Religion: The Gatekeeper and Denier of Human Rights?

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The past few weeks have left me nonplussed regarding basic human rights and those decrying “infringement of their religious liberties.” It is difficult for me not to see organized religion as the common denominator of discord in the form of misogyny, homophobia, racism, and even further marginalizing those living in poverty.
Currently, President Obama is working on an executive order with the goal to be diverse and inclusive: federal contractors must not discriminate against LGBTQ people. Am I the only one who feels that this seems like basic common sense and good leadership? I thought our world leaders were charged with the task of expanding human rights and advocating for targeted populations. Sadly, “religious leaders” such as Rick Warren and Catholic Charities insist that this effort of equity infringes on their religious liberties. Need we remind Catholics of what religious infringement might look like, a la The Crusades and The Inquisition? You remember The Inquisition – those madcap Catholics just providing “tough love for heretics,” Jews, Muslims, and anyone not willing to convert to Catholicism.
In the wake of the foul Supreme Court decision Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which seemed like a decision made on behalf of the Catholic Pope, I am in a state of worry about how thoroughly religion dictates human rights and which religion(s) shares disproportionate power.
My understanding is that the executive order (which is not in a final draft) will not force heterosexuals to have sex with or marry people of the same sex. It will instead allow LGBTQ people a source of income – to be granted employment. Denying people employment and a way to sustain themselves and their families seems to run contrary to how I understand the purpose of religion. It leaves me asking: “who does your God hate.” Is God about hate? If we continue to travel down a road of “religious infringement” based on people who are different, how does this help to create a peaceful community of people? How does this help humans share a planet and create space for differences?
When I hear the voices of Rick Warren and others of his ilk, I must confess, I hold a great deal of fear that harkens back to WWII, when the world created mythical science to say that Jews were biologically different than other human beings. I also think about Paragraph 175 and about millions of Jews, Gays, and others who were tortured, imprisoned, and killed.

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The efforts by Warren and Catholic Charities are particularly cynical when looked at in the larger context of American opinion and established law. Well over 50% of all U.S. citizens believe that it should be illegal to deny employment based on sexual orientation. Sadly, recent polls show that over 2/3 of the populace believe it is already illegal. That’s simply not true.
Fewer than half the states provide any employment protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Federal government provides almost no such protection. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been floating around Congress for two decades but has stalled out in every session. The current version, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), passed strongly in the Senate with bipartisan support. The House won’t even look at it.
In the face of Congressional inaction, the President is doing what he can to enact policies that are not only widely supported, but also fair, just, and equitable. Warren and his cronies are turning religious liberty on its head, invoking a right to oppress that has never existed in law. Sadly, with the ripples from Hobby Lobby just beginning to be felt, it looks like that “right” may become part of our legal wrangling as a nation for decades to come.
Finally, I think about tikkun olam, a philosophy I try to live by and take quite seriously. If we are truly engaged in repairing the world, how are we reflecting on our own actions? I hope all people look at and ask how are each of us in our own way able to contribute to repairing the world – how do we collectively and individually create a more equitable and just planet to share?
Michael Hulshof-Schmidt teaches at the Portland State University School of Social Work. He is also the Executive Director of EqualityWorks, NW, a company that provides workshops on racial equity and how to stand in solidarity with targeted populations. Follow this link to read more of his work.

If you would like to be a part of stopping this latest attempt to use religion as a means of discrimination, you can sign this petition and show the White House just how many people are outraged that faith is being exploited to justify anti-gay discrimination.