AHA Attends Congressional Hearing on State of Religious Liberty

I recently attended a hearing held by the Congressional Subcommittee on the Constitution about the state of religious liberty in the United States, and was completely unsurprised to discover that House conservatives feel that secular humanists present an active threat to religious freedom. According to the chairman of that Committee, Representative Trent Franks, non-believers actively misinterpret the establishment clause of the United States Constitution so as to lessen religious liberty in our nation. Secularists’ desire to separate church and state is perceived by conservatives on this Committee not as an effort to ensure religious liberty for all, but as part of a plan to destroy the “Judeo-Christian foundation of our nation.” Furthermore, our emphasis on removing God from public buildings and governmental offices is seen by these Representatives not as a means to prevent discrimination against the non-religious, but as a way to prevent public expression of faith.

The hearing itself was largely a sad display of House conservatives bemoaning the secular state of our society, which was echoed by their religious witnesses who decried the “discrimination” they faced from the government for refusing to perform gay marriages. Never mind the fact that these religious witnesses, which included Bishop William Lori of Connecticut, discriminate against the LGBT community by refusing to marry gay couples. Never mind the fact that these religious communities often receive taxpayer money for their faith based aid organizations, or receive preferential tax status, so as to continue their discriminatory practices. What is important to them is that the government continues to fund their religious organizations without telling them how to spend their taxpayer granted funding.

Obviously, this situation is a little bizarre. I found myself asking why these organizations felt that they had the right to discriminate against the American public while receiving money from the very people they discriminated against. Surely these organizations would see the blatant hypocrisy of such actions?

Unfortunately, they didn’t. These organizations want both the autonomy to decide which laws they will follow and the assistance of the government when it comes to the funding of their activities.  We must make sure to show them that they cannot have it both ways. The job now for humanists, atheists, and secularists of all sorts is to ensure that our government stops funding these discriminatory groups. An argument could be made that no religious group should discriminate, but it is much more important that we focus on preventing discrimination by religious groups that actually receive public financing. No American should see his or her tax dollars go to a group that actively works against his or her own interests.

What this hearing showed me is that some religious organizations will gladly discriminate against fellow Americans and will disregard our nation’s egalitarian traditions for the sake of scripture, regardless of the impact of such callousness. I learned that our government often funds this behavior rather than condemn it, and that members of the government will actively petition for the right of religious organizations to continue this deplorable behavior. We must therefore stand united against such undemocratic behavior, and oppose at every step measures that will harm our fellow citizens. It is inhumane to reject our fellow human beings on the basis of sexual orientation, and it is bad public policy for a government to encourage such behavior. Religious beliefs do not justify discrimination, just as a lack of religious belief does not mandate lawlessness or immorality. The government must guarantee that religious groups are held to the same non-discrimination laws that are applicable to the rest of society, and should simultaneously strive to strengthen those laws in order to prevent future discrimination.