On Monday, the Boy Scouts of America ended its ban on gay leaders by a vote of 45-12, marking a huge step forward for equality among the traditionally religious organization, but as some have been quick to point out, the fine print attached to BSA's online statement made it clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation isn't over. In many of its troops, particularly its religiously chartered groups, "use [of] religious beliefs as criteria for selecting adult leaders, including matters of sexuality" will be permitted to continue. "This change also respects the right of religious chartered organizations to choose adult volunteer leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own," the statement adds. In the end, this disappointing loophole continues to allow discrimination through the Boy Scouts' religious freedom, ultimately undermining its gay leader policy.
Conservatives have taken religious freedom and adapted it to allow for legal discrimination. "Religious freedom" sounds appealing, even righteous: People should be allowed to practice their own religions without facing persecution and include their religious practices in their day-to-day without being harassed. Through some convoluted school of thought, however, staunchly anti-gay conservatives have managed to cast anti-gay advocates across the country as the victims, and the LGBTQ community as the persecutors.
A religious freedom bill emerging from Indiana in April sparked controversy but legally amounted to little. Still, the phrase and the concept have gained considerable momentum among conservatives, and as BSA's policy demonstrates, the idea has the power to latch onto our culture.
When people think of religious freedom, the Holocaust and the persecution Jews experienced often comes to mind. So, too, should Queen Mary "Bloody Mary" Tudor of England and the hundreds of Protestants martyred under her reign. These are only two examples of the religious extremism and persecution that have been rampant across all cultures — some more than others — throughout history. There was a time in 16th-century England when the right to own a Bible in a language other than Latin was considered radical. However, as religious freedom continued to be championed and people continued to sacrifice their lives for the concept, western governments increasingly limited or got rid of legislation that imposed Christian values.
But religious freedom assumes an entirely new face when paraded by conservatives. Their fight for religious freedom is ironic to say the least, considering their staunch anti-choice and anti-gay marriage stances. They demand the government dictate people's lives based off of zealous interpretations of religion that, in reality, most Americans aren't part of. A quarter of the country doesn't identify with any religion, according to the Pew Research Center.
Religious freedom should be simple: Americans shouldn't be told what to do with their bodies or who they can and can't marry based on the religious values of others. People who don't live their lifestyles according to basic Christian principles shouldn't have less or different rights than people who do. Frankly, the term makes a lot more sense favoring the pro-choice movement and LGBT rights. Controversy only surrounds the term because it's been hijacked by conservatives and religious extremists to justify their inappropriate treatment of others.
Allowing gay people to get married isn't infringing on conservative Americans' right to their own opinions and values. Everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and feelings, but when they affect how you treat others, that's simply discrimination. If we use "religious freedom" to justify that, then frankly, we could use it to justify anything.
Let's not forget that in the '50s and '60s, religious values were cited frequently as arguments in favor of segregation. Just as the pro-states' rights platform was used to encourage segregationists not too long ago, it seems the religious right will continue to pull its "religious freedom" card to justify discrimination. At this point, that's simply to be expected in our increasingly polarized American political system, but it's just sad to see this conservative instrument for anti-gay discrimination now present in the Boy Scouts. It's even sadder when you consider how fully ending discrimination could have opened the minds and improved the characters of so many young boys.
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