Supporting—and Limiting—Religious “Freedom” in Sexuality

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
–Bill of Rights, Article I

This is what the Bill of Rights says:

  • The government can’t establish an official religion;
  • The government can’t prevent people from practicing their religion.

Here’s what the Bill of Rights does not say:

  • The government should make it easy for people to follow their religious beliefs;
  • The government should give people’s religious sensitivities more weight than people’s non-religious sensitivities;
  • The government should give religious institutions a voice in government decisions;
  • The government should give religious institutions any privileges whatsoever, such as tax breaks and exemptions from anti-discrimination law;
  • People can force others to follow their religious beliefs.

Today, millions of Americans expect that their religious beliefs entitle them to special privileges: e.g., release from doing their jobs when tasks conflict with their “sincerely held convictions” or zoning that prevents businesses they don’t like from opening near their churches.

One of the most important privileges religious people expect is the privilege to require nonbelievers to behave like believers: e.g., prohibiting liquor sales on Sunday, prohibiting adult swingers’ clubs, or prohibiting nude sunbathing on beaches. Religious people also tend to feel that they should be protected from the behavior of non-believers: e.g., from seeing condoms advertised on TV.

But it’s much worse than that.

Mainstream religions are obsessed with sexuality. But they’re not all that interested in sexual integrity, or healthy sexual self-expression, or sexual communication, or sexual education. They’re interested primarily in limiting sexual expression. Mainstream religions distrust sexual autonomy—people making sexual decisions for themselves, relying on their own values and ethics.

Thus, since the religious program about sex is primarily “don’t do this, don’t do that,” when organized religion gets or seeks political power, it inevitably wants to institutionalize “don’t do this, don’t do that” in the legal system.

It doesn’t matter what the “this” or “that” is. The problem is the “You may not do it” part—the enforced code of sexual restrictions based on morality and emotion, rather than science.

Organized American Christianity wants to limit the sexual expression not just of believers, but of nonbelievers. And so they demand—and often help pass—laws that:

  • prevent strip clubs
  • prevent swingers clubs
  • require censorship of municipal- or state-owned computers
  • prevent pay-per-view porn films in hotels
  • punish adolescent “sexting” by registering them as sex offenders
  • restrict the distribution of contraception
  • prevent abortion
  • prevent same-gender marriage
  • prevent fact-based sex education
  • prevent sex research
  • and more.

When progressives challenge the Church’s right to do this, churches typically cry “freedom of religion!” But that’s bogus. This is like a publisher wanting a law requiring everyone to read his newspaper, and when challenged, him crying “freedom of the press!” Both freedom of religion and freedom of the press involve freedom from government control, not control of government machinery to force others to live as believers do.

Today, Westerners are viewing the increasing militancy of worldwide Islam with alarm. In countries as diverse as Nigeria, Indonesia, and Turkey, more and more government agencies are requiring people to live as believers, punishing nonbelievers who don’t do so.

We should notice how that’s happening right here.