Religious freedom bills: Freedom or religion, or just hate?
In many US states, LGBTI people find themselves caught in an artificial debate opposing religion to human rights

Yesterday, we heard that Virginia is poised to become the first Southern state banning LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, credit and in public spaces. The topic of religious freedom was raised several times during the debate by the bill’s opponents. This positive effort by lawmakers is a direct response to abhorrent so-called “religious freedom” bills, a rather new and concerning American phenomenon, part of a wider backlash on the human rights of LGBT people.

Out Leadership is monitoring dozens of anti-LGBT bills in State Legislatures across the country that are in the pipeline. These include.

  • A ban on transgender athletes in Washington state competing according to their gender identity
  • The proposed bill in South Carolina that would result in doctors who treat trans children in South Carolina losing their licenses
  • Out Leadership has expressed concern about similar legislation targeting transgender children proposed in South Dakota
  • The odious license that bans LGBT+ couples from adopting children in Tennessee.
  • We’re also orchestrating a campaign with the Family Equality Council to fight a similar discriminatory bill on adoption in Missouri.

Our argument is that not only are these bills violating human rights, they also completely undermine efforts by lawmakers to attract private sector investment to their States. Over and over, our member companies have shown that antagonistic legislatures get in the way of relationships with their customers, employees, and investors.

Religious freedom” bills are a worrying trend. When we speak about discrimination against LGBTI people we are talking about serious human rights violations, not a frivolous distraction. In all regions, homophobic attitudes fuel discrimination in workplaces, in schools, in clinics and hospitals. In fact, in almost every sphere as I pointed out in a recent piece, this will have dire long-term consequences on the livelihoods of LGBT people.

It is worth reiterating that a person’s religious beliefs are his or her own affair and should be fully respected as such. Freedom of belief is a basic human right that no-one can take away from you.

However, religion should never be used as a justification to violate human rights. Twenty years ago, every country in the world signed up to the Vienna Declaration. That declaration notes explicitly that, while history, culture, and religion are contextually important, all States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, have a legal duty to promote and protect the human rights of all.

Perhaps, more importantly, targetting LGBTI using religious faith is cruel and inaccurate. Many LGBTI people consider themselves part of religious communities. Many religious leaders, including Archbishop Tutu, have urged people to accept their LGBTI brothers and sisters as equals and show them kindness and respect. Most religions have a version of the Golden Rule: treat others as you yourself would wish to be treated.

As part of a new monthly Speaker Series, on Tuesday, February 11th, Out Leadership will welcome Tuesday author Frederic Martel, who authored last year the bombshell: “In the closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy” to discuss the role of religion in fostering acceptance of LGBTI people.

Developments in Virginia, South Dakota, South Carolina or Tennessee are clear signs that, once again, LGBTI people find themselves as pawns in a political game opposing human rights to so-called “religious freedom”.

Out Leadership will continue to be at the forefront of this battle. With that in mind, I will be in Miami next week at 4Ward Americas participating in a conversation with Jason Jenkins of the Miami Dolphins moderated by Michael Lavers on how we best deploy the power of the private sector to respond to this onslaught of bills. If you

If you believe as we do, that all people are created equal, that everyone should have the freedom to love who they want to love, have the families they want to have, take action. Contact your local representatives and demand they stand up for what is right and put a stop to the alarming rise in this type of legislation that is being proposed around the nation.

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