Attending a Catholic university is an interesting endeavor, especially when discussing homophobia and religious liberties. When I entered college, I was hopeful that the religious aspect of the school could be overlooked, as I’m not religious myself. The school’s restrictive rules and policies, especially the ones that reinforced the separation of my school from our brother school, quickly enlightened me to how outdated and out of touch they really were. The college I attend is unique, being that I technically attend a ‘single-gendered’ institution, but we are connected with our brother school all but in sports and housing.
When I first started reading about religious liberty, I only knew that religious institutions used the term to identify when they themselves felt like they had to provide services that were against the teachings of the religion. When I kept reading, however, I realized how much religion is used as an excuse to actively discriminate, and how many people cannot separate the institutions of religion, politics, and business. Often, religious liberty is used as an excuse to not participate in activities that they see are ‘against their religion’.
The more I learned about religious liberty the more I realized how much my school makes many of the same arguments – that it goes against the religious values of the institution – in its attempt to end or minimize discussions about certain topics, from abortion to LGBTQ+ advocacy. We cannot discuss religious institutions and the LGBTQ+ community without polarizing the two topics, acting as if one cannot exist alongside the other without conflict. Some Christian legislators even seem to feel that anyone who is LGBTQ+ is inherently infringing upon their ‘religious liberties.’ Businesses not providing their services for LGBTQ+ couples is one example of how these institutions argue their religious liberties should be upheld. These legislators forget that religious freedoms stem from a history of religion-based oppression and are intended to protect people who would otherwise be oppressed for practicing their religions. The first settlers of the U.S. came escaping an oppressive religion, and using religion as justification for other kinds of oppression was probably not how they intended this country to be run.
Laws protecting an institution’s ability to not serve certain groups based on religious beliefs is not only discriminatory, but needs to be understood as unconstitutional. Our founding fathers knew that the first settlers of the U.S. were escaping Europe during a time of great religious persecution, and so stated “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” AKA, the laws made by Congress cannot protect religious institutions anymore than protecting the rights of people to freely practice those religions. The ACLU states, “These dual protections work hand in hand, allowing religious liberty to thrive and safeguarding both religion and government from the undue influences of the other.”
Some bills that have been signed to become law that protect “religious liberties” include the Oklahoma Senate Bill 1140, which will allow adoption and foster care agencies to refuse services that would conflict with the religious beliefs of the institution, and Indiana Senate Bill 65, which will allow parents the right to refuse instruction on human sexuality for their children. Other bills introduced to legislatures include single-sex facility restrictions, the First Amendment Defense Acts or FADA, which would legalize state-sanctioned discrimination, and discrimination in health care, education, and education.
The recent SCOTUS ruling in the case of the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple is an example of how religious liberty is used in discriminatory circumstances. While the baker won the Supreme Court ruling, one could argue that he won on a technicality that the previous courts didn’t recognize earlier which made the case unconstitutional: religious neutrality. This uncertainty, however, could open up many more cases of religious discrimination against LGBTQ+ couples, and could cause injustice against individuals in many more communities nationwide.
My experience attending a religious institution has shown me the extent many will go to reconcile their homophobia using religion. As president of the LGBTQ+ club on campus, I had to learn quickly that my club cannot advocate for the LGBTQ+ people because of the religious values of the school and how LGBTQ+ relationships are not ‘good’ relationships according to the Church (‘good’ relationships being ones that can be fruitful, ones that are ‘complimentary’, etc), but can only educate on issues that affect it. The club only exists because of dedicated people who strongly advocated for it. I work hard to promote better campus environment for all students to feel safe in their sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression. Religion and LGBTQ+ acceptance are not mutually exclusive, anyone can be an advocate for both. Affirming other people’s humanity should be the goal of everyone, no matter religion, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. When we participate in love, everyone wins.