3/06/2009

Special Rights for Religions

St. Peter's Basilica at Early Morning Photo wa...Image via Wikipedia

Earlier this week the Flagstaff, AZ City Council was presented with a chance to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its non-discrimination ordinances in medical care, public accommodations, and housing. Instead of managing to get a law that protects LGBT people they ended up with a non-binding resolution affirming their "commitment" to non-discrimination but without any teeth.

The reason for their failure to actually do something of value? They were concerned that religious people (read Christians) would sue over the ordinance claiming discrimination against their beliefs.

If you're stunned by the irony of that reasoning you're not alone. I've become fatigued by this constant fear of religion by politicians.

Let's face it, there is no other group in this country extended so many special rights and priveleges on the basis of a life choice as religious people. They are given free passes at almost every turn to excuse their behavior no matter how obnoxious or contrary to the public good.

In a week or so, I'll be moving to a new apartment. My new landlords, just as my current one are gay. They are not allowed to even ask about religion regarding their tenants. They cannot tell an ultra right wing person who hates them that they can't rent an apartment because religion is a protected class. Yes, the people that Flagstaff were worried would sue over housing ordinances are the same people who have been given protected status in housing on the basis of their choice of religion.

Meanwhile, if my landlords were needing to rent a place a religious person could question them about their sexual orientation and use that as a basis to refuse to rent to them. Our elected officials see absolutely nothing wrong with a person discriminating against someone on the basis of an immutable characteristic like sexuality based on their own completely voluntary choice of religious doctrine!

Religious people are allowed to claim all sorts of exemptions from law based on their "beliefs" - we don't tax their churches even when they are actively engaged in political and profit making activities. There are few groups on earth with more money than the Roman Catholic Church, but their coffers are not taxed by our government. Meanwhile, their Pope uses his position to lobby both within our borders and internationally against laws and governments. He dresses in the finest fabrics, employees a huge staff, and controls massive amounts of property. All of that wealth is fed by churches in the USA who pay no taxes on the money they raise to send overseas to the Vatican.

If you're a private citizen you aren't allowed to discriminate against religious groups or people if you own a hotel or resort. Yet, they are perfectly free to discriminate against you if you are not of their beliefs or are LGBT.

If you're a private charity you don't get to check the religion of the people you serve at the door. You don't get to check the relgion of your volunteers or employees. Yet, religious groups are allowed to do ask about your beliefs and certainly your sexuality.

What is amazing is that this is never brought up. In the usual media stories on this old story of relgious groups opposing equal protection for LGBT people, no reporter ever asks them if they're willing to give up their "special rights" in exchange for being allowed to discriminate freely against others.

Maybe it's time we stopped allowing religious groups and those afraid of them a free pass and started asking the hard questions and insisting that the media do that as well.


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