Do Religious Freedom Laws Make Logical Sense?

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project April 5, 2015

FreedomOfReligion

The ways we justify our reasoning has less to do with sound arguments than you may think.

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“Arkansas Governor: My Son Asked Me To Veto ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill,” read the Huffington Post headline on my Facebook stream. Governor Asa Hutchinson repeatedly confirmed he was ready to sign the bill as soon as it came across his desk. So what happened? Economic pressure?

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, certainly opposed it. Hutchinson definitely saw the backlash against the state of Indiana when their law went into effect, and I’m sure that had something to do with it. But the fact that he called out his son as a significant influence spoke volumes.

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Our emotional reactions are so swift and unconscious, logical reasoning doesn’t have time to catch up.

Our initial, gut reactions to moral, political and religious issues come from a combination of heredity and upbringing. For those of us indoctrinated in a particular religious or political belief system, we see things through the lens of those beliefs. Our emotional reactions are so swift and unconscious, logical reasoning doesn’t have time to catch up.

In his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Dr. Jonathan Haidt introduces us to the metaphor of “the elephant and the rider.” The elephant illustrates the unconscious thought process; the automatic, emotional visceral brain. The rider illustrates our reasoning process; the conscious, verbal, thinking brain. The way to train the elephant is not by brute force, but by making mindful, conscious decisions through reasoning and logic. Often times, reasoning conflicts with what our core values tell us is right and wrong. You can think of this as the little human rider trying to tell the big elephant where to go.

As a former 25-year member of the religious right, I completely understand where the religious freedom laws are coming from. They are an elephant reaction to seemingly widespread acceptance of LGBT people. Many believe it is only a matter of time before gay marriage will become the law of the land. From a conservative Christian’s perspective, government sanctioning of gay marriage is not only an affront to God Himself, but can only lead to persecution of those who believe the Bible sanctions marriage between one man and one woman. (Click here for a more accurate view of Biblical marriage.)

In order to avoid being caught in the crosshairs – between God and country – a law that protects someone from having to “approve” of the “vile acts” of homosexuals, is a necessary evil. That’s the elephant talking.

…research shows when we are only with others who think like us, we tend to go deeper into our own values, moving us further right or left of center and convincing ourselves that we are right and everyone else is wrong.

The problem with “logic,” however, is that sometimes it only makes sense to us, or to our group. Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein, in his book, Wiser – Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter, says that research shows when we are only with others who think like us, we tend to go deeper into our own values, moving us further right or left of center and convincing ourselves that we are right and everyone else is wrong.

It’s not difficult to imagine, then, how a group of seemingly persecuted religious individuals came together to do something about a perceived problem.

So where does Governor Hutchinson’s son come in to this? Stay with me for a moment.

There are three ways in which the rider – the conscious, verbal, thinking brain – can guide the elephant, and they are not mutually exclusive. In other words, they all work together to bring about change in our thought processes and reactions.

1. Cognitive Dissonance
This is holding contradictory beliefs at the same time. For example, someone may oppose gay marriage for religious reasons, but have a gay child. He or she knows the child personally and realizes that all of the stereotypes and beliefs taught about homosexuality from a religious point of view do not apply to that child. This causes a conflict between a belief held to be true, and the reality of what is seen.

Once a mental conflict arises, a person now has other experiences that confirm the long-held belief may indeed not be completely accurate, or in fact is completely untrue.

2. Experience
Experience is knowledge of an event through involvement or exposure. Once a mental conflict arises, a person now has other experiences that confirm the long-held belief may indeed not be completely accurate, or in fact is completely untrue.

3. Critical thinking
A person who can think critically about their experiences, or make clear and reasoned judgments, particularly when those experiences don’t align to long-held beliefs, is now steering the elephant.

According to the Huffington Post article Governor Hutchinson said, “My son Seth signed the petition asking me, Dad, the governor, to veto this bill…And he gave me permission to make that reference, and it shows that families — and there’s a generational difference of opinion on these issues.”

Governor Hutchinson was experiencing cognitive dissonance between what he believed to be true and the influence of his son, whom he trusts and respects. He recognized and valued the difference of opinion between generations, as well as the toll this bill was having on families, and I’m sure, businesses. What we see is a combination of cognitive dissonance, experience and critical thinking swaying the governor’s point of view.

But what does this say about the future of those who believe in the need for such laws? Is there any hope of bringing them around?

First of all, let’s differentiate what Indiana has done compared to the 19 other states with religious freedom laws. Indiana’s law is the only one that specifically applies to disputes between private citizens. While Texas has a somewhat similar law, it exempts civil rights protections. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by Bill Clinton in 1993, was put into effect to protect citizens and entities against other entities or governments, not to protect citizens from each other.

It’s difficult to address the issue by simply defining what Christianity is about or what Christians should do. There are multiple facets of Christianity and the Christian label is available to anyone who wants to claim it. Logically, religious freedom bills don’t make any sense. Gay marriage is still likely to be approved by the Supreme Court, and to make matters worse for the Christian right, the LGBT community becomes the underdog. Historically, this means stronger support, particularly from younger generations.

The problem the Christian right has with the LGBT community stems from misinformation about LGBT people gathered from the 1950s. This outdated and debunked propaganda fits nicely within their fundamentalist worldview and, unfortunately, is still proliferated by the large, well-funded, religious PACs firmly planted in political wallets. It is a shining example of what happens when the elephant controls the rider.

Photo – Flickr/michael_swan

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The 4 Problems With Reparative Therapy Laws

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project March 15, 2015

IBelievedYourJunkScience

 

A former “ex-gay” leader rips up the argument against laws  that ban therapists from trying to convert LGBT kids.

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Last week in Colorado, the House voted to pass HB15-1175, which prohibits licensed therapists and other mental health workers from using conversion therapy, also known as ex-gay or reparative therapy, on minors. Similar bills are making their way across the country to protect LGBT youth from often misinformed and misguided parents on the harm and dangers of this outdated practice.

House Republican Gordon Klingenschmitt, however, wasn’t content with just a vote of dissension, but chose to write a two-page letter outlining the main problems he has with the bill. With similar bills at various stages in other states, Klingenschmitt raises common concerns among other conservative opponents.

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Anti-conversion therapy laws prohibit free speech
This is true, if you are of the opinion that lying, misleading, misinforming and providing false hope are considered free speech from a licensed professional. Along that line of thinking, we should also no longer punish contractors, doctors, lawyers, or any other professional making a promise he or she cannot deliver.

In February, 2015, Superior Court Judge Peter F. Barsio Jr. said that conversion therapy is “a misrepresentation in violation of [New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act], in advertising or selling conversion therapy services, to describe homosexuality, not as being a normal variation of human sexuality, but as being a mental illness, disease, disorder, or equivalent thereof.” Homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses in 1973.

Today, nearly all mental health organizations, after over 40 years of research, have determined that sexual orientation cannot be changed, only behavior, and that usually for only a short period of time, or the behavior is driven underground, creating more mental anguish for the person attempting to change it.

While free speech allows the general public to say anything they want, it does not allow doctors to practice medieval and outdated practices on their patients, particularly when those practices have been repudiated and proven to cause harm.

While free speech allows the general public to say anything they want, it does not allow doctors to practice medieval and outdated practices on their patients, particularly when those practices have been repudiated and proven to cause harm. Preventing the practice of reparative therapy holds mental health professionals accountable to their peers for acceptable therapeutic practices.

Anti-conversion therapy restricts religious freedom
This is also true, as was the case when laws were enforced to end slavery, provide for interracial marriage, end segregation, create gender equality and force religious people to treat other human beings with dignity, because they are human beings, not because they have the same religious beliefs.

The famous astronomer, Galileo, was also accused of stepping on religious principles when he used science to discover that the earth was not at the center of the universe. It would be another 350 years before the Catholic Church finally apologized for calling him a heretic and trying to burn him at the stake. (Whoops!)

Religious thinking is traditionally years behind scientific discoveries, and further behind when it comes to adjusting dogmatic and often inhumane beliefs. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.”

These bills take away parental rights
This is not true. This bill reinforces what the mental health and medical communities have known for years, that conversion therapy not only doesn’t work, it is potentially harmful. The bill does not (unfortunately) stop parents from sending their children to ex-gay camps, pastoral counseling, or other types of non-licensed therapy, or even impede on their religious liberties to enforce their unfounded beliefs on their children. What it does do is send a clear message that the practice of reparative therapy has been found to be ineffective at best, and harmful, dangerous and deadly at worst.

Many of these therapists make an enormous amount of money from parents willing to do anything to change their child’s sexual or gender orientation, in spite of the facts.

Again, these bills are aimed at holding licensed mental health professionals accountable for their actions. Many of these therapists make an enormous amount of money from parents willing to do anything to change their child’s sexual or gender orientation, in spite of the facts. These bills do not attempt to change a parent’s perspective on the “rightness” or “wrongness” of homosexuality, but they do acknowledge that seeking professional help does not change the child’s orientation and removes the legitimacy of attempting to do so by a licensed therapist.

The bill would threaten freedom of press
This particular dissension is probably the most telling of all the opponents of reparative therapy. As Klingenschmitt noted, “There is a manual for conversion therapy. Many of you, when you swore your oath to defend the constitution, raised your right hand to God, and you placed your left hand on that book.”

Naturally, Klingenschmitt, who holds a PhD in theology from Pat Robertson’s Regent University, is implying that the bill would ban the Bible, as he understands and believes it. As in the case of Galileo, it is a particular interpretation of the Bible that is at odds with ending the practice of reparative therapy.

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (2001) there are over 33,000 Christian denominations and sects. Each believes that their interpretation and version of the Bible or Scriptures is correct and the others are wrong. Essentially, it is people like Klingenschmitt who deny this type of protective legislation to legitimize their view of Christianity and invalidate the research and experience of others who do not hold their world view.

Until homophobia is eradicated from society and religious bigotry, reparative therapy belongs in the realm of belief.

Anti-reparative therapy laws most certainly do not threaten the freedom of press. There are many books on reparative therapy, written by a number of prominent proponents of the practice. Most of them are ministers, but all claim to be Christians who believe that homosexuality is sinful and something that can and should be changed. Until homophobia is eradicated from society and religious bigotry, reparative therapy belongs in the realm of belief. It does not belong in a society that believes its constitution was to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, [and] promote the general Welfare…”

The reason our country was not founded on religious principles is because there is never any agreement on unfounded ideologies, other than those based on a common “belief.” However, belief must be suspended in light of evidence. The two are not always mutually exclusive, but in the cases where they are, truth, a verified or indisputable fact, trumps belief.

The arguments against reparative therapy are purely religious arguments at their core, often shrouded in first amendment jargon to disguise their lack of reasoning and substance. Right-leaning representatives are often persuaded by anecdotal stories of those who share either personal beliefs, or the beliefs of their financial supporters.

Click here to see which states currently have active laws and legislation on reparative therapy.

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Photo – Flickr/Daniel Gonzales

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