I encountered a blog which raised an interesting point on the way the media is framing the concerns over religion and the demands to recognize same sex “marriage.” It’s an article worth reading, because it points out the propaganda used in this debate. While I doubt I will do as well as they have, I’ll do my best to offer my own thoughts on this, hoping that it serves a purpose as well.
The basic media argument is that the dispute is between “gay rights” and religious freedom.” It is asserted that rights must take precedence over freedoms. Therefore the religious freedoms have to accept the rights of others. You can replace “gay rights” with “reproductive rights” and it’s the same argument. Those people who believe their religion requires them to stand up and oppose something as morally wrong are portrayed as wanting special privileges and are opposed to equal rights for all. When argued in this way, it becomes easy to make a person think they must support the “rights” over the “beliefs,” even if they don’t like that particular “right."
The problem is, this is a “have you stopped beating your wife?” proposition (a complex question fallacy). The classification of rights and freedoms are done by those who are predisposed to a certain outcome, and people are falling for it. We have courts who are labeling a preferred position as a “right” and the opposing position as a “freedom” or an “opinion.” So if the media puts the issue in the concept of rights vs. freedoms or opinions, the Christian is going to come across looking cold hearted or bigoted.
What people who frame the issue this way forget is that religious freedom is an actual (as opposed to made up right—the right to conduct our lives as we believe we are morally obligated to live. That’s not the same thing as living our lives as we like to live. I may like the idea of not having laws about theft affect me when I’m short of cash, but that’s not a right. However, not being forced to do something I think is morally evil, that is a right—a right that people have gone to prison over rather than do what they think is morally wrong.
The problem is, people tend to misunderstand the concept of what freedom of religion is—it’s one of a list of things the government cannot interfere with, according to the 1st Amendment:
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 First section of the 14th Amendment makes clear that the states cannot interfere with rights either (so you can’t argue that this only applies to Congress). So, in effect, the governments (national, state or local) cannot force a person to do what their religion teaches is evil, cannot silence them from speaking out on what they believe is wrong, publish openly on what they think is wrong, cannot prevent them from peaceably assembling to oppose things they believe to be morally wrong and to petition the government for redress. This isn’t a potpourri of various rights that lumps unrelated things together. It’s recognizing that people cannot be compelled by the state to participate in what they believe is evil, nor silence them from opposing injustice.
By seeking to portray religion as a “mere” freedom, the tactic allows people to deny a real Constitutional Right in favor of an invented one (“right to same sex marriage,” or the “right to reproductive freedom”). By that token, the freedom of speech is merely a freedom, as is the freedom of the press. If the government can set aside religious belief on the grounds that it is merely a “freedom,” then the government can set aside the freedom of speech as well.
So, recognizing this tactic, we need to stop letting people get away with using it. When the person tries to contrast their “rights” against our “freedoms” or “opinions,” we need to remind them that this is a false contrast and our concerns are protected by rights. While that may not convince the courts or legislative bodies or the Presidency, it will at least force people to recognize that the government is violating rights. Regardless of their opinions that get turned into law, we must stand up for what we believe God wants us to do, seeking to help others understand why this applies to all.
(Edited 1/31/15 to clarify a line which sounded like I thought these modern inventions were rights. Sorry for the vagueness)