The whole idea of “religious liberty” being used as a weapon of discrimination by Christian politicians is nothing new. It’s been around for decades. The problem right now is that the sort of people who think Christians have it worse than everybody else occupy the highest levels of government.
But as former federal prosecutor Michael J. Stern notes, the threat has haunted him throughout his 25-year professional career. In a piece for The Advocate, Stern talks about how he was nearly fired in 1990 for being gay. Or as one of the FBI agents who interrogated him put it, leading an “alternative lifestyle.”
His Republican-appointed boss was soon after given the authority to fire him. He didn’t do it. Stern went on to have a stellar professional career.
Now he’s warning others about the dangers of “religious liberty” laws supported by conservative Christians and the Republican Party.
Under the thinly veiled guise of “religious liberty,” President Donald Trump’s Justice Department has transformed the First Amendment right to freely observe the religion of one’s choice into the newly created right to openly discriminate. The seeds of this mutation were planted decades ago, but since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2015, the GOP has made finding a way to legally discriminate against LGBT people a rallying cry to a base that is hungry to maintain political dominance in the face of an increasingly diverse American electorate.
Let’s be clear, white Christians are not at risk of having their religion criminalized or being subjected to wide-spread discrimination in the United States. The irony of such an accusation is particularly galling given that so many who are safely insulated from discrimination want to mainstream raw bigotry as an acceptable form of religious expression.
Stern also notes that using religion as an excuse to discriminate could easily become a slippery slope to defending racism and sexism. And things are likely going to get worse before they get better:
With the ascension of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the president has enough votes to undo decades of civil rights laws that protect minorities from popular subjugation. It is only a matter of time before the court takes an ax to Pandora’s box and rules that a claim of “religious liberty” trumps state and federal laws designed to make life safer and more fair for people who are gay, brown, black, female, Jewish, or anything other than white Christian men. The Justice Department’s new religious liberty policy is sugar in a child’s mouth at bedtime. The decay of civil rights will not come all at once, but it will surely come.
This is what so many of us are fighting against. This is what so many white evangelicals are hoping for. Their ideal world is one in which religious minorities and LGBTQ people suffer. Whatever power they have right now, we must make sure they never get it again. They’ve done enough damage to this country.