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Grace Eberly

Rethinking Religion: Religious liberty is under attack, but same-sex marriage and abortion aren’t to blame

Columnist Grace Eberly writes about how religious liberty is under attack in the U.S., but not by those typically blamed.

Religious liberty is under attack in this country like never before.

At least that’s what the politicians say.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested that he was being audited by the Internal Revenue Service because of his “strong Christian faith” and is distressed that nobody says “Merry Christmas" anymore.

Ted Cruz has proclaimed that “2016 will be a religious liberty election” and has promised his constituents that, if elected, he will instruct every federal agency to end its persecution of religious liberty. 

Christians have been martyred and they’re ready to fight back.

Last week, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law a bill that allows businesses and religious groups with “sincerely held religious beliefs or convictions” to deny services (such as counseling, wedding planning and adoption support) to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. Additionally, religious employers can deny or terminate the employment of an individual “whose conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with those of the organization” and landlords can kick same-sex couples out of their apartments.

The controversial bill comes just weeks after North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory approved a measure that blocks cities from allowing trans individuals to use public bathrooms designated for the gender with which they identify.

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Since the Religious Freedom Restoration Act became law in 1993, 21 states have passed similar legislation. With all of those religious liberty bills, you’d think people were being killed because of their religious beliefs. And they are, but not in the United States.

Religiously motivated violence is an international human rights concern that should be taken seriously, especially in light of the religious genocide in Syria and the recent Easter bombing in Lahore, Pakistan.

But the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationally was neither genocide nor bomb. No one was killed and no one was prohibited from expressing their religious beliefs.

The Affordable Care Act does not force any religious person to take so-called “abortificants” against her will. The funding of reproductive healthcare centers like Planned Parenthood does not force any religious person into an abortion. And the Supreme Court decision does not force any religious, heterosexual person to enter into a same-sex marriage.

Worst case scenario, a Christian baker might be asked to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple as part of a routine business transaction.

The Christian business owners who protest the Supreme Court decision argue that their religious freedom has been violated. But since when is baking a cake a religious practice? For what it’s worth, I’ve read the Bible cover-to-cover on at least three separate occasions and unless I’m fundamentally mistaken, I don’t remember the part where Jesus said you couldn’t sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples.

So why all of the fuss? I contend that it isn’t really about religious freedom.

If it were, the loudest cries wouldn’t be coming from the very same people who demand that we “ban Sharia law” (I can’t even begin to explain how ill-informed this request is), outlaw the hijab and bar Muslim immigration. Religious freedom means freedom for all persons to practice their religion. Religious freedom does not mean the privileged majority has the right to impose its religion on everyone else.

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It isn’t about same-sex marriage or abortion either. If the religious right was really interested in “protecting the integrity of the family,” it would improve access to reproductive healthcare and guarantee family and medical leave. If the religious right was as serious about the preservation of life as it says that it is, it wouldn’t be staunch defenders of capital punishment, and it certainly wouldn’t be chomping at the bit to go to war every time there is a foreign disagreement.

Religious liberty is important. It was written into our national consciousness and should be defended by all persons, whether they are religious or not. It is precisely because I value religious liberty that I feel we must rescue it from the religious right. We should not allow for its integrity to be compromised and we should not allow for it to be transformed into a political tool that can be used to preserve power and privilege. 

We can uphold religious liberty and live in a nation free of discrimination on the basis of a person’s race, nationality, sex or gender, religion or sexual orientation.

We can have our (same-sex wedding) cake and eat it, too.

Grace Eberly is a senior studying world religions and biology. What do you think recent laws passed in Mississippi and North Carolina? Email Grace at

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