solved complex problems of policy by stating superficial solution and then loudly stating “it’s just that simple” – often punctuated by a confident fist pounded to the table. Freedom of religion is a simple concept with a simple solution: Believe and practice as you see fit. It becomes a bit more complicated when some decide they get to decide what is an accepted and established religion.

This overly complicates the simple concept of “freedom of religion” when some wish to define and codify exactly what a religion is, complete with kibitzing to other religions or even denominations of what is right or proper and what is not? Think this is overstated? Get told more than once you’re going to hell simply because you were sprinkled at baptism rather than submersed, and then imagine submitting the defining power to define what a religion is to the leaders of the same denomination. Now compound this by realizing that’s just a difference between Christian denominations. Imagine how those of other completely different religions feel. Imagine those who define religious freedom as to be entitled to have none at all…


Given the contradictions above, it’s not difficult to understand why members of the LGBT community are suspect of religious freedom laws. Those who see organized religion as praying for, and acting upon, their death. Many Christians can see horror and danger when verses of the Quran are used to justify war against America, and death to Americans. Too many of these same people roll their eyes or get aggressively defiant when an objection to homosexuality is read from the Bible – even when it too includes death.

We know many Christians. We know that’s not what we really mean. We know Eric Robert Rudolph “isn’t really one of us”.

Most of us don’t know many Muslims. We have no idea what Muslims – especially those who are American citizens – really want or believe. But we do see the violence. It’s becoming more common. Fear plus anecdote is becoming actionable data.


Slippery slopes can be the most dangerous of precipices. Our Constitution is designed to protect the rights of the minority, not the whims of the majority. As such, the original federal RFRA bill was designed to protect the smoking of peyote in Native American religious celebrations. The concept is now being used by those who see themselves as the religious majority to shape laws in their favor – up to and including who is worthy of these freedoms.

The danger, of course, is this is the first opening of a Pandora’s box – one where the government encroaches on the topic of the establishment of religion. Many want to use the violent acts of some Muslims to justify delineation and distinction of who is eligible for freedom of religion. This would be the most dangerous of precedent.

For today’s precedent may be Omar Mateen, but tomorrow’s may be another Eric Robert Rudolph. Given today’s declining rates of religious identification and participation, today’s Christian majority in American may well fall behind a secular majority. At that time, people that want to use religion as a proxy to stop violent acts or otherwise control large groups may just further marginalize all religious activity and participation, themselves pounding the table saying “it’s just that simple”.

Those who value the religious freedoms we have today need to think long and hard before we create new precedents that can and likely will be used against us in the future. This is the usual result of “simple” solutions to situations that are multi-faceted and in fact quite complicated.


“A new commandement I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” – Jesus’ 11th Commandment, John 13:34

Love thy neighbor. That’s not always easy. But it’s not that complicated, either.

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Thank you for another great, detailed article.


Nice article. One of my thoughts was that this massacre was done as it was for several political purposes- one of which was to show an alignment of values between viewpoints- albeit extreme ones- of different religions. i.e., to garner empathy and support from other radical religionists, finding a common “enemy”. like, on a smaller scale, how that tweet from that Texas official appeared, before retraction/ correction. still. sadly, i think that the only thing barring that sentiment being expressed (as soon as it is no longer “too soon” to do it), is that anti-Islamic feelings would be co-mingled with… Read more »