Republicans have turned God upside down with their so-called "religious liberty"

Republicans pulled an intellectual switcharoo with the concept of religious freedom

Published May 8, 2016 7:30PM (EDT)

Mike Pence               (AP/Darron Cummings)
Mike Pence (AP/Darron Cummings)

God understands the concept of religious freedom.

Republicans, on the other hand, just don’t get it.

The Republican Party is seeking to enact laws all across the country permitting businesses to refuse to serve LGBT people. Approximately 200 discriminatory bills have been proposed in nearly three-dozen state legislatures.

And if you happen to work for a company with pious owners, you may be out of luck. Companies owned by religious families have denied birth control coverage to women employees under the company health insurance plans.

This is all being done in the name of “religious liberty.”

Republicans argue that Christian florists who are opposed to gay marriage should be able to deny service to gay couples seeking to obtain flowers for their wedding. Otherwise, devout florists would be forced to violate their own religious beliefs by condoning gay marriage merely by providing the flowers.

Similarly, Republicans argue that Christian owners of companies should be able to refuse to provide birth control coverage to their female employees, otherwise, these holy owners would be forced to violate their own religious beliefs by facilitating birth control merely by providing a company health insurance plan.

This is all utterly absurd. These Republicans have taken the concept of “religious liberty” and turned it on its head.

The “liberty” part in “religious liberty” is not intended to empower the believers of a dominant religion, such as, say, Christianity, to give them the “liberty” to impose their beliefs upon everyone else. No. This is a perversion of the term “religious liberty.”

Instead, the “liberty” part is intended to protect minority NON-believers to ensure that they have the liberty to maintain their own independent beliefs without suffering any disadvantages imposed upon them by the dominant believers.

So when Republicans start talking about “religious liberty,” just keep your wits about you so you don’t get turned around and fall prey to the old intellectual switcharoo.

One case in point is Indiana Gov.  Mike Pence. Donald Trump recently met with the governor and called him “terrific,” and Pence has now endorsed Donald Trump for president. Pence signed a discriminatory religious liberty law in Indiana that unleashed an avalanche of national scorn that forced him to change the law only a week later.

Another example is North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed a religious freedom law banningn cities from being able to enact local non-discrimination ordinances against LGBT people. This caused another public outcry, including demonstrations, boycotts, and rock stars canceling their concerts in protest, including Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr and Pearl Jam. It even resulted in the U.S. Justice Department declaring the law illegal and demanding that North Carolina repeal the law. But the North Carolina Republicans do not care. They remain obstinate and continue to defy the request from the Justice Department.

Many prominent Republicans have voiced support for these laws, including Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and the entire Republican National Committee.

To keep your wits about you, just keep in mind our nation’s history because our country was founded upon the accurate version of “religious liberty.” Just think of the Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower ship in 1620 from Plymouth, England across the Atlantic Ocean and landed at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts. These were the folks who put on the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621 and began the festive tradition that we enjoy to this day.

Religious liberty was the reason the Pilgrims left England for America. They were “separatists” in that their religion did not conform with the official Church of England, and they suffered persecution and discrimination as a result of their religious beliefs. So they came to America where they could be free to practice their own religion without enduring prejudice.

Religious liberty, in fact, was the reason that many people came to America. Pennsylvania and Rhode Island were safe havens for persecuted Quakers. Maryland was a refuge for Catholics. The early American colonies welcomed all sorts, including Dutch Calvinists, English Puritans, English Catholics, Scottish Presbyterians, French Huguenots, German and Swedish Lutherans, as well as Mennonites, Jews, and Amish from various European countries.

Religious liberty was crucial to our towering founding father, Thomas Jefferson. He was adamant about maintaining a strong separation between church and state to prevent government from favoring any particular religion so that every citizen would feel equally welcome in society regardless of their religious beliefs. This principle is now enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution.

Today, the United States has grown to become the most religiously diverse nation in the world with more than 2,000 distinct religious groups.

But the Republican Party is seeking to take us backward with these laws that favor the dominant Christian religion and impose hardships upon people who happen to have different beliefs. This directly violates our nation’s fundamental principle of freedom of religion.

Republicans say that Christianity is under attack and needs to be protected. This is utter nonsense. A recent ABC News poll found that 83% of Americans identify as Christians. If anyone needs protection it would not be the 83% majority.

And Christians are hardly under attack here. No one is taking away their rights. No one is seeking to force them to be gay themselves, or to force birth control upon them. No. They are perfectly free to hold their own religious beliefs and live their lives accordingly.

For religious liberty to work, of course, it must be a two-way street and apply to everyone equally. If Christians are permitted to freely hold their beliefs, then Christians must reciprocate and allow non-Christians to freely hold their own beliefs.

If someone believes that being gay is fine under their own religion, then let them hold these beliefs. If someone else believes that birth control is fine under their own religion, let them hold these beliefs as well. There is no justification for discriminating against people who happen to hold differing beliefs by not serving them as customers.

Allowing businesses to refuse to serve customers based upon religious beliefs is a horrendous pathway to slide down and we must resist this as a society.

Denying service to people would lead to all sorts of division, antagonism, and conflict throughout our entire society. If various people were not welcome at various businesses, not only would this divide people physically, but it would cause people to resent each other and it would breed an environment of hostility. Shockingly, this would take us back to the dark days of discrimination when black people could not sit at lunch counters in diners or ride in the front of buses. This would be disastrous.

A healthy society does not seek to turn people against each other, but instead seeks to promote harmony and cooperation among its population.

But perhaps the most obvious reason against this course of conduct comes down to simple common sense. Just imagine how this would play out in practice.

People would not know whether to enter a store or a restaurant because they would not know whether they might be denied service based upon their religious beliefs. Maybe businesses should post helpful signs. “No Jews allowed.” “No gays allowed.”

And when a customer walks into a store or a restaurant, how would the employees know what beliefs they hold? Hm. Well, of course they’ll need to find out before they can serve these people. God forbid a non-believer should be served a slice of pizza. But how? Hm.

Well, we’ll need a law that permits businesses to interrogate customers, and another law that requires customers to answer all the questions truthfully.

Good afternoon Mr. & Mrs. Customer. Are you gay? Oh thank goodness. But, do you believe in God? Which God? Did you attend church this past Sunday? Have either of you ever committed adultery? When you have sexual intercourse with each other, do you use birth control? Madam, have you ever had an abortion? Do you as a couple engage in any sexual activity that would be regarded as deviant?

Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t serve your kind.

By Cody Cain

Cody Cain is the author of the new book, "Mend or Spend: How to Force Rich People to Solve Economic Inequality," available here. Follow Cody on Twitter @codycainland.