Some in America see religious freedom as privileging only one set of beliefs

Some in America see religious freedom as privileging only one set of beliefs
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As the Trump administration and its religious right allies push an exclusionary view of religious freedom, let’s be clear about the dangers their agenda represents for the basic rights of everyday Americans. What ultra-conservatives like Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights director Roger Severino and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will have you believe is that today religious Americans are discriminated against because of their beliefs. That we must protect and uplift these faithful voices.

Yet what they present is one narrow slice of the story — every time they seek your empathy for the baker, the nun, or any other individual who refuses to provide services or care to a fellow American they conveniently leave out the person left holding the short end of the stick. The person who is discriminated against or fired because of who they love.  

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The woman who is left struggling to make ends meet and pay for birth control to responsibly decide when and if she can get pregnant. The couple who finds out too late that the hospital they’re in will not provide the reproductive care they need to be responsible parents when and if they choose to. Who gives voice to them? Who speaks up for their freedoms, including their freedom of conscience? Who defends their right to make their own ethical choices over their lives?

 

For too long, the religious right has been the “squeaky wheel” in American politics, drowning out the voices of the majority of faithful Americans who revere the separation of church and state and believe that the greatness of America lies in our ability to protect and defend the rights of all regardless of what you believe, where you came from or who you love.

The religious right lobby sees religious freedom not as tolerance for all, but about privileging one set beliefs over all others. This could not be clearer than in their latest attempt to introduce the First Amendment Defense Act in the U.S. Senate, which brazenly prioritizes the protection of religious beliefs regarding sex and same-sex marriages over all other religious beliefs.

We must eschew this exclusionary vision of religious freedom. That is why we have joined up with interfaith and secular allies to create the Coalition for Liberty and Justice. Together we seek to tell the stories that are not being heard of Americans who get hurt when we privilege one set of beliefs over all others.

Women like Dian who came to this country fleeing violence in Colombia. She wanted nothing more than to be healthy and resilient so that she and her family could get ahead, but was denied health coverage by her religious employer for the contraception she needed to take care of her chronic endometriosis.

Doctors like Debbie who save lives every day but have faced the frustrations of having to deny a patient care because of the Ethical and Religious Directives that guide Catholic affiliated or owned hospitals. Women like Colleen who fell deeply in love with Donna — two generous souls who have an open door policy of supporting their neighbors in a Kansas City community plagued by economic decline, drugs and poverty.

Colleen has spent a lifetime committed to social justice work, but was fired by her church employer after being outed publicly as a lesbian. These are the people of faith at the other end of the narrative the religious right doesn’t tell you about. These are the people of faith that the new HHS Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom neglects and ignores.

Now more than ever Congress must stand up to say these people matter too. The Do No Harm Act is an important step in the right direction. But we must also continue to make sure these voices of faith are heard, protected and defended by our first freedom.

Cynthia Romero is the director of communications at Catholics for Choice. She also served in President Obama’s administration at USAID.