Joan Chittister National Catholic Reporter | Mar. 19, 2014
Here's the problem with religion. You never know which religion you're going to meet: the "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" kind, or the "Get thee behind me, Satan" kind. You have to be very careful not to confuse one with the other. Your very life could depend on it.
The golden-rule types take people into the center of the community; the get-out-of-my-sight kind keep people out of it. One kind of religion embraces those who are different from themselves; the other excludes those who are different, the ones who are not like them: blacks if they're white; Jews if they're Christian; women if they're men.
Some people have lived restricted lives and even died at the hands of those who sought to restrict them -- some for trying to eat at white lunch counters or sitting down on buses; some for having ancestors in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago; some for serving soup that was cold or not ironing the shirts right.
The important thing to remember is that it doesn't really matter how the transgressions were defined. What matters is that the arguments in defense of doing it were always the same: God didn't want mixed races, or God wanted women to obey men, or God wanted Jews punished because the Romans crucified Jesus. And we forswore them all and thought we had learned something.
Until, lo and behold, we now discover that we have a new group developing, just as deadly, just as "religious" as the ones that preceded it. It was done as if we never learned anything from all our previous attempts to exclude multiple other groups before this -- Native Americans, women, the Irish, Eastern Europeans, anyone who fell outside the pale in the past. This time, they wanted to discriminate against people in the name of "religious freedom" -- read lesbian, people. They wanted public businesses to have the right to refuse to serve patrons who seek the services promised to the public under those same laws. It was a matter of "religious freedom," they said. But the argument is not all that simple.
The state that gives businesses tax breaks and public security protections and requires quality control of goods and services for the sake of the public good has the right to require that those services be available to the public. Or forget the tax breaks and the public police and fire protection and the legal recourse to protection of that business under the law. After more than a century of segregation, people across the country stood up to refuse another century of shunnings in the name of God.
We have all watched our gay children committing suicide to avoid the bullying and social discrimination that dogged their lives. This time, Arizona said, "Enough of that." We all see young gay women and men doomed to lives of rejection and ridicule for choices not their own, and people everywhere are beginning to say no to that.
So now, the exclusionists whose "religion" defies the very principles of the God who created the others as well as themselves are working again to sequester and silence those who are other than themselves. So if they get the right to do those things, what will the future look like for the rest of us?
Well, if this new kind of exclusion becomes standard, beware of your own social fragility. If your Mormon grocer finds out that you drink, you may never be allowed in the store again. Or your Jewish restaurant owner finds out you eat pork. Or your Muslim gas station owner does not approve of women drivers. Or your Catholic pharmacist figures out that you take birth control pills. I just want to remind you that people have been killed because they were Jewish, or black, or women -- or gay. So why not again? Why not here? Why not, if it's all legal?
After all, the next time, you may be what someone considers "morally offensive to their deeply held religious convictions." Just as were Jews, Catholics and blacks to the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. Or gypsies to the Nazis. Or now, homosexuals in Uganda. All of them by very religious people. The other kind. [Abridged]