Thursday, January 5, 2012

In America, Nigeria and Uganda: Religious Freedom is denied when the Civil Rights of the LGBT community are limited by the government on the basis of religious belief

by Rev Stephen Parelli
Other Sheep Executive Director
Williamsburg Plantation, Williamsburg, Virginia
December 27 & 28, 2011

"There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it"
-Albert Barnes
Minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia from 1830-1867

Monday, while visiting Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, Jose and I, reading a plaque commemorating the 1777 "Act Establishing Religious Freedom" in Virginia, were reminded again how fortunate we are to live in a country where an establishment of religion and the state cannot legally be wedded.

Plaque commemorating religious freedom in Virginia.
The commemorative plaque is displayed on the walls of
the Burton Parish Church, Colonial Williamsburg, VA

Even so, there are those in America who would (and already have by state amendments) impose their religious beliefs as the "law of the land" in matters of civil rights as it pertains to marriage equality. (For just one example, view this film documentary on the Mormon church and Proposition 8.)

Burton Parish Church, Williamsburg
Burton Parish Church (Episcopalian), Colonial Williamsburg, VA, where the commemorative plaque on religious freedom in Virginia is found.
Uganda and Nigeria are present examples where the civil rights of the LGBT minority are limited on the basis of the religious beliefs of the heterosexual majority. Yet, not all religious leaders (be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim) are in agreement that marriage equality and the homosexual lifestyle are in conflict with belief in God. Where true liberty is the objective, government has the obligation to protect the free exercise of all its people in matters of belief and practice, including minorities who may adobt a belief and practice different from the majority.

Since its inception in 1992, Other Sheep has, in good conscience and by disciplined academics and Biblical scholarship, shown how, in our opinion, Christianity is not in conflict with a homosexual lifestyle. While respecting the individual rights of those who would differ, I find it un-American, inhumane, and contrary to worldwide human rights principles, for heterosexuals, based on their understanding of God, to limit the civil rights of homosexuals through the enactment of laws and constitutional amendments.

The UN, in its November 17 historic report (released on Dec. 15) on LGBT human rights violations cites, in its section "Applicable international standards and obligations," the right to religious freedom as a basic human right.

While the emphasis of the UN study is on discrimination based on sexual orientation, I would like to highlight that discrimination against homosexuals is by-and-large, as I have observed it, rooted in a discrimination against others based on religion. This abridgement of religious freedom through the enactment of civil laws by the heterosexual majority in America, Uganda and Nigeria, strikes at the very core of Western liberties and ideals where the state and religion are each separate in their sphere of operation and office of authority.

For America, Uganda or Nigeria to enact laws against homosexuals based in a sacred text of "thus saith the Lord" (the Torah, the Koran, the New Testament or some other) is the height of religious discrimination. It is an immense step backwards in the progress of human dignity. Each individual has the God-given right to live before his or her Creator according to one's own understanding of God and what God may or may not be saying.

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