By Herb Silverman
“In Indiana, Using Religion as a Cover for Bigotry,” an editorial in the March 31 New York Times, reminded me of a line by Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca as he accepted a bribe: “I’m shocked, shocked to learn that gambling is going on in here.” I’m also reminded of lyrics in “National Brotherhood Week,” Tom Lehrer’s satirical song: “The Protestants hate the Catholics, and the Catholics hate the Protestants, and the Hindus hate the Muslims, and everybody hates the Jews.” Conclusion: Religious bigotry is as old as religion, itself.
Although it might not ring as true as in previous generations, religious hate is protected by freedom of religion. We have the right to hate anyone, but not the right to commit crimes. It’s OK to hate gays, but not to kill them. Perhaps that’s why Bob Jones III, former president of Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist Christian institution in my home state of South Carolina, recently apologized for his 1980 remark that we should follow the biblical injunction of stoning gays to death.
Religious freedom gives us the right to worship as we choose — or not worship at all. Religious leaders are free to preach that I will suffer an eternity in hell because I’m an atheist. Religions may make rules about whether to sanction same sex or mixed race marriages, whether women are permitted to sit next to men in their houses of worship, who to shun for not appropriately following rituals or doctrine, who to admit as members, and who to excommunicate. Members who disagree with church doctrine are free to leave, as millions have done and continue to do.
What role should the government play regarding religious freedom? Government may not favor one religion over another or religion over non-religion. Religious freedom includes the right to be free from people imposing their religious views on the public through discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations.
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