Monday, July 6, 2015

Religion Is No Excuse For Bigotry And Hate

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, July 6, 2015

Posted: Sunday, July 5, 2015 11:03 pm | Updated: 11:10 pm, Sun Jul 5, 2015.
In the aftermath of the recent Supreme Court decision establishing marriage equality, I am like a lot of people. I am angry.
But I am angry that discrimination has become a catchphrase. I am angry some people use religion as an excuse for bigotry and selfishness. I am angry that the self-centered among us use their faith as a weapon to hurt others.
I am not an overly religious person, but I respect those who are. I admire their ability to commit to something, to dedicate themselves to principles based upon belief in a spiritual being.
But when you practice hate in the name of love, you lose my respect. When you try and lift yourself up by attempting to keep those around you down, you honor nothing and no one. And when you think your rights include denying equality to those who believe differently than you - well, you are just wrong.
I am so sick of the tired old refrain coming from those who claim gay people somehow offend them. Oh wait, it's not the people who offend them. I keep forgetting that. It's the lives those confused folks choose to lead that are disgusting, not the poor misguided souls themselves.
It's that "love the sinner, hate the sin" philosophy.
But the difficulty of equality is that it is so - well, equal. And while that's great for the party that has been denied for so long, it can be a bit of shock for those who have previously enjoyed keeping the right in question for themselves. Sometimes they feel like something has been taken away from them.
That in part explains why there has been so much talk lately about an alleged "War on Religion" or "War on Christianity." Those making this claim say people with strong religious beliefs are being persecuted for no reason other than their faith. They insist something has been taken away from them with this recent Supreme Court decision.
As proof, they point to situations where bakers or florists have been criticized and in some cases prosecuted for refusing to provide services for the weddings of gay couples. These businesspeople say their devout faith and religious convictions prevent them from doing so.
What they seem to forget - or choose to ignore - is that there is no religion when it comes to the law or the basic rights provided in our constitution.
There is a distinct separation of Church and State in this country. Their right to practice the religion of their choice is implicit in those very rights.
But the baker who refuses a cake to someone based upon nothing but their sexuality is breaking the law. The florist who refuses to do arrangements for no reason other than the sexual orientation of the couple marrying is violating discrimination statutes. That has nothing to do with the personal religious affiliation or beliefs of the offenders. It brings back memories of the days of segregation.
Was religion ever designed to be an excuse for discrimination? Well, there is ample evidence to support that theory. More wars have been fought over religion than any other reason or cause. That can be seen as a testament to the power of faith, or as one of its unfortunate side effects.
Interracial marriage was once considered a threat to both traditional marriage and religion. But our society eventually saw the stupidity and prejudice in that stance, and it slowly was corrected. And somehow, both marriage and religion survived.
This instance is no different. America often makes mistakes, but we seem to eventually correct them. We are a better country today than we were just a few weeks ago.
I strongly defend the right of everyone to practice the religion of their choice. I believe faith is important. I would never support any decision or legislation that says otherwise.
But this "War on Religion" stuff is sad, pathetic and wrong.
It makes me so angry to hear supposedly responsible politicians and leaders urging people to ignore our Supreme Court and their interpretation of our Constitution. They are an embarrassment and a disgrace.
Religion is and should be a good thing. But it should never be used as an excuse for ignorance, hatred and the denial of equal rights.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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