Unless you have been living under a rock this past week (and sometimes I wish I was), you know that the hot political topic has been a chicken restaurant and same-sex marriage. Or, depending on how you skew, the topic was religious liberty and the freedom of speech versus gay marriage.
I wrote an article on the subject for Meridian Magazine. I posted a link to it on Facebook. I requested a polite dialogue. I was not surprised when insults of bigotry and hate popped up. If there is one thing we are incapable of in this country it is polite discourse on any political issue. And if there is anything we love to ironically debate, it is who has the right to exercise free speech.
One issue that was repeatedly brought up in response to the religious liberty debate was a protested mosque in New York City. (Sidenote: this was an issue thrown in the face of anyone who defended Chick-fil-A in terms of right to free speech and religious liberty. I'm not saying there weren't plenty of other issues. I just want to address this one momentarily.) I cannot speak for all who defended religious liberty this week, nor do I pretend to. But I do want to take a moment to share my own thoughts on the subject.
I support all religions. I might even support orthodox religions a little bit more, just for being willing to not bend to popular sentiments. I have no problem with a mosque being built anywhere. I want to see them in more prominent locations- out front, more obvious, less hidden. To use a very Christian phrase, "Don't hide your light under a bushel." Mosques should not have to be built away from busy areas because people are uncomfortable with them. Build them where they can be seen and better frequented by their members. I support all religions.
But the mosque in NYC was a different story. They wanted to build it too close to the grounds of 9/11. I have no problems with a mosque. But it is (was) too soon and too close to 9/11. It essentially was just in bad taste.
I appreciate that not all Muslims supported the al-Qaeda attacks, and should not be punished as such. But I do not believe there has been enough healing yet for complete understanding and acceptance. The mosque is welcome, but it would be nice if the individuals wishing to build it would be more sensitive to location.
Religious liberty may be one of the most misunderstood freedoms Americans enjoy. Individuals who are not religious often see other people's religious beliefs as a threat. As someone who grew up in a very misunderstood religion, it has taken me many years to understand how we are viewed. I know [far too] many religious people who carry a chip on their shoulder that they are always so misunderstood. This often comes with a "we're right, they're wrong, they know it, so they dislike us even more" mentality. The biggest problem with this way of thinking is not a lack of Christian love or compassion, but a healthy dose of self-awareness and the ability to see things from another's point of view.
Amendment I of the United States Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
It is no accident that the freedom of speech and the freedom to exercise religion are intertwined in the Constitution. They are, in fact, inseparable, as is the right to peacefully assemble. No one can tell us what we can or cannot talk about when we gather as groups. In this light, there is little difference between the freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
I personally am not opposed to same-sex marriage. I have no problem with "gay rights," as we call them. I do not believe we should discriminate against anyone for any reason.
But I supported the Chick-fil-A appreciation day because I fear the loss of religious liberty.
Allow me to explain.
That same right to speak freely and have an opinion is so intertwined with religious freedom, that to begin to suffocate, or discriminate against, the right to exercise religion, will quickly impede on the right to free speech. To legislate, rule, or otherwise declare, what can or can't be done by a church, is no different than any other group or individuals in this country.
It may be hard for some to see at first, but the more you value freedom of speech (which does tend to be the more liberal base), the more you must protect the freedom of religion (the more conservative base). One is needed to preserve the other, and vice versa.
The right and/or ability to say what you want without threat of prosecution is the same as the right and/or ability to worship or gather as you please without threat of prosecution. In my humble opinion, those who do not see the difference believe and/or are threatened by the idea that religious people force their beliefs on others.
And that is what brings us back to the persecution of the "religious right" by the backers of free speech in this country.
It is not popular to voice a conservative opinion. The CEO of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy's defense of traditional marriage and Christian faith have earned a backlash of hate and criticism from different communities. Cities including Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC, and Philadephia, and the elected leadership at the helm of those cities, have made it clear they will prevent Mr. Cathy's restaurants from opening new outlets in their boundaries.
Stop and turn that around. If a conservative elected leader announced that he would do everything possible to block a Ben and Jerry's from building an establishment in his city because they support gay marriage, what would happen?
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said, “Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago values. They're not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members. And if you're gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values.”
I have to ask the question, I believe the situation begs for it. How long until cities start protesting churches from purchasing land and putting up new buildings because the church has conservative values or does not permit same-sex marriages? How long until Mayor Emmanuel decides that religious values are not Chicago values and proceeds to block churches from building? How much longer until it is required of churches to grant same-sex marriages, or be penalized or blocked from operating?
Teachers, parents, and professors have reminded generations of neophytes that you may have the right to say something, but that does not mean anyone has to like it. Defenders of gay marriage need to be reminded that we all have the right to express ourselves. If the good people of Chicago (and Boston, Philadelphia, and others) agree with their mayor(s) that they do not want Chick-fil-A in their neighborhoods because the fast-food chain does not share its values (may I remind everyone how often “blue” establishments are run out of towns for the same exact reasons, and it is a protected right under “redress of grievances”), that is their right. But the government (mayor) itself does not have the right to stop anyone, be it a church, or a chicken sandwich retailer, based on political or religious differences. The people have the right to an opinion and to speak it. The government does not have the right to decide what opinions the people may have.
Defenders of traditional marriage, and those who liberally defend same-sex rights under the First Amendment must find a way to respect each other's beliefs. To tear each other down by exercising the same right they are protesting, they will find themselves all without the rights that they need.