The Religious Right has hijacked the concept of religious freedom, changing it from a noble principle intended to protect minorities into a weapon by which the majority oppresses others, a Baptist minister said recently.
In an April opinion piece for Baptist News Global, the Rev. Corey Fields, associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., wrote that “religious freedom” was once used to help individuals and groups get legal protections. Now, however, it has become an excuse to ignore laws.
Fields went on to explain that even a measure intended to protect religious liberty, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a 1993 federal law intended to shield minorities from government overreach, has been corrupted.
“In 2014, under the guise of ‘religious freedom,’ and stemming from a medically dubious claim about abortifacients, Hobby Lobby won the right to micromanage what kinds of contraception their female employees can obtain with their employer sponsored insurance,” Fields wrote.
Fields also touched on the misuses of RFRA at the state level, including Indiana’s failed attempt to use “religious freedom” as a way to restrict the rights of LGBT persons.
“In the last few years, a number of local cases involving Christian bakers, photographers and florists refusing to serve gay couples gained national attention,” he wrote. “Lo and behold, new state religious freedom bills were introduced in state legislatures shortly thereafter.”
Fields went on to criticize business owners who think their religious beliefs should be a justification for discrimination.
“Being required to conduct your business fairly and within commerce regulations does not constitute the loss of freedom or religious persecution,” Fields wrote.
Although the Religious Right has hijacked the idea of “religious persecution,” Fields said many Americans do suffer genuine threats to their beliefs. Many American Christians, however, do not know what real persecution looks like because they have a tendency to “confuse criticism with persecution.”
The problem of phony persecution claims, Fields said, will likely disappear if fundamentalists in the United States adopt the advice of Americans United ally Brent Walker, head of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
“Try loving your LGBT neighbors unconditionally and understand that providing them goods and services in the marketplace is an act of Christian hospitality, not an indication of approval of their nuptial decisions,” Walker said.
Fields also encouraged Christian business owners to act with grace. He noted that Jesus said to his followers, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles (Matt. 5:41).”
Fields explained: “This teaching was delivered within the context of first-century Palestine under Roman occupation in which impressment was common; i.e., a Roman soldier conscripting someone to carry his equipment. I can imagine such acts made the Jewish people feel complicit in Rome’s oppression, yet Jesus told them to go the extra mile.”