Here's Why It's F*cking Terrifying Religion Has Power In America

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Segregation, Holocausts ... they all start somewhere.

We’re living in a very strange time. Despite having made huge strides in equality, the struggle to keep that equality in tact and further it along has become a difficult feat. Every day our basic human rights and the human rights of our loved ones are in jeopardy, and lately the constant uphill battle seems to entail a lot of banging our heads against the wall, too. While part of this country is living in 2015, the other part is not. Indiana and North Carolina, for example, aren’t just living in a different year, but it appears they are in a completely different stratosphere all together.

If you haven’t been keeping up with politics lately, then you’re probably happily enjoying your ignorant bliss.

In Indiana there’s a new religious freedom act that would allow businesses to discriminate against gays and now North Carolina is also leaning on religious freedom as a reason to discriminate in their neck of the woods, too. The Legislature in N.C. is considering a bill that would “not burden a person’s right to exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”

What this means is that religious freedom will outweigh law and business owners will be completely within their right to turn away members of the LGBT community. Even hospitals will be allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation, turning away patients if those choose to do so. 

As a human being this hurts my heart in ways that trying to find the words is beyond difficult. As a citizen of this country, I’m embarrassed and ashamed. As a woman whose closest friends are gay men, I’m angry, revolted, and sickened.

This country was built on religious freedom; this is a fact that is driven into our brains in school from the very first moment we hear mention of the Pilgrims.

America was founded by people who were discriminated against for their beliefs; it’s a country whose ancestry is steeped in the historical legacy that those who came here did so to escape persecution. They were vilified and banned, all in the name of religion, just as these politicians today are vilifying and banning the LGBT community.

Can these people not see the irony in their behavior? Can’t they see that these actions are no better than the ones that forced their ancestors here in the first places hundreds of years ago? It seems like obvious absurdity that seems to be largely ignored.

The problem with these religious freedom acts is that they allow too much. If you hide behind your religion to explain your hateful words and actions, then it creates a snowball effect. Hundreds of Catholic priests hid behind their religious beliefs to justify their behavior and because their religion protected them from law, pedophile priests were just moved from parish to parish, leaving hundreds of abused children in their wake.

It’s a perfect example of the downside of religion: It’s a “get out of jail free” card.

But “get out of jail free” cards have no place in the real world, especially when it means that damage, physical, emotional, and mental, is being done to our fellow human beings. It’s simply not right.

As I type this, I just got a New York Times notification that Arkansas Legislature has passed their bill on religious freedom. While the right-wing religious fanatics are probably celebrating this “win,” the reality is that it’s a slippery slope. First you discriminate against sexual orientation, then you discriminate against the color of one’s skin (well, America already has that one in the bag), then perhaps you decide it’s OK to hate someone because of their height, all in the name of religion, and before you know it, who’s left standing?

During World War II, Martin Niemöller was a Protestant pastor in Germany who spent seven years of his life in a concentration camp for being vocally against Adolf Hitler. When the war was over, Niemöller made a poignant statement regarding the Holocaust that I think is just as relevant now as it was then:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Am I saying that we're heading toward another Holocaust?

I truly hope not. But what I am saying is that once we ban one group, it's just a matter of time before the next group is ostracized, and so on down the road. Then we wake up one morning and realize we’re all trapped in a prison we created for ourselves, in a society even more broken than it already is.

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