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Discriminating in the name of religion? Segregationists and slaveholders did it, too.

Roundup
tags: slavery, civil rights, religion, Supreme Court, LGBT, gay marriage



Tisa Wenger is associate professor of American religious history at Yale Divinity School, a Public Voices fellow with the OpEd Project and author of "Religious Freedom: The Contested History of an American Ideal."

Related Link Yes, there is a right to discriminate By Christopher W. Schmidt

Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a blockbuster case: Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The suit stems from cake shop owner Jack Phillips’s refusal to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, on the grounds that it would violate his right to free expression and free exercise of religion as a conservative evangelical Christian.

The state civil rights commission and the Colorado courts both ruled that Phillips’s religious and free speech rights did not outweigh the state’s interest in enacting an anti-discrimination law. Now the Supreme Court is poised to rule on the constitutional balance between discrimination and free exercise, two American values that in contemporary U.S. politics seem to be in constant tension.

Yet while the issues confronting the court are fresh, the larger tension between religious freedom and civil rights actually stretches far back in American history. In battles over slavery and racial segregation, religion and scripture were often cited as justification for maintaining inequality. Until the civil rights era, refusals to serve African Americans were often cloaked under the guise of religious freedom. As social norms changed, the religious justifications for this bigotry became legally untenable.

Religious freedom has been weaponized so frequently in civil liberties debates because of the cultural and constitutional weight it carries. Such appeals have the potential to reshape cultural and religious worlds: to make a group’s political convictions and cultural practices appear more “religious,” or more central to their religion, than they otherwise might have been. For this reason, the scope and meaning of religious freedom have been constantly contested throughout American history — for every group would like to use this powerful value to protect its other beliefs. Which is why religious freedom must always be balanced against other American ideals, lest we allow it to trample on other deeply held values.

In the 19th century, slaveholders and their sympathizers defended slavery by pointing to its presence in the Bible as evidence that it fit within God’s plan for social order. They also interpreted biblical stories like those about Cain and Abel and the supposed “curse of Ham” as proof that God had made “Negroes” to be slaves. ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post


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