AN INSIDE LOOK - Commentary and opinions on local politics and life in general in Southeastern Massachusetts! Featuring the writings of Bill Gouveia, newspaper columnist for the Sun Chronicle and local cable TV talk show host. Feel free to read, comment and enjoy!
Friday, April 10, 2015
Laws On Religion Not Restoring Anything
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, April 10, 2015
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
When it comes to the legislative
proposals known as "Religious Freedom Restoration Acts" (RFRA's), I
have to confess (no pun intended).I
just don't get it.
might say that is exactly the problem.But
it seems to me these laws aren't restoring anything.Instead, they seek to elevate religion to a
status never envisioned by our founding fathers, who helped create something
referred to as Separation of Church and State.
someone passed a law while I wasn't looking, America has no official national
religion.That was a big no-no back in
the 18th century when people like John Adams and George Washington led a
revolution inspired in part by the desire to throw off the yoke of religious
you hear the term "Christian Nation" tossed around all the time by
politicians and leaders of that faith to describe the United States.But it is usually to advance their own agendas
and organizations, reflect what they want in the country, and carries no
the question is:If we have always had
the right to practice the religion of our choosing, why do we need to restore
something we never lost?
legislators who pass these laws usually give answers centering around the
alleged over-emphasis of individual rights versus the collective rights of
society in general.But that seems to be
more of a concession to the increasingly conservative make-up of state
legislatures early in this new century (not to mention their success at
gerrymandering new conservative congressional districts).
if you look closely at this "religious freedom" movement, the real
purpose of it becomes abundantly clear.These laws aren't about giving people the right to practice their own
beliefs as they choose.Rather, they are
about justifying attempts to force others to conform to their moral and
religious standards.They achieve this
by disguising laws as attempts to defend themselves against attacks that simply
do not exist.
example of this is the attitude of some organizations that supported the
original version of the Indiana RFRA.They were pleased because that now-changed
statute had laid the groundwork for them to be able to discriminate against gay
people.While that was not the intent of
all supporters, it was certainly the objective of many.Just looking at the people present for the
original signing makes that clear.
what does it mean to be allowed to freely practice your religion?Certainly it involves the right to believe in
what you please.Be it God, Allah, or
some other supreme being - religious freedom means just that, right?
if that is true, why is it some religions seem more intent on creating laws
allowing them to feel superior?
is an essential part of any organization, religious or otherwise.If you have no members, you cannot serve your
cause.So getting people to join and
share your beliefs is critical to any religion.
we cannot conform to all standards.You
cannot have both freedom of religion and conformity.When my beliefs directly conflict with yours,
there are going to be issues.Some of
those issues are going to involve the rules and laws of our society.
have the right to believe in religions that declare some lawful activities to
be morally unacceptable.Emotional
topics such as gay marriage, contraception, and abortion have clearly
highlighted that thorny problem.Fighting for those beliefs in the legislative arena is both fair and
necessary for all sides.
But we don't get to use our beliefs as a
reason to violate or subvert laws.Religion should be about ending discrimination, not creating it.There is an old saying often attributed to
Abraham Lincoln, claiming "My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins".It seems to apply these laws.
has the right to try and change the world in ways they believe are for the
better, both individually and collectively.And religion often plays a major role in that.
there is a difference between being free to believe in something, and
legislating the right to do so at the expense of those who disagree.
need changes, not laws that simply restate the obvious.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and
longtime local official.He can be
emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.