It Was Never About Religious Liberty

Evangelical Christians want to impose their faith, not merely practice it

Tim Wise


Image: Cheryl Casey, Shutterstock, image purchased with standard license by the author

For years, Christian conservatives have insisted their religious liberties are under attack. The proof, to hear them tell it, can be found everywhere.

So, for instance, if you require Bible-believing county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, you are trampling on their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Never mind that these officials are government employees whose salaries are paid by the taxpayers, including gay taxpayers. Apparently, they should be exempt from doing their jobs in an equitable manner because their freedom of conscience outweighs the rights of gay or lesbian couples seeking to wed.

Likewise, if the state requires Christian cake-makers, website designers, photographers, or other service providers to offer those services to all, regardless of sexual orientation, they are violating the religious liberty of Christian businesspersons.

So too, is religious freedom squashed by expecting Christian pharmacists to fill prescriptions for birth control they believe to be abortifacient and, thus, responsible for taking human life.

Or requiring health insurance plans to cover IUDs, HPV vaccines for youth, or HIV-suppressing medications, all of which, in the estimation of these “sincere” Christians, encourage immoral sexual activity.

Or requiring Christian doctors to provide care to patients whose gender identity or sexual orientation they object to for reasons of faith.

Or, most recently, requiring Christian teachers to refer to students by the names and pronouns preferred by those students if those conflict with their biologically-presumed gender at birth. As Christians, these teachers reject the idea of trans identity or gender fluidity, so expecting them to refer to kids as those kids prefer is to ask them to violate their conscience or some such thing.

Basically, to require Christians to live by the same anti-discrimination laws as everyone else, to do their secular jobs in a way that treats all with equal dignity, or to subsidize anything, even indirectly, to which they object on spiritual grounds is seen as a



Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)