Columnist J.M. Sorrell: Freedom: Farce, dogma and power 

  • mactrunk

Published: 7/6/2021 8:11:01 PM

The meaning of freedom is subjective. In most dictionaries, it is referred to as an individual state where one has the power to act, speak or think without restraint. Freedom is also defined as not living under a despotic government or under foreign dominion. Without accountability, freedom too often includes a justification of taking away another’s liberty to attain it. How do we achieve freedom that does not oppress?

The current militia and Christian white supremacist movements evolved from the foundation of a very limited and often perverse notion of freedom in the United States. In 1852, Frederick Douglass rendered his speech, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” to describe the ludicrous nature of celebrating freedom while enslaving Black people. He said, ”The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me.”

The Religious Freedom Act of 1998 was intended to support the rights of minority religions to practice free from persecution by majority religions or the state. Religious freedom was not intended to justify the oppression of others; however, separation of church and state has long been a veneer for Christian-biased norms in the United States.

Other nonprofit organizations are warned not to engage in work that supports or decries political issues or they risk losing their 501(c)(3) designation. Protestant and Catholic churches and organizations somehow maintain tax-exempt status while preaching against women’s reproductive rights, marriage equality, and in a case recently upheld by the Supreme Court, the rights of same-sex couples to foster and adopt children. As the courts rule consistently in favor of so-called religious freedom, they disregard the freedom and rights of others.

This is an issue that is near and dear to me. I was in a foster home and adopted as a 9-month-old through Catholic Charities in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There are over 400,000 foster children in the United States. While some of them may be reunited with their birth parents, it is in the best interest of many of them to be adopted into loving homes. Safe homes. Same-sex couples and single people should be considered based on their capacity to provide a stable and loving family environment. It is unconscionable to judge potential lesbian and gay parents solely because of their mere existence. The well-being of children should be the top priority.

Religious bigotry prevents children from being placed in affirming homes. The organization Children’s Rights cited a 2019 study that found that over 30 percent of foster kids identify as LGBTQ, and they are often bullied and abused for being who they are and therefore more likely to flee foster care settings and end up homeless than their heterosexual counterparts ( I can imagine my younger self being over the moon if adopted by lesbian moms who would accept me for who I am.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation is committed to protecting the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. On their web site, they warn, “The religious right is campaigning to raid the public till and advance religion at taxpayer expense, attacking our secular public schools, the rights of nonbelievers, and the Establishment Clause. Christian nationalists are using the ‘free exercise’ of religion as a weapon to impose religion, rather than as a shield to protect religious minorities. Hard-won victories for women, LGBTQ and civil rights are imperiled.”

The right to worship should not extend to the right to inflict doctrine into the public sphere. For starters, if a religious group insists on violating the civil rights of some, they should be a private concern and not enjoy tax-free status or government funding in a secular democracy.

I do not believe that freedom means I can do whatever I want when I want regardless how my actions affect others. True freedom is a social contract where the rights of individuals are in balance with a collective responsibility for our communities, country and world.

As it is playing out now, the pathological pursuit of freedom may paradoxically be our country’s undoing. Christian white nationalist leaders are not interested in altruistic notions of freedom. They are farcical and dangerous as they pursue oppressive power and package it as freedom. We must not be fooled, and we should not underestimate what we are up against — the antithesis of freedom. Fascism.

The fight for real freedom, justice and equality continues. If Stacey Abrams persists with hope against all odds, I have no excuse for complacency. Keep on keeping on.

J.M. Sorrell is a social justice activist/trainer and a health care advocate.

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