Carroll County Times

Tom Zirpoli: No religious freedom to discriminate

Recent efforts in Arizona and other states to provide legal cover for those who want to discriminate against gays on the basis of religious freedom are an interesting twist on the concept of religious freedom.

Brian Beutler, political writer for Salon, recently wrote a column on the abuse of the religious freedom claim by conservatives to discriminate against women and gays in both private and public workplaces. Conservatives, said Beutler, first tried to use religion as a weapon against the Affordable Care Act because the ACA protected the rights of women to have contraceptives as an option in their health insurance plans.

These efforts have largely failed, Beutler said, because of intervention by the courts and "because it ended up inviting a bunch of retrograde public pronouncements from conservatives about birth control and reproductive rights that ultimately dwarfed whatever political advantage Republicans hoped to gain by positioning themselves as tribunes for the religiously devout."

When some conservatives tried to transfer their religious freedom mantra to their war against gays and gay marriage in Arizona, however, they hit a wall of resistance. Interestingly and thankfully, much of the push-back they received was from fellow conservatives and moderate Republicans. It appears that some conservatives, Beutler wrote, "seem to understand that religious liberty isn't an all-purpose exemption from every law and norm conservatives don't like, and can't succeed politically as such. The threat to religious liberty can't be tenuous or imagined."

No, and religious freedom can't be coupled with hate speech and ignorant, outdated comments about women or rape or gays and their perceived threat to families and marriage. These are cheap abuses of religion and religious freedom used by people who are neither religious nor concerned with individual freedom.

Timing is everything in politics. While Republican legislators in three states were pushing their anti-gay agenda, Americans were watching the Olympics and learning about Russia's anti-gay culture, as well as Uganda's anti-gay laws. All of a sudden, Republicans were growing uncomfortable with the fact that their anti-gay message was finding a home with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Listen to Scott Lively, a leader in the American conservative movement and president of Defend the Family International. Many people blame the attacks against gays in places like Uganda and Nigeria on people like Lively, who have traveled to these countries, to spread misinformation and fear to millions in undeveloped countries about gay men.

When asked on a recent National Public Radio interview with Michel Martin about his responsibility for anti-gay laws in many African countries, Lively stated, "The gay movement has really brought this on themselves. These African countries have only been concerned about passing these laws after the global homosexual movement started pushing their agenda in these very morally conservative countries. What looks like offensive action by these governments is really defensive. We were invited by these African countries when they were confronted with the problem. And frankly, a lot of this comes down to male - you know, white male homosexuals from the United States and Europe going into these African countries because the age of consent laws are low and able to take these, you know, young, teenage boys and turn them into rent boys for the price of a bicycle."

This is the message spread by some American conservatives traveling around the world. Their message is one of ignorance and intolerance. They are partly responsible for the death, torture and imprisonment of thousands of gay people throughout Africa and beyond.

Their message has no basis in religion and is not a voice for freedom.