EDITORIAL: Gov. Ivey, freedom to discriminate isn't real freedom

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SUMMER EDITORIAL BOARD 2017

On Wednesday, Governor Kay Ivey signed into law H.B. 24., a bill that grants religious foster and adoption agencies the ability to legally discriminate against prospective LGBT foster and adoptive parents by denying them service.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, has said the bill is about religious liberty, not discrimination. “The intent of the bill was to make sure the faith-based child-placing agencies aren’t harmed for their beliefs,” Wingo said.

Ivey said she signed the bill because it was "overwhelmingly" approved by the Alabama Legislature.

Across America, and especially in Alabama, it’s easy to score political points by railing on about religious freedom. To many, it sounds like a reasonable, legislative tool that can be used to fight back in an ostensible war on Christianity.

What makes this tool especially dangerous is how subtly it can hide horrendous moral failings under the guise of promoting freedom.

Given how popular it is to base legislation around religious freedom, it’s important we stop to think of what it means beyond its face. The idea of religious freedom plays a vital role in American society. It’s drawn persecuted believers across the world toward our nation with the promise of tolerance — the idea that we can practice our faiths in peace with each other even if they aren't the same.

It’s a shame this beautiful idea, centered around tolerance, has been misshapen into a tool of blatant discrimination.

Yet the bill's proponents maintain it isn’t intended to discriminate, constantly spewing out the words "religious freedom, religious freedom, religious freedom." In doing so, they attempt to create a smokescreen around the damage they're doing to marginalized groups.

What they advocate for is freedom, yes. But freedom for whom?

Bills that allow businesses and other organizations to discriminate based on arbitrary distinctions like sexual orientation aren’t actually promoting freedom; they are shifting power. And in this instance, it’s shifting power from LGBT individuals toward religious agencies, which steals the freedom of many would-be parents.

Legislation based upon religious freedom isn't inherently justified. It isn't inherently good because it grants religious entities or individuals more power. These transfers of power must be evaluated based on whether they open the door to discrimination or any other form of systemic harm toward our citizens.

Allowing the freedom to discriminate amounts to allowing discrimination, and no amount of mental gymnastics can absolve the bill’s supporters of that moral failing.

Those who debase the beauty of religious freedom by using it as a tool for discrimination need to reconsider their words and deeds, and in doing so, come to give the idea the respect it deserves.

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