Column: Freedom of religion is not freedom to discriminate

The Georgia State Capitol in Athens, Georgia. (CameliaTWU/Creative Commons)

Georgia’s state senate recently passed a highly controversial bill that would allow what some are calling “state sanctioned discrimination” against the Georgian LGBT community under the guise of religious freedom. The bill clears ministers from performing marriages that violate their religious beliefs and allows any religious organization to bar rental of their facilities for ceremonies that violate their religious beliefs. 

Since the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage last year, there has been staunch resistance from many to the idea of marriage equality. Many state leaders spoke out against the decision, and the majority of Republican candidates have affirmed their belief in “traditional” marriage and desire to overturn this ruling. Some clerks have even refused to issue marriage licenses on the grounds of religion. 

It is truly disappointing that so many continue to resist the idea of equal rights for the LGBT community. And it is unjust and immoral to justify the discrimination against these people through religion. In the First Amendment, it is written that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Freedom of religion, as defined by the First Amendment, means that the government cannot establish an official religion for the country and that the government cannot create a law prohibiting the free exercise of anyone’s religion.  

Religious freedom guarantees the right to our religious beliefs. It does not give anyone the right to discriminate against or deny service to those who do not share these beliefs. However, the bill in Georgia would allow people to do just that. While done in the name of the 1st Amendment, this act is a glaring violation of the 14th Amendment. 

The 14th Amendment declares that “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States… nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Under the “Equal Protection Clause” of this amendment, the Supreme Court ended discriminatory policies such as segregation, arguing that segregation and policies like it treated certain groups like second class citizens with lesser rights. This was unconstitutional because all citizens are guaranteed the same privileges and equal protection under the law. 

The Georgia bill and others like it are similar cases of treating groups like inferior citizens. Being denied service based on sexual orientation is no different than denying service based on race. Religion was used as a justification for racial prejudice in the 20th century as it is being used today. Some claimed that God wanted the races to be separate in an attempt to justify segregation, while others opposed interracial relationships on similar grounds

But requiring integration in the mid-19th century was not about trampling on religious liberty, it was about ensuring fairness for everyone. There is no difference now. Every citizen deserves to be treated equally before the law. Holding certain religious beliefs does not exempt someone from this policy. 

The Georgia bill is also dangerous because of its vague language. It states that a minister does not have to perform a marriage that violates any of their religious beliefs. On these grounds a minister could turn away not only same-sex couples, but also single mothers, unwed parents, even people of other faiths. It is a slippery slope that could be taken very far, depending on how far the interpretation of “violating religious beliefs” is stretched. 

This issue is more than just equal treatment regarding marriages. There are so many instances where certain groups, especially the LGBT community, do not have the same protections as everyone else. 28 states do not have any form of LGBT employment protection. A gay person could get married on Saturday and be fired on Monday solely on the grounds of their sexual orientation. And while some say we don’t need these safeguards, history has proven time and again that when any form of discrimination is allowed people will ultimately take advantage of it. 

Freedom of religion is a crucial right in our country. And the overwhelming majority of people of faith in this country are good people, people that embody virtues of love, kindness, and respect. But there are those that will attempt to use their beliefs to justify hatred and bigotry. This biased treatment should not be allowed in our society, and it should certainly not be encouraged through legislation.

Every person, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, beliefs or personal choices deserves to be guaranteed equal treatment and equal rights.


Jacob Kowalski is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at jacob.kowalski@uconn.edu.