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Ever notice how certain religious types think that their faith is a get-out-of-jail card that excuses just about any kind of nastiness? The most obvious recent example is the conservative braying about religious freedom that was occasioned by the A&E television channel’s half-hearted effort to censure Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, a reality “star” who gifted the public with a few vulgar homophobic, Islamophobic and racist bon mots. According to the conservative commentariat, the statements were A-OK since Robertson claimed that the general nastiness just reflected his faith tradition, and, you know, freedom of speech and religion must surely come into play here. Of course, mired as we are in the culture wars, using God to deflect attention from various types of bigotry has become so commonplace that we hardly notice it anymore – this particular incident only got some play because of the pseudo-celebrity status of Robertson.

If one were, however, to exercise one’s right to freedom of thought and speech and ask what it means about Robertson’s religion that he can use it to justify his bigoted world-view, we might find out that the right-wing concern with freedom of belief and expression is a one-sided proposition. The owner of a British blog, Futile Democracy, aptly summarizes the situation:

The use of the phrase “free expression” – which to the Christian-right means; freedom from any sort of repercussion or challenge – is only ever invoked when the views expressed confirm Christian prejudices. The same people then demand repercussions for anyone, or any business whose expression doesn’t confirm Christian-right prejudices. It’s a terribly hypocritical state of affairs, all in the hope of retaining the get out of bigotry free card for that which they call “faith”.

The same blogger also noted that the intellectual dishonesty involved in playing the God card can have consequences that go even deeper than simple hypocrisy; he notes that conservative evangelicals “are not happy unless their faith dictates the operation of the state, the media, private businesses, the womb of every woman on the planet, and whom individuals are allowed to marry. The arrogance is astounding, and the religious supremacy that promotes and perpetuates homophobia is cancerous.” Amen, brother.

We can see this religious triumphalism at work in Missouri where four representatives of such fundamentalist Christian-centric organizations as the Missouri Baptist Convention, the Missouri Family Network, and the Missouri Family Policy Council have filed a lawsuit to reverse Governor Nixon’s decision that a Missouri law tying state and federal income tax returns mandates allowing same-sex couples married in states other than Missouri to file joint tax returns, which would be in line with federal policy since the overthrow of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.

The excuse for the lawsuit is provided by a Missouri constitutional amendment approved in 2004 that bans same-sex marriage. The amendment itself was in large part the work of the very folks who are today citing it in their lawsuit. These people are secure in the free practice and expression of their religion and its tenets. Nobody is forcing them to engage in same sex marriage or associate with such  couples, nor is government suppressing their freedom to express hateful sentiments about such people – although you should please note that expressions of distaste directed at bigoted speech are no more than the exercise of freedom of speech from the other side of the street. Nevertheless, they’re trying to use government to make the precepts of their specific religion the norm for the rest of society, including those of us who not only don’t share their beliefs, but often find them repugnant.  

We see the same dynamic at work in the anti-Obamacare lawsuit filed by the Little Sisters of the Poor. These religious are so preoccupied with the sin of contraception that they believe signing a piece of paper stating that they seek a religious exemption from providing birth control coverage to employees who might desire it would be akin to, as one of their apologists put it, hiring a hit man to kill your neighbor. You see, if they sign that paper, their employees could, theoretically, get birth control coverage from the insurance company free of charge – which process the Little Sisters would be putting into motion by seeking an exemption from doing the same. Of course, since the Little Sisters are insured by a company run by the Christian Brothers which, in turn, qualifies for the exemption, this is not really the case, but, hey, who cares – it’s the principle of the thing, right?

This leads one to ask if perhaps the sensibilities of such folks are so delicate that they are unfit to play certain roles in a diverse society like ours – an important question given the continuing consolidation of hospitals and the growing dominance of Catholic health organizations. The Guardian’s Jill Filipovic very aptly describes attempts on the part of religious organizations to play the God card:

Their claim that even this accommodation violates their religious liberty is telling. These ACA-related “religious liberty” arguments aren’t actually about the freedom to exercise your own religion, or the right to be free of doing something that violates your conscience. These assertions are about an overwhelming sense of entitlement on behalf of religious organizations to force anyone within their reach to adhere to their beliefs.

Those playing the God card, be they religious organizations, their affiliates or followers are acting as if their religious liberty and freedom of expresion is contingent upon denying the same rights to others as well as to defend and perpetuate bigotry. This can’t be what the Founders, sons of the Enlightenment that they were, had in mind when they dealt with the vexing issues of religious liberty. As historian Kenneth Davis notes, George Washington wrote that:

All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunity of citizenship. …For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.

Get that bigots? So much for your frayed God card.

Cross-Posted to DailyKos