In Congress, an Assault on Religious Liberty, in the Name of LGBT Rights

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Last week, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing on “the administration’s religious liberty assault on LGBT rights,” highlighting the alleged ways in which the Trump administration’s expansion of religious-liberty protections has undermined the rights of same-sex couples and transgender people. The Democratic majority on the committee — which includes representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley — called four witnesses to discuss the administration’s religious-liberty efforts and the supposed “discrimination” enacted by “zealots” in the name of their faith.

One could not help but notice that the committee, convened in opposition to religious zealotry, included four elected representatives who believe, as a matter of faith, that a man can become a woman just by saying so.

Instead of wading into the legal minefield of anti-discrimination law and attendant religious exemptions — that would be complicated! — the hearing was an exercise in low-grade biblical exegesis. Noted abortion exponent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for instance, claimed to offer “the perspective of a woman of faith” as she bemoaned the fact that religious faith was “being weaponized and mischaracterized” by those whose faith lead them to oppose the redefinition of marriage, or the permanent mutilation of children with gender dysphoria. In America, she said, “the only time religious freedom is invoked is in the name of bigotry and discrimination.”

Ocasio-Cortez proceeded to compare religious objectors to same-sex marriage to antebellum defenders of chattel slavery, proving, albeit unintentionally, just how useful “the perspective of a” veritable “woman of faith” would have been to proceedings where believers were wantonly compared to slaveowners.

“It is deeply disturbing,” a solemn Ocasio-Cortez continued, that “the administration is advancing . . . the idea that religion and faith is about exclusion.” In the sense that Ocasio-Cortez is using the word, all religions and faiths are about “exclusion”— they make creedal and dogmatic claims that exclude, of course, rival creeds and dogmas. (Ocasio-Cortez should, if she is unconvinced, ask the nearest imam about the fate of infidels in the world to come.) The hearing itself was an exercise in “exclusion” — its very purpose was to advocate for the “exclusion” of religious business owners and medical practitioners from the marketplace if they refuse to compromise their consciences.

The proceeding grew more grating when the committee majority called on Episcopal minister named Stan J. Sloan to testify. In his written testimony, Sloan claimed that “Religious Liberty laws are not about religion, and they are certainly not about liberty as our country’s founders understood it.” One struggles to think of a single Founding Father whose conception of liberty would have included forcing a baker to service a same-sex wedding in violation of his religious conscience, but perhaps the reverend has access to a heretofore unknown version of The Federalist Papers.

Sloan continued, writing that “many so-called ‘Christians’ . . . justify their own comfortable lives and their discriminatory practice” through their religious faith. The simple fact, made obvious by the hearing, is that refusing a service on conscience grounds is anything but “comfortable.” Likewise, Sloan presents no evidence to suggest that these “so-called ‘Christians’” — a rather judgmental thing to say, Reverend — are misapprehending the clear, resolute teachings of the New Testament on sex and gender. He offers no evidence, of course, because no such evidence exists. Instead, the reverend seems to assume that any doctrine or dogma that frustrates the prevailing ethic of modernity — Be Nice — is not “Christianity” at all, and is merely the result of bigoted people’s creating reasons to justify their “discriminatory practice” and augment their “comfortable lives.”

To be frank, I don’t think “comfort” is what Jack Phillips was after.

Sloan never directly defends the premise of his argument — that the Bible has nothing to say on matters of sex and gender that would frustrate modern libertines — because, of course, he can’t. Instead, he relies on the calumnious insinuation that Christian surgeons who abstain from performing gender-reassignment surgery are in moral league with slaveowners. He writes:

The abuse of Christian Scripture and principles to justify prejudice is nothing new. The Book of Philemon was used by “Christians” to justify slavery during the Civil War and, again, to justify racial discrimination in the 1960’s. It is my belief that those supporting so called Religious Liberty have chosen religion as the battleground for a parallel war of discrimination today. . . . any objective reading of Christian Scripture shows Christ himself as a man shunning zealots and embracing the marginalized as he focuses on justice and love.

It should go without saying that the fact that sharecroppers and segregationists once distorted a passage in a Pauline epistle does not imply that those whom the reverend deems “so-called Christians” are misinterpreting the clear teachings of the biblical canon on matters of sex and gender. Also — which “Christian Scripture” does the reverend have in mind that condones forcing religious surgeons to mutilate confused children under threat of litigation?

(Not to be a zealot.)

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