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Idea of the Day: ‘Religious Liberty’ Should Not and Cannot Hide Discrimination

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Earlier this week lawmakers in nine state legislatures launched “religious freedom” caucuses aimed at helping “legislators set state-specific agendas for strengthening religious liberties.”

Religious liberty should be protected. It should be safeguarded. And it should be valued. But if this past year is any indication of what these caucuses’ real policy goals are, their efforts will not be about protecting, safeguarding, and valuing religious liberty. Instead, they will be about promoting an agenda that rolls back women’s health and rights and curtails equality for gay Americans, all behind the guise of “religious liberty.”

Two organizations in particular—the Family Research Council and the Liberty Institute—have been at the forefront of promoting this agenda. In a report released earlier this summer, titled “The Survey of Religious Hostility in America,” these organizations highlight hundreds of examples of what they consider to be threats to religious freedom in the United States today.

But many of these cases are not at all about religious freedom. They are instead about people trying to use religion to discriminate against gay individuals, even when doing so is illegal under state law—unfortunately it is not illegal in a majority of states or under federal law—and has nothing to do with the actual practice of religion. Just because a restaurant owner is religiously opposed to same-sex relationships, for example, does not give that owner a legal right to deny a lesbian couple service in his or her establishment.

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This is part of a regular column: Idea of the Day

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