Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: ‘Religious liberty’ crowd reveals true colors as First Amendment crumbles

As they’ve lost ground in the culture wars, conservatives have been crying wolf about the endangered nature of faith in America, insisting that our country was straying from its founding principle of religious liberty and believers were being persecuted by the government (or the courts, or Hollywood, or corporate America, or pro sports leagues, or whichever mainstream social institution was noting that their god, as described by his followers, was a bigot).

Now that the wolf has appeared, the prophets are silent. They have not fled in fear, nor mounted a fight, as they bravely would have had the wolf asked them to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding; rather, some have ignored the current assault on Muslims, but most giddily cheer on the beast as he mauls the allegedly inalienable rights of followers of a different god (a lesser god, an un-American god; a, some people are saying, fake god).

At the start of this year’s Georgia legislative session, Republican state Sen. Josh McKoon, the messiah of “religious liberty” efforts in this state, offered a clever anecdote to “those who say that we do not have a problem with repressing people and being able to exercise their faith the way they choose.” McKoon told the story of a Nabila Khan, a young Muslim woman who was admonished by her college professor for wearing a traditional veil to class, which McKoon called “an uncomfortable example” for opponents of his Religious Freedom and Restoration Act because it proves “religious liberty” is broader than just discriminating against LGBT Georgians.

“I may not look like Ms. Khan, we may not share the same faith tradition, but we rise and fall on the same legal protections of the Constitution,” McKoon said in his most noble tone, while conceding that many of his fellow religious conservatives would have no problem with discrimination against a Muslim woman. “A government that can tell Ms. Khan not to honor her faith tradition in a lecture hall at a public college or university can do the same thing to a Christian, the same thing to a Jew, the same thing to someone of any faith tradition.”

However, Khan’s unfortunate experience is more of “a convenient example” for McKoon, suggesting he was interested in all forms of religious freedom, and not just the version that allows Christian store owners, landlords, hospitals and other public accommodations to refuse service to folks they consider abominations. Now that Khan’s faith has been singled-out by President Trump as unwelcome in the United States, and as people, including lawful U.S. residents, were detained in airport jails because they were Muslim, the normally verbose McKoon has said not a word about the perilous state of “religious liberty” in this country.

Nationally, one of the biggest champions of “religious freedom” legislation has been Franklin Graham, who, unlike McKoon, had plenty to say about Muslims being targeted by the Trump administration. Mainly: Hallelujah!

“We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled,” Graham wrote on Facebook, extending his bigotry beyond the seven countries identified in Trump’s executive order, and wiping his ass with the same First Amendment he pretends to defend. “Every Muslim that comes into this county has the potential to be radicalized – and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad.”

Over the past 15 years, white Christians have repeatedly tried to ally with African-Americans, Latinos and even Muslims, appealing to their shared disapproval of homosexuality to help pass anti-LGBT laws. But leaders of the anti-LGBT movement come from the same strain of political theology that faithfully championed segregation, insists on a border wall to keep Mexicans out and says that little Muslim children deserve life (and death) in a war zone more than the religious liberty that American Christians take for granted.