The Great Reversion

Column by Rev. Brandan Robertson on 8 September 2022 0 Comments

You’ve heard it said again and again- “We’re living in unprecedented times”. There’s extreme polarization, increased bigotry, emboldened racists, and virtual mobs seeking to cancel those who don’t align perfectly with the new orthodoxies of whichever side of the aisle you identify with

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It seems like a lot of conservative Christians are using “Freedom of Religion” as an excuse to discriminate against others. Isn’t that the opposite of what it means?  


Dear Jennifer,

The short answer is “yes.” But in recent years there’s been an effort by religious conservatives to flip the original intent of Freedom of Religion to support their “war on religion” narrative that portrays Christians as the victims of oppression.

Traditionally, the 1st Amendment has been interpreted to say that government won’t establish, support, or prohibit the practice of religion. Government will step in to protect the innocent victims of religion-gone-bad (like the conviction of Warren Jeffs for child rape masquerading as religious ritual in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), but other than that, hands off. Add the gravitas of Thomas Jefferson’s elaboration on the 1st Amendment, the Separation of Church and State, and you’d think Freedom of Religion was a no-brainer.

Alas, conservatives have taken it upon themselves to throw a wrench in the works. They want the freedom to practice their repressive uber-piety without government “meddling” — even if their practice promotes discrimination against or harm to other citizens. They argue that religion (particularly THEIR religion) is indispensable to upholding the purity of the citizenry and that any expectation that their religion do no harm to others is a violation of their rights.

They argue that the true meaning of Religious Liberty is, as Katherine Stewart has written, a “license to discriminate.” This even includes claiming public tax dollars for themselves which are, in turn, used to discriminate against a despised “other.”

Earlier this year, Mobile, Alabama moved to help improve the city’s score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index. How? They appointed two LGBTQ+ liaisons to offer an LGBTQ+ perspective on city policies and procedures.

Anxious that their license to discriminate might be called into question, Southern Baptist leaders met with the city this summer and asked it to “preemptively pass a religious liberty ordinance” that “protects Christians” who are opposed to LGBTQ+ rights and same-sex marriage. The panicked Southern Baptists (the same Southern Baptists the Justice Department is currently investigating for the criminal mishandling of sexual abuse cases) whined that the city’s move to promote non-discrimination consisted of “threats on the horizon.” You heard that right. LGBTQ+ people having basic civil rights is a threat to poor, oppressed Christians (especially those who don’t want to be held accountable for their criminal misbehavior).

We’ve seen it across the cultural spectrum. Fundamentalists want the freedom to discriminate against Muslims, Jews, atheists, women, and the LGBTQ+ community. From refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding to refusing to consider a Jewish couple for adoption to a pharmacist refusing to fill a prescription for contraceptives to the Supreme Court condoning taxpayer-funded Christian prayers at a public high school, the incidents are increasing.

The meaning of Freedom of Religion is well on its way to being turned on its head. Fundamentalist Christians not only want to impose their values on everybody else, they want approval to betray their obligation to honor the civil rights of fellow citizens.

Fundamentalists in religion AND government are poised to continue undermining the 1st Amendment’s original intent in favor of establishing a shadow state religion of conservative Christianity. While Freedom of Religion is still “on the books”, the version of it that survives into the future is yet to be determined.

~ Rev. David M. Felten




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