“Religious Liberty” Is Often Just Code for Hate

Mike Huckabee says that Christianity is under assault and being criminalized. He saw the situation surrounding Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis as an opportunity to take a stand against this “war on Christianity” and to further his political career. Much to his disappointment, however, Judge Bunning ordered Kim Davis to be released from jail before Huckabee could assemble his Christian coalition to march on the jail that housed Davis. Judge Bunning ruled that since 5 of the 6 deputies in Davis’ office were issuing marriage licenses, then the court order he issued was being met. He then ordered Davis released from jail, on the condition that she does not interfere with the deputies’ ability to continue issuing marriage licenses.

Mike Huckabee
Mike Huckabee

Christian fundamentalists, like all religious fundamentalists, champion the notion that their religious belief is carte blanche. In Huckabee’s view, his Christian beliefs should grant him, and every other Christian, the indisputable right to discriminate against or persecute anyone that they think their religion dictates. He contends that by preventing him, and others, from doing so, the government is violating their 1st Amendment right to “religious liberty.” So on Tuesday, in spite of Judge Benning’s decision to release Kim Davis earlier in the day, Huckabee decided to go ahead with his organized public media event to get on TV and to show the country that he isn’t going to stand for it anymore, as well as attempt to score political points for his presidential campaign. In essence, Huckabee is trying to position himself as the millennial generation’s version of George Wallace.

Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace is shown in this Oct. 19, 1964 photo speaking in Glen Burnie, Md. at a rally supporting Republican presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater. (AP Photo)
Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace is shown in this Oct. 19, 1964 photo speaking in Glen Burnie, Md. at a rally supporting Republican presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater. (AP Photo)

Now, I know that some people may think that I am being hyperbolic when I compare Huckabee to Wallace, but I think there are several striking similarities not only between the two individuals themselves, but also the events that surrounded them, as well as the Christian fundamentalist’s use of “religious liberty”as a rallying cry to advocate for government-sanctioned discrimination, persecution, and hatred.

George Wallace was the Governor of Alabama from 1963 until 1967, and he became a national figure for his pro-segregation activism. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its historic ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, in which they declared that the segregation of public schools and universities was in violation of the 14th Amendment and was, therefore, unconstitutional. This ruling effectively struck down all of the state laws requiring segregated public schools, which included the University of Alabama, though they were successful in continuing to reject all black applicants for the next 9 years.

That changed in 1963 when they were unable to find grounds to disqualify 3 black applicants. Those applicants also refused to succumb to the intimidation tactics often used by the University of Alabama – through law enforcement officials – whenever they couldn’t disqualify a black candidate. A federal judge ordered the University of Alabama to admit them as students, and also ordered Governor Wallace not to interfere. George Wallace decided to stand up for what he called the federal government’s infringement of state’s rights. He stated, “I shall refuse to abide by any such illegal federal court order even to the point of standing in the schoolhouse door, if necessary”, which he would eventually do in a big publicity stunt he organized. Does any of that sound familiar?

Ala. Gov. George Wallace stands in the doorway of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963.
Ala. Gov. George Wallace stands in the doorway of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963.

While Wallace did focus more on the “state’s rights” angle for his pro-segregationist stance, he was a Christian who asked for God’s help and blessing to carry out his mission on numerous occasions. Of course, Wallace certainly wasn’t the only voice, and there were others who were more focused on the “religious liberty” angle.

Bob Jones, Sr. was a very popular Christian evangelist. He became one of the first religious leaders to have a radio broadcast, and he was the founder of Bob Jones University. He was also an ardent segregationist. In a 1960 radio address on Easter Sunday, Jones talked about how segregation was God’s will and that if you opposed segregation, then you opposed God.

Theodore Bilbo was a two-term governor and a one-term senator for the state of Mississippi. In his book Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, Bilbo laid out all of the arguments he could make in support of segregation, with Chapter 7 being devoted to explaining how segregation was his deeply held, religious belief and that you could not accurately call yourself an adherent to Christianity unless you supported segregation. “Nothing could be more foreign to the ideals of the Christian religion than miscegenation and amalgamation”, he said.

But using “religious liberty” as justification for segregation wasn’t an isolated event. Before Christian fundamentalists decided to use the legal recognition of same-sex marriage as “proof” that their “religious liberty” is being stripped away, they targeted interracial marriage.

In 1958, the Commonwealth of Virginia was just one of two dozen states who had legal bans on interracial marriage – along with Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Virginia residents Mildred and Richard Loving traveled to Washington D.C. to get married because their state banned them from doing so (Richard was a white man and Mildred was half black/half Native American). After they returned home, their home was eventually raided by the police, who received an anonymous tip. They were found sleeping in the same bed together, and Mildred showed the police their marriage certificate that they had acquired in Washington D.C. They were both charged with miscengenation, which was a felony in Virginia punishable by 1-5 years in prison. As part of a plea deal, they plead guilty and were each sentenced to 1 year in prison, which was suspended as long as they both left Virgina, which they did. In his decision, Judge Leon Bazile wrote:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Eventually, their conviction would be overturned when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that interracial marriage bans were a violation of – wait for it – the 14th Amendment and were unconstitutional. Again, does this sound familiar?

For centuries, people have been invoking their own ideas of gods and religions in order to rationalize their hatred and prejudices towards others. But, more importantly, they have also used them to justify stripping away the rights of others or committing acts of violence against them. Slavers used the passages found throughout the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, that condoned slavery as support for the slave trade. It was also popular during the 17th and 18th centuries to reference the curse of the Canaanites – known by the misnomer “the Curse of Ham” – in the book of Genesis as “proof” that God wanted whites to enslave blacks.

Quit Squirming Cartoon

What we see happening in Kentucky is not new territory. We’ve been down this path several times. A person asserts that because they hold a certain religious belief, that this entitles them to cherry pick which laws they will follow, and which laws they will ignore. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that segregation, interracial marriage bans, and same-sex marriages bans were ALL in violation of the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Each and every time that SCOTUS has ruled this way, Christian fundamentalists claim that their “religious liberty” is being taken away. It is not.

The only thing being taken away is their ability to impose their beliefs onto others and their ability to violate the rights of others based upon their religious ideology, and they don’t like it.

Well, too bad.