August 03, 2009

Religious Freedom Doesn't Include Promoting Hate

Originally published in the 7/31/09 print edition of Baltimore OUTloud. This is the first LGBT piece I've had printed, and I'm appreciate Managing Editor Steve Charing giving me the opportunity. I am hoping to be a regular contributor to Maryland's independent voice of the LGBT community.

As the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act moves closer to passage through Congress, right-wing spokespersons are screaming louder about how this legislation will severely impact religious freedom.

Is that true?

It all depends on how you define religious freedom.

Religious conservatives often cite cases of preachers who have been arrested for preaching anti-gay sermons, and there is truth to this. A quick Google search turned up stories of such occurrences in the UK, Australia, and Canada, all countries that have passed their own hate crimes laws protecting GLBT people.

These same religious folks claim that similar laws passed in the United States would inhibit their ability to preach the “truth of the bible” that condemns homosexuality. Of course, that arrogantly presumes that anyone preaching a message accepting of GLBT people is not preaching “the truth,” and that’s where the issue gets sticky.

People aren’t guilty of hate crimes when they speak real truth, otherwise known as facts. Saying most oriental people have yellowish skin and black hair is a fact. Saying the average American has a higher standard of living than the average Nigerian is a fact. Neither of these constitutes a hate crime.

People don’t even have to have their facts right. I can say you are wearing a pink blouse when you actually have a blue dress on and not be committing a crime. I’m committing stupidity, but we all know that being stupid is not a crime—if so, we’d need a prison on every block.

There are things people can say that aren’t facts. These are called opinions, and as the saying goes, opinions are like…..tushes-everybody has one. I could tell my wife a dress makes her look fat and that is not a hate crime. While it revisits the stupidity concept, it is not a hate crime.

When a pastor stands at his pulpit preaching to his congregation about how depraved homosexual behavior is and that GLBT people are abominations (stop me if you’ve heard that one before), the one thing he is NOT doing is stating a fact. He is stating something based on his interpretation of a translation of the Bible which is at best an opinion but has the potential to be much more, including a hate crime.

There are two key points here that I believe totally refute any claims about hate crime legislation damaging religious freedom.

First, a hate crime by its nature results in harm to the affected minority, usually violence. Remember, Matthew Shepard wasn’t just teased because he was gay, he was pistol whipped, tortured, and left tied up to a fence to die. Any pastor who preaches a sermon that even indirectly leads someone to commit a violent act has no business behind a pulpit, but might very well belong in jail.

Second, there are only really eight verses in the Bible, the infamous “clobber passages,” that are used in the condemnation of homosexuality. That’s right, all of this anger, discrimination, and hatred stem from EIGHT verses of scripture, translated and retranslated over thousands of years, written in times where society had no concept of a long-term same-sex relationship. Society also condoned slavery and polygamy (now there’s traditional marriage for you) back in those times.

There are over 31,000 verses in the bible, and if a preacher can’t make a good sermon drawing from all but eight of them, then maybe he needs to be selling used cars instead of preaching the word of God.

So how do I define freedom of religion? I view it as the ability to openly worship and celebrate God as I have come to understand Him. There are plenty of places in the world where that is still not an option, especially for those who profess to be Christians, so I don’t take it for granted.

I DO take for granted, however, that my freedom should not harm anyone else or infringe on their ability to worship God as they understand Him. I also take for granted that this does not give me the right to preach hate and incite anger toward anyone.

Not even right-wingers who do just that toward GLBT people I know and love.

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