HRC Blog

‘Religious Freedom’ Cannot Give License for Discrimination

Post submitted by John A. Linder, Senior Rabbi at Temple Solel, Paradise Valley, Arizona.

Let’s give credit, where credit is due. Thank you, Governor Brewer, for validating with your veto that “religious freedom” can never give license to threaten the rights or well-being of others.

It’s bewildering to me how a person of faith (or no faith) can intentionally act in a way that diminishes another. Yet Arizona’s recent debacle with SB 1062 bears witness to such a religious view.  Hand in hand with the Human Rights Campaign, I was invited to participate in drafting a letter and reaching out to my rabbinic and interfaith colleagues to sign on, urging Governor Brewer’s veto.

As people of faith, we stand on a common foundation of sacred texts. Yet the foundation quickly crumbles when one interpretation of God’s word is imposed upon another’s very different interpretation. Judaism recognizes this inherent tension.  The Talmud records a public debate over a piece of controversial legislation. One side made an argument, claiming God was on his side.  The other side refused to accept the trump card of divinity being imposed in the public square. The God-wielding rabbi pulls off some impressive, nature-defying acts. Yet, the rabbis on the other side, brilliantly drawing on words of bible, insisted that the decision is not to be drawn from heaven, but from the reason of human beings. In an astonishing theological twist, God yields to the reasoned arguments of human beings in the earthly, public square, conceding, “You have defeated me, my sons.”

The civil rights history of our country bears witness to such examples of wielding God in the public square. Pro-segregationists asserted their unbending position, claiming that, “Almighty God…did not intend for races to mix.” Religion was invoked as justification for compensating women less than men, based on the word of God. Thankfully, time and time again, even if the pace of justice moves too slowly, the principle of nondiscrimination trumps religious freedom concerns in the American justice system.

Of course, the current civil rights battleground is LGBT rights. Because the tide has turned at the federal and state level, in large part due to HRC’s heavy lifting for decades, those threatened by equal rights for all our citizens are resorting to tactics like SB 1062. The silver lining in all of this is the incredible constellation of community, business and faith leaders that have come together, buoyed by the chorus of citizens across Arizona and America, responding in one, clear voice: We honor and respect the divine spark in every human being! The statewide and national firestorm created by SB 1062 is a signal to those who seek to oppress in the name of God. We dare not let religion be hijacked.

As a rabbi, only too aware of my own peoples’ history, it evokes fear in our community when the government contorts “religious freedom” into political cover for the discrimination of others. The Constitution protects an individual’s right to worship and to hold diverse beliefs, but never gives license to threaten the rights, welfare or well being of others.

Let us recognize that political victories are the reflection of hard, in the trenches organizing. Soon SB 1062 will be out of the national spotlight. I have faith that the legacy of this bill will reflect a strengthened coalition of organizations and common citizens, with HRC leading the way, who are committed to building a state and country that loves our neighbors as ourselves.

Rabbi Ilana Mills and Rabbi John Linder

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