Religious Freedom: Who’s on the right side of history?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Religious Freedom

The reaction to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was so fast and furious that it spurred an almost instant change in the law. Proving that government can act quickly when it wants to, the amended law says it can’t be used to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The change placated some critics, but others say it doesn’t go far enough. Still others, voices quiet at the moment, want the original law to stand as is.

Who’s on the right side of history?

As a dispassionate social scientist, not a partisan activist, I’ve been following and reporting these trends for quite a while, such as the generational divide in support of gay marriage and the crisis churches face over the issue.

These issues reflect the big, perennial questions of values in America—values that have long historical roots, but also change in interpretation over time.

New York Times column by Frank Bruni April 2015The theme of changing interpretation was noted yesterday by Frank Bruni, writing in the Sunday edition of The New York Times. Bruni quotes David Gushee, a well known evangelical Christian and ethicist at Mercer University, who says: “Human understanding of what is sinful has changed over time.” Gushee himself once supported bans on same-sex relationships, but has changed his views on the subject.

Who’s on the right side of history—critics of the Indiana law (and other similar laws) or those who support it?

Detroit Free Press editorial April 2015One answers comes from an editorial yesterday in the Detroit Free Press, which says that it’s time for Michigan to get on the right side of history when it comes to these issues. “Today, we’re saying it plainly: Discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is wrong, whether done in open hatred or cloaked in religion.”

I don’t debate theological issues; I examine public opinion. Surveys are great democratic instruments because they circumvent leaders and gatekeepers and go straight to the people. Based on trends, more and more Americans today would say that laws like Indiana’s are clearly on the wrong side of history. Starting tomorrow, we’ll look closely at some of these public opinion data.

Have you been following the fracas over laws usually called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”?
Are laws like these on the right side—or wrong side—of history?
To what extent should we rely on public opinion to determine what’s right and wrong?

Your opinion matters …

OurValues is designed to spark spirited, civil discussion. You’re free to print out these columns and use them in a class or small group. Or, simply talk about this on Facebook or Twitter.

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  1. Judgement is not our first priority as followers of Jesus, is it? The more excellent way is the way of love, not judgement. A rigid interpretation of the Bible as inerrant and infallible leads us here, but those who say they follow this dictum do not, in reality, follow it! Paul was probably seeing full-on (and out!) prostitution in the Roman world and was reacting to that. he most certainly did not see couples like the two loving, Christian women who have been together for 30 years and attend our church. They are so grateful to be able to worship and fellowship without fear of reaction and hatred from church members. We need to provide ways, forums where we can sit down with each other and hear each others stories