Jim Crow in Lavender

I just saw this news story coming out of Atlanta, about a man who was arrested for having poured boiling water on two gay men as they lay in bed:

Atlanta boiling water snip

This, on the same day that the Georgia legislative branch passed a bill and sent it to the governor for signature, designed to protect people who want to discriminate against others – most notably, but not exclusively, LGBTQ people, and primarily aimed at protecting those who oppose marriage equality – based on their “sincerely held religious beliefs” opposing marriage equality.This is one of a series of copycat bills moving forward in a number of state legislatures across the country.

I assume that the man who gave second- and third-degree burns to his victims did so based on his own “sincerely held religious beliefs” against their so-called “lifestyle choice.” For the record, the assailant has been arrested on two counts of aggravated battery; additional federal hate crime charges are being considered. While they aren’t hard to find online, I’ll forego sharing the gruesome images of the men’s scalded flesh and subsequent skin grafts required due to those sincerely held beliefs.

I simply don’t understand how our country has gotten its head stuck up its hindquarters to this degree. How could people ever think it’s acceptable to violate someone’s civil rights simply because someone’s religious beliefs supposedly condone it? It’s like the country has fallen victim to a collective Constitutional insanity. We don’t allow this kind of legalized religious-based discrimination against any other segment of our population. Every time people have tried to assert such a right in the past – notably, against women and blacks and other minorities – the arguments have been ruled unconstitutional. Just think about it: where else in our legal system do people successfully assert a constitutional right to deny the rights of others simply on the basis of how sincerely they believe in the correctness of that denial? Where else in our society to we allow legalized persecution of a group of people at one magnitude based simply on “sincerely held religious beliefs;” while merely implementing those exact same beliefs to the next order of magnitude constitutes a federally-recognized hate crime?

These legislative attempts to legally discriminate, wrapped in the gossamer-thin camouflage of supposed religious liberty, disgust me. I’m an ordained Presbyterian minister. I also happen to be gay. But I’d be just as disgusted with these attempts to impose a new Jim Crow, only now dressed in a lavender suit, regardless of my sexual orientation – and people across the board, especially those who are truly serious about following the teachings of Jesus Christ, should be equally disgusted. Religious liberty does not grant civil license.

Religious freedom does not confer blanket supremacy over the civil law of the land. It isn’t a “get out of jail free” card that trumps the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. There simply is no right in this country for one person to discriminate against any other person on the basis of the former’s religious views, no matter how “sincerely” or “deeply” held they may be – as if the depth to which someone believes a hideous falsehood somehow makes it a legally protected truth. I don’t have a constitutional right to rob a bank and give the money away, simply because I have a “sincerely held religious belief” that the rich aren’t sufficiently following Jesus’ admonitions to them to care for the poor.

The depth to which a person holds beliefs that would condone injuring another is no valid justification for that injury. Rather, it’s an illustration of just how strenuously our society has to work to put an end to that kind of ignorance, and bigotry, and injury to begin with. People who would argue for a supposed religious right to discriminate against others should be ashamed of themselves, and as people of faith, we need to stand up strongly and loudly against those claims and the attempts to codify them into state law. Our courts should rule that the basic legal argument behind all of these copycat laws is absurd – and they should do it sooner rather than later.

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