It probably seems like there are a flurry of these so-called “Religious Freedom” bills in the news right now… And the reason it seems that way is because that is actually what is happening. The governor of Mississippi just signed a bill into law that makes it legal to discriminate against people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender. The governor of North Carolina just signed a law preventing cities and municipalities from creating any sort of non-discrimination ordinances after Charlotte attempted to say it was okay for transgender people to use the bathrooms of the gender with which they identify. And in Tennessee, lawmakers have passed a bill making it legal for therapists and counselors to refuse service to people who are LGBT, if they say they are doing it for “sincerely-held religious beliefs.” Similar bills are coming in Maine and South Carolina as well.
You might be wondering why all of these “Religious Freedom” bills are happening all at the same time. Well, it has to do with a couple of things… It’s partially because these bills are a reaction to the Marriage Equality decision by the Supreme Court, and this is about how long it takes for lawmakers to get their ducks in a row. But it’s also because these bills are written by the legal teams of anti-gay lobbying/hate groups like the “Family Research Council” or the “American Family Association.” These lobbyists have close relationships with legislators (who, it should be mentioned, are almost exclusively republican), and in republican-controled states where it looks like they have the votes to get their anti-gay legislation passed, they try to push them through. After the bills pass the state house and senate, the only hope for keeping discrimination from becoming law is a governor’s veto… Which happened in Georgia when Gov. Nathan Deal–in explaining why he was vetoing the bill–appealed to his Christian faith, and talked about how Jesus was always on the side of the outcast. He said, “I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives.” So I suppose it’s not ALL bad news…
There are all kinds of reasons to be against these bills. I could spend hours and hours writing about them… In fact, it’s really hard for me to not go into detail. Here are a few: 1) They are clearly bad for business. Within the business community, this issue is already settled… and the economic pressure these big businesses can put on states is one of the most powerful tools available in standing up to this wave of attempts at anti-gay legislation. 2) They are somehow both anti-American and anti-Christian (which isn’t easy to do). There is no legitimate reading of the Bible where one can imagine Jesus voting for a bill that makes it legal to discriminate against people. Legalized discrimination has absolutely nothing to do with following Jesus. 3) They are a dumb plan of action for conservatives, because they are going to force the federal government to make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes. There will be lawsuits, those lawsuits will make it to the Supreme Court, and the Court will rule (as they’ve done in the past) that states do not have the right to discriminate against a minority group just because the majority of the people there want it to happen. And 4) They are wildly misguided. Instead of focusing on the real reasons for the economic difficulties people are dealing with, this misdirection focuses people’s anger (as it so often does) on those who are different. A phenomenon summed up perfectly by this John Fugelsang quote:
“Mississippi–The poorest state with the highest unemployment, most obesity, second highest homicide rate, worst quality of life, and worst education–just passed a law to protect themselves from gays.”
There are thousands of reasons why these laws are despicable and immoral and stupid, and if I let myself, I could write about them all day… But for the purposes of this post, I’d like to focus on the bill that is heading to the governor’s desk in the state I call my home. The House and the Senate of the state of Tennessee have sent a bill (HB1840) to Governor Haslam that would protect therapists and counselors (both licensed and unlicensed) who refuse service to people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender. The bill just passed in the House by a 68-22 vote, and it passed in the Senate 27-5… Just typing those numbers brings tears to my eyes. I cannot state this strongly enough: If Governor Haslam signs this bill, it is going to kill people. Kids are going to die. How? It will CERTAINLY result in people–young and old–taking their own lives as a result of this hateful and unethical and discriminatory piece of shitty legislation.
Take a moment and imagine being a gay kid… A kid whose family is neither supporting nor affirming… A kid who lives in a rural county where there aren’t a lot of counselors and therapists nearby… A kid who is already 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than other kids… A kid who has experienced nothing but rejection from family and friends alike. And now imagine being SO DESPERATE FOR SOME KIND OF HELP that you seek out that help from a therapist or a counselor… And that person–whose job it is to help you–refers you to another counselor a couple hours away. All because he or she thinks that being gay is “sinful.” Imagine being this kid–rejected by everyone he loves–just to be rejected by the one whose JOB it is to help. THIS LAW IS GOING TO KILL KIDS!
If you are for this legislation, I want you to listen very closely, and I want you to imagine me yelling this in your face: If you are in a helping profession, you do your fucking job, and YOU HELP! PERIOD! You don’t get to exclude people based on your shitty interpretation of the Bible. You don’t. Imagine a firefighter refusing to do her job because the house that is on fire belongs to a Mormon. Imagine a school counselor who doesn’t want to help a Muslim kid because he thinks that most Muslims are terrorists. Imagine a doctor refusing to treat a person with AIDS because she believes that AIDS is a punishment from God for a sinful “lifestyle.” Therapists and counselors do important work. They help. They save people’s lives. If you want a job where you get to discriminate against people based on your sick religious beliefs, go sell swastika stickers on the internet with the rest of the crazies. I’m serious. I’m sorry… I don’t drop F-bombs very often on my blog, but this stuff has got me so, SO mad.
And the crazy thing is that people are attempting to pass off this legalized discrimination under the heading of “Religious Freedom.” Many of the people who wrote this nation’s founding documents were so insistent on laws about religious freedom because they were running FROM the sort of ideology that wants to impose its beliefs on others. But these laws are trying to twist the phrase “Religious Freedom” into a freedom to limit commerce and refuse service to people with differing beliefs. It is the EXACT OPPOSITE of what was intended, and it is dangerous to the very fabric of our democracy and our freedom. Make no mistake: These laws are not steps toward freedom… Not in any way, shape, or form. They are steps toward the Taliban.
So what can you do? What can I do? What can WE DO? You can start by signing THIS PETITION from the Tennessee Equality Project urging Gov. Haslam to veto this disgusting piece of legislation. You can email Governor Bill Haslam, or write him a letter (1st Floor, State Capitol Nashville, TN 37243), or give him a call at (615) 741-2001. Let him know that this is an issue which can either put him on the right side of history, or can relegate him to yet another Southern leader who refused to take a stand for equality. A lot of press has been given to this whole “making the Bible the official state book of Tennessee” thing, but this is just a distraction. As stupid as that is, making the Bible the official state book of Tennessee is not going to get people killed.
We are fighting for people’s lives here. This legalized discrimination and hatred kills people’s souls. We are in a battle, and the battle is fought on two fronts: One Front is trying to change the hearts and minds of a big part of the church who believes that Christianity and homosexuality are mutually exclusive. This sort of thing does not happen overnight–It takes a long time to change a group’s consciousness, but this is an important fight. And it’s one that we need to keep fighting until it’s won, because really there is no reason for people to be against the idea of equal rights for LGBT folks other than “God says it’s wrong.” The Other Front is on the political side of things. We cannot make people who are experiencing discrimination wait out the change in consciousness that is coming before they have the same rights as the rest of us. Luckily, we have a really good system of government. Until the hearts and minds of the people are changed, the government is there to help protect the rights of these people. When a minority group has their rights taken away by the votes of the majority, that is exactly the reason why we have a constitution.
In the meantime, we have an election coming up, and who you vote for matters. We need to vote these backwards-thinking people out of office. YOUR VOTE MATTERS. It matters on a local level, and it matters on a national level. Supreme court justices are going to be chosen, and people’s lives are going to be affected. I know it’s easy to get cynical with our political system. It can feel like everything is rigged, but the people in power WANT us to throw our hands up and say, “What’s the point?” We look at headlines like the ones coming from Mississippi and North Carolina, and we want to give up. Disillusionment with our political system is natural, but removing one’s self from the political process is a characteristic of privilege. People in positions of privilege can afford to give up hope that things can change… But if someone has their boot on your neck, it’s a lot easier to keep trying.
People talk about not wanting to be political… But if you are a person in a minority group who is watching as the majority group makes it legal to discriminate against you, you don’t have the luxury of “not being political.” If legislators in your state are passing laws making it legal to refuse service to people with red hair, you might be tempted to become so despondent with the system that you throw up your hands and say, “Who cares?” Unless, of course, you happen to be a person with red hair. Or, unless you happen to be talking to a person with red hair when you say something that expresses a “Who cares?” sentiment… And then they would probably be like, “I CARE, you ass.” There are people all around us who are being bombarded with these hateful headlines and soul-killing laws every day. And I can guarantee you: THEY CARE. And as Christians… as Americans… as Human Beings…
It’s time we start caring too.
If you care about this blog and you’d like to help support it, you can do that on PayPal or on Patreon. Chris McClarney did, but it’s probably just because I consider him a really good friend, and not because he necessarily agrees with me. He is probably the most gifted worship leader I have ever seen. His music is amazing. You should CHECK IT OUT. You can also follow me on Facebook or on Twitter. Thanks for reading!