by John Bossange
It seems like every day we hear a politician from the Republican Party talking about the loss of religious freedom. I have yet to feel like anyone is taking away my constitutional right to practice what I wish, where I wish, and when I wish. In return I have no desire to take away another’s freedom of religion to practice the same.
So why has the call for religious freedom become so popular within the Republican Party? Does the Party feel as though Americans like me have lost their right to worship freely and have been denied this sacred American right, enshrined in the first amendment of our Constitution?
Like many Vermonters, I have friends who attend a place of worship regularly, while others seek and find their spiritual guidance and support in others ways, at different times and in different locations. That’s been my definition of religious freedom: The freedom to practice as we wish, and that’s one of the many attributes that make America a great nation.
But that’s not how the value of religious freedom is being used today. More and more Republican Party leaders are using the idea of religious freedom as a weapon against other American’s right to religious freedom. It’s now about using the word freedom to prevent others from exercising their personal religious beliefs. In short, they are using freedom to deny and discriminate wherever their religious beliefs take them.
Case in point: Reproductive and abortion rights. Although already decided by the Supreme Court, for many Americans bringing an unwanted child into this world remains a much greater sin than aborting a zygote, embryo or an early stage fetus. Theirs is a strong, personal, religious and moral belief that an unwanted child will more than likely lead to a life of social, emotional and economic stress, living in poverty through a series of foster homes, adoptions and continuous identity trauma. For many deeply religious people, the guilt of having brought that child into this world will last a lifetime.
The Republican Party is also energetically engaged in an ongoing use of religious freedom as a weapon to promote its own version of “cancel culture.” School textbooks, public library reading materials, the study of history, movies and songs, and even the entertainment industry have come under attack. The freedom to discriminate based on race, nationality, gender, gender orientation, and gender identity, and now to prevent contraceptive coverage, marriage equality, health care access, workers rights, racial justice, and LGBQT+ equality have also been attacked and in some cases, cancelled under the cover of “woke” and religious freedom.
Week after week, we read about state legislatures passing laws restricting the lives of individuals and programs based on a collection of lawmakers’ religious beliefs. Weaponizing religious freedom by using their own personal beliefs and practices to deny others their personal beliefs and practices is viewed as a blessed freedom and religious right to do so. Governor DeSantos of Florida signing the “Woke Act” legislation and Governor Abbot of Texas signing H397 prohibiting any discussion of CRT in schools are two glaring examples of cancel culture weaponized by these governor’s religious freedom values.
When House Speaker McCarthy gave a speech on the House floor defending religious freedom he said, “As members of Congress, we made a commitment to uphold the freedom of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness equally for everyone. To represent those values for all Americans, Congress must respect the rights of conscience, not disregard them.” Whose religious freedom and rights was he referring to?
From the earliest days of our nation, religious freedom was weaponized to support white supremacy, slavery and segregation. As a nation we have struggled to move beyond religious-based discrimination of immigrants from the past, the new Americans of today, those who practice another religion, and others who have been viewed in marginalized communities and defined as “un-American.”
The Republican Party’s failure to understand that one’s freedom stops where another’s freedom begins is taking America down a painful path of divisiveness, intolerance and occasional violence. In today’s America, this is a party that no longer serves the best interests of our Constitution, the spirit of our democracy, and the values that made America a nation for all.
The author is a retired middle school principal and resident of South Burlington.