Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Freedom of Speech and Religion

In light of yesterday's supreme court ruling, I would like to take a moment to pontificate further on a brief status update I posted on Facebook. In that post, I said:

"Anytime you vote in favor of something that effects the way other people can live their lives, remember that regardless of your personal opinions about the matter at hand, you are not expressing your right to free speech and belief, but in fact you are prohibiting others of those rights."
To take that same line of thinking from a different angle, voting against any such legislation - such as gay marriage, abortion, gun rights, etc. - does not necessarily mean that you approve of the issue at hand, just that you recognize that neither you nor the government has the right to dictate how others can live their lives, based on your personal beliefs.

For example, I personally will never own a gun (due to my moral beliefs and a personal history that I am not about to go into here). But I would never vote in favor of any legislation that would restrict another American's right to make that choice for themselves.

There is a huge difference between exercising your right to free speech, and restricting others of that same right. If you are opposed to gay marriage, or abortion, or gun rights, or pink lawn flamingos wearing Hawaiian grass skirts, you are entitled to that opinion, and you have the right to express that opinion publicly. You do not, however, have the right to restrict others of their right to their opinion or belief.

On the gay marriage issue, people argue that they believe that marriage is defined by the Bible as being between solely a man and a woman. Okay. Fine. That is their religious belief and opinion. They are entitled to that belief. The problem is that there are just as many good, faithful Christians who believe that marriage is more about love than what resides between peoples' legs. 

When the first example (Christian A) goes and votes against legalizing gay marriage, they are no longer saying, "These are my beliefs and I am entitled to them." They are now saying, "These are my beliefs, and they are right, so you are not entitled to yours." 

On the flip side, when the second example (Christian B) goes and votes in favor of legalizing gay marriage, they are not saying, "You are not entitled to your personal beliefs," but simply saying, "We may have differing opinions on this matter, but it is not our place, or the place of the government, to impose our opinions on anyone else."

The difference between the two is that Christian A has voted against Christian B's right to their opinion, whereas Christian B has voted in favor of both of their rights. If more people came to understand this subtle distinction, I guarantee that there would be a lot less fighting and arguing over these issues.

Anyone who follows my writing most likely will have already heard me say that the only thing I refuse to tolerate is intolerance. I've had many people try to argue that there is a difference between tolerating and condoning. We could go around in circles arguing about the semantics of the definition of tolerance (I personally believe that tolerance is free of judgment, but that is a separate debate), but the simple fact of the matter is that by voting in favor of legislation which bans anything such as gay marriage, abortion, or guns, you are being anything but tolerant, because you are discarding other people's right to make their own decisions and hold their own beliefs that are different from yours.

On the complete opposite side of the coin, forcing a specific church to go against their beliefs and allow same-sex weddings within their walls is just as intolerant. Being a victim of intolerance is not justification for becoming a perpetrator of intolerance, yet history has proven time and time again that the oppressed of yesterday will become the oppressors of tomorrow.

Is it discrimination on the part of these churches? Yes, but unfortunately when it's a choice between discrimination and forcing someone to change their beliefs, I think it's more important that we maintain the fact that we should all have the right to our beliefs and opinions, even if those beliefs and opinions may lead to discriminatory practices. There are enough churches and wedding ministers out there who will not discriminate, that it's really not necessary to go to the extreme of forcing all churches and ministers to go against their beliefs.

Do you still have the right to vote in favor of these various legislations? Yes, of course you do. I'm not telling anyone what they can or can't do. I'm just urging people to think more carefully about what it is that they are actually voting for or against, and not to turn around and tell me that you are tolerant, when you just voted against my right to have my own opinion and belief.

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