The smell of the BBQ starting, the sound of firecrackers popping, and the display of the American flag signal the start of the July 4th holiday weekend. I spent some time this morning with a cup of hot coffee appreciating the core values and principles upon which this country was founded and why we forged our independence from England in the first place. We wanted a number of freedoms including having a government that was independent of any religious organization or mandate. After winning independence from England, we created a Constitution that establishes liberty, equality, and justice for all. In fact, the value of religious freedom was so important, the authors of our Constitution re-stated the right to religious freedom in the First Amendment to the Constitution. This Amendment along with the founding documents clearly establish a separation between church and state. People have the right to believe or not believe whatever they want and the operation of the government must be kept free from the dictates of any church.
The Declaration of Independence was really the start of the civil rights movement in this country and we have been grappling with civil rights issues from that day forward. We’ve grappled with race and gender and now today, we are fighting over gender identity and sexual orientation. Organized religions have been deeply involved in every step of the civil rights movement, sometimes not being on the same side of one part of the movement as the other. While struggles over race were specific to single group of people based on race, gender identity and sexual orientation transcends all races, all people, and both traditional genders. Despite what some world leaders might say, gay people exist throughout the human race, on every continent and in every country. It is a naturally occurring aspect of the human species.
The Constitution of the United States says clearly that all people are created equally and entitled to equal protection under the law. It also establishes a clear separation of church and state. Religious freedom is, and must be, a two way street meaning that people must be allowed to believe what they want while at the same time be governed independently of any one religion’s values or beliefs. We are not a Christian country; we are not a country defined by any religious affiliation or allegiance. We cannot be and have a fundamental freedom to practice any religion or none at all.
Last night I watched “8: The Mormon Proposition”. This documentary told the story of how the Mormon Church constructed and funded the campaign to pass Proposition 8 in California which changed the California State Constitution to define a marriage between a man and a woman the only type of marriage to be legally recognized by the State. This was the first time a vote of a slim majority of people changed a state’s constitution to actually take away a liberty from a specific group of people that they once enjoyed (albeit for a very short period of time – June 17, 2008 through November 4, 2008). This documentary describes how the Mormon Church created a coalition with the Catholic Church to create “smoke screen” of sorts to hide their direct involvement. I found it completely disturbing. The level of hatred by the Mormom Church of gay people is amazing to me and defies any Christian values and principles I’m familiar with. This is a faith that guided by leaders who tell their people that “it’s better to be dead than to be gay.” This is an organization that stands by parents to disown their gay children and one that has a track record of having one of the highest suicide rates among gay youth than any other religion in this country. Hatred is a Mormon value and I see little difference between the kind of evil practiced here and that found in satanism. What took place with the Mormon Church and Catholic Church in the campaign for proposition 8 is criminal, unethical, and immoral.
On this July 4th holiday, I urge you to think about the meaning behind this weekend’s celebration and, like those lead us to freedom and independence from England, to find the courage to stand up for liberty, equality, and justice for all. Don’t sit back and wait for someone else to do the hard work for you. Find some way to contribute to this generation’s civil rights movement and do your part to honor those who fought before you.