Stand Up for Religious Freedom, UU Style

The phrase “religious freedom” seems to seep into far more political discussions than I recall from any election year in my memory.  I cycle between perplexed, appalled, and frightened at what is unfolding before us in Texas, Arizona, Kansas, and other states, watching freedoms hard-gained become less accessible and downright vilified, all in the name of religious freedom and under the assumption that one’s beliefs trump another’s.  As a Unitarian Universalist who holds the right to religious freedom close to her heart, I’m appalled at how that ideal is being used today.

Today, Catholics around the country, lead by a long list of bishops, will attend events named ostensibly, “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rallies. When I first saw reference to one of these rallies, I smiled, naively creating an image of those of different religious traditions coming together to rally for greater acceptance of and tolerance for others of different faiths. I pictured Christians, Jews, Muslims, UUs, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, Humanists, and others gathered together. I imagined people coming together to remind themselves and the US that part of the beauty of our nation is that we are each free to choose our own faith and practice it at long as it doesn’t infringe on our neighbor’s right to do the same.

I was wrong. These rallies are products of the Catholic church, a portion of whose members (and likely a majority of their clergy) are deeply opposed to the HHS mandate requiring employers like hospitals  to provide insurance that would cover comprehensive women’s health care, including contraception if the woman desires it. Even when Obama shifted the burden of payment for those services to the insurance companies, many Catholics were not mollified, and continued a cry that this is insufficient and that their religious freedoms are being are being trampled. I respect their right to gather and express their opinion. I mourn the religious intolerance behind a rally with such a hopeful name.

It all makes me even more glad to embrace a religion that understands the true meaning of that abused and misused phrase, religious freedom. The Unitarian Universalists get it, as do many other liberal traditions. As I understand it, religious freedom grants one the right to practice one’s own religion, leave one’s religion, join a different religion, ascribe to no religion at all, and speak about all those choices and religions in public. As  a UU, I embrace religious freedom when that definition is used.

Religious freedom is not an escape hatch for avoiding the law governing millions nor a route to foisting individual religious beliefs onto others. It’s not a route to forcing one’s morality on another. I respect the right of other adults to choose to use or not use contraception, to not have or not have an abortion, to receive or not receive a blood transfusion, to pray or not instead of seeking medical treatment, or otherwise manage their own health care. As adult religious individuals, those choices are theirs, as are the consequences of them.

I get it that it’s about paying for the services (and I’d again hold that these services should have the same co-pays that other services have). But what happens when an opposition to coverage for birth control and abortion isn’t enough extension of religious beliefs on those of other faiths? What will be the next items nixed from insurance coverage? Opting out of just a few services opens the door for employers of all faiths to opt our of more. What’s next to go?  HPV vaccinations? Treatment for Hepatitis C and B? AIDS treatment? Cervical cancer treatment? The treatment of breast cancer in women who used the Pill? These are the logical follow-ups to the path being paved today.

Religious freedom rights end where the next person’s begin. This is a fuzzy line that without constant attention can result in perceived or actual violations to either side. We are free to believe what we want to believe. When the term “religious freedom” is used. One UU principle speaks to the right of the individual to conduct a free and responsible search for meaning. This celebration of the importance of the search we all take, regardless of outcome, celebrates religious freedom.

One person’s beliefs don’t inform another person’s behavior and choices anymore than they inform another’s beliefs. When we veer from this — and we’re certainly doing that now — we deny others their freedom of religion. The religious is not the political and never should be. If there is any doubt that the blending of these will bite back, one only needs to remember a period in Britain’s history when attending other than the church du jour could result in beheading. There’s a reason religious freedom was cherished and nurtured when this country was founded. As we’ve become more diverse ethnically, racially, and religiously, we have all the more reason to remember and respect this American tenet.

My religion is just that. Mine. Yours is yours. Religious freedom exists when we remember that line between us and respect that each other’s views are valid belief structures for the other, not items to be hierarchically ranked. Neither need to threaten the other’s beliefs. If I’m awake and paying attention, I can continually learn from the beliefs of others, easing conversations and deepening respect. If I resort to a schema of religious hierarchy, assuming my choice is the one true choice, I lose this chance. Doors close. I lose contact with the neighbor that each religion calls on us to respect and love.

So while thousands or more rally today for the right to impose their beliefs on thousands or more of a variety of belief systems, I’ll reflect on true religious freedom. I’ll remember the places in the world where even today, belief in a faith other than the faith of the state means marginalization, imprisonment, or worse. I’ll look at and learn from the diverse beliefs of the people I know: Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Pagan, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, Atheist, Buddhist, and more. And I’ll rejoice that our beliefs can continue side-by-side for as long as we continue to make that our definition of religious freedom. Now that’s a rally I’ll attend.


5 thoughts on “Stand Up for Religious Freedom, UU Style

  1. “It all makes me even more glad to embrace a religion that understands the true meaning of that abused and misused phrase, religious freedom. Unitarian Universalists get it, as do many other liberal traditions.”

    Actually you are mistaken. All too many Unitarian Universalists seem to think that their beliefs trump those of others, including other members of their own congregations. . . This is particularly true when it comes to the intolerance, and even outright bigotry, of atheist/”Humanist” UUs towards Christians and other theists. Sadly, this intolerance and bigotry has been all but officially approved by UUA leaders and they have done little or nothing to address it head on and make it clear that it is not acceptable.

    • Sadly, I’ve seen intolerance toward Christians from fellow UUs in my own church. However, as a faith, Unitarian Universalism promotes religious freedom and the respect of the faiths of others. I have no question that not all UUs live or preach it, just as not all of other faiths follow the core tenets of their beliefs. This has been an issue from the pulpit and at meetings at the church I attend and is certainly an area requiring education and awareness.

      • Thank you for publicly acknowledging that you have personally witnessed intolerance toward Christians from fellow UUs in your own church. However. . . what Unitarian Universalists ostensibly “affirm and promote” in their claimed principles and ideals often contrasts significantly with how they actually behave.

        This is commonly known as hypocrisy. . .

        As I said in my initial comment, top level UUA leaders, including but by no means limited to UUA Presidents and UUA Moderators, have done little or nothing to responsibly address the anti-Christian and more broadly anti-religious intolerance and bigotry that is all too common in “The Uncommon Denomination” and make it clear that it is NOT acceptable. Indeed some of them have made public statements that are symptomatic of this anti-religious intolerance and bigotry.

        Enough is enough. It is long past due that a UUA President should speak out against UU anti-religious intolerance and bigotry of all kinds. Current UUA President Rev. Peter Morales is especially well placed to undertake this no doubt unpleasant task in that he is guilty of engaging in it himself. I look forward to his contrite Mea Culpa and public condemnation of UU anti-religious bad attitude but I am not holding my breath. . .

  2. Lovely reflection and graphic we may use on the from of our bulletin. While I can name most of the symbols, I’m missing a few. Might you name them, please.

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