Why we need to #ReclaimReligiousFreedom

And what's next?

By now, you’ve probably seen the campaign Keshet and NCJW launched last week to #ReclaimReligiousFreedom. You’ve likely also seen news coverage of the Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado case before the Supreme Court right now, and heard about the disastrous Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed under Indiana’s then-Governor Mike Pence in 2015. These attacks on our rights can be insidious, dressed up in language like “tolerance” and so-called “religious freedom.”

Here’s a breakdown of what is happening:

In recent years, the religious right has glommed on to the reality that Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with bald-faced discrimination in our laws. As they lost ground and support for their anti-LGBTQ bigotry, they needed a new strategy: Christians as the newest oppressed class.

To be clear, this is absurd. The United States is an overwhelmingly majority-Christian country (70.6%, according to a 2014 Pew study), and religious minorities in the United States have faced increasing oppression and obstacles in the last two decades. Examples of this are abundant: rampant Islamophobia, particularly since September 11th; deadly violence targeting Sikhs under the mistaken impression they are Muslim; the spike we have seen in the last eighteen months of blatant anti-Semitism, including chants of “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville last August.

Nonetheless, this strategy of portraying Christians as under threat has gained traction. The primary evidence offered? Christian individuals engaged in public-serving roles. The focus is on business owners, like in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, and on public employees, as in the case of Kim Davis. Under the auspices of national marriage equality recognition or state-wide LGBTQ non-discrimination laws, these individuals are required by law to provide equal treatment to LGBTQ people. This so-called “Christian discrimination” is the public argument behind “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”–type legislation, but their real purpose is to provide legal coverage for bigotry against LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities, and people of color.

It is hypocrisy, pure and simple, but if we don’t fight back, their strategy could also work.

What can you do now?

  1. Check out Keshet and NCJW’s campaign to #ReclaimReligiousFreedom. We’ve shared resources throughout Hanukkah, and if you join the campaign, we’ll keep you in the loop about future opportunities to take action.
  2. Speak out to #ReclaimReligiousFreedom! We need progressive faith voices on the front lines of this fight, to take back the narrative from the religious right. Give a d’var Torah in your Jewish community. Speak out on social media. Talk to your friends and family over Shabbat dinner.
  3. Join our friends at Faith In Public Life by uploading a video about what religious freedom means to you as part of their Freedom Is campaign.

What comes next?

  1. We expect an onslaught of legislation in 2018 targeting LGBTQ people, women, people of color, and religious minorities under the co-opted guise of “religious freedom.” Get ready to take action. Last year, a powerful coalition in Georgia – including progressive faith leaders – defeated a RFRA bill by highlighting how dangerous this legislation is to citizens and the state. We can win – but we have to be ready for the fight.
  2. Remember the importance of off-year elections, especially for state legislatures and judges. Most of these battles are happening at the state level, and when we make sure to put people in office who will protect civil liberties, and hold them accountable, we see major wins. In Colorado, every court decided in favor of civil rights and non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in the Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado. Your vote makes a difference.

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