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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Discrimination in the Name of Religion: Methodists, Religious Freedom Laws, and What’s Right

In the 1980s when I was heavily involved with gay rights in Columbus, Ohio, I was invited to be a speaker at a downtown Methodist church where the congregation was breaking in two over the issue of recognizing LGBT rights—a startling idea in those days.  One of the most incredible speakers was a young man, openly gay, who was currently in the seminary studying to be a Methodist minister.  When more or less everyone there pointed out to him that the Methodist Church condemned homosexuality and certainly would not allow him to be ordained, he smiled and explained with tremendous sincerity, his voice like an angel, that “My calling is so strong, so long felt, so deep, that I know in my heart that God would not call me to take this path if it didn’t lead to fulfilling my mission within the Church.  I know that before I graduate the Church will change its mind and open its arms to welcome gay people into its flock.”  He was on the verge of tears as he said this. 

It was very moving.

I had two conflicting reactions, both of which I kept to myself.  One was pity because I knew (and so did most everyone there) that he was so very wrong as to what would happen, and the other was “Don’t be a fool!” since he was wasting his time in catapulting so forcefully against a large and unmoving brick wall.

I don’t know what happened to that dedicated young man, but in 2016 that same wall is standing with only the slightest hint of a crack.  The Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline still deems homosexuality “inconsistent with Christian teaching” and flatly prohibits the ordination of gay clergy.  Nor may Methodist minister perform gay weddings, as happened May 7th of this year when the Rev. David Meredith, a Methodist minister, married Jim Schlachter at the same Methodist Church I’d spoken at thirty years before, leading all Methodists involved to be the immediate subject of suspension.  Adding to this fire, more than 100 members of the Methodist clergy came out in a “love letter” sent to the national convention in Portland, Oregon, two days later, which appealingly asked the church to open its heart to its gay parishioners.  The convention promptly tabled the whole matter by creating a future study group.

The Marriage of Meredith and Schlachter

All over the country states are battling laws protecting LGBT rights, and two recent terrifying events have particularly caused dire reactions: gay marriage and transgendered people in bathrooms.  I’ve written much about these topics in the past [see “Related Posts” below], but in this post I want discuss the religious justifications for such virulent denial of gay people.  I’ll focus on Christianity, although most traditional  religions, and particularly Islam, are no better. 

First let’s address whether the bible in fact condemns homosexuality.  As I’ve explained at length in a prior post [see “Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?” June 29, 2014;], in spite of learned explanations as to why it doesn’t, I conclude that the bible does indeed make such a denunciation rather clearly in both the Old and New Testaments.  Of course it also condemns things such as getting a tattoo and eating shellfish, but let’s move on.

I’m certainly willing to grant all people freedom of religion to believe whatever they want.  I’m a lawyer and an American citizen so that vital concept is important to me.  That said, I do not grant religious people the right to use their religion as a weapon to attack beliefs or people not in agreement with them.  The way to settle such disagreements is to test the competing ideas in the public forum and let the American people decide.  Gay rights activists have been fighting in that hot arena a long time, and have been mangled by large arena lions for decades.  Recently, as if by magic, gays have emerged largely victorious, nursing multiple wounds.  Their political ascendency is startling to devout believers of the bible, who have (in the blink of an eye in biblical time) lost their god-given right to treat gays as condemnable misfits.  Incredibly, gays—archetypal sinners—are now protected in matters such as marriage and discrimination, and society’s demand to treat these evildoers as fellow citizens is unacceptable to many traditionally religious people.

Legislators in some states (I mean you, Mississippi, North Carolina, and—alas—my native state of Indiana) have passed laws either forbidding protection of gays from discrimination or creating “religious liberty” exceptions to such protection so that those with sincere religious beliefs don’t have to abandon them when dealing with spiritually unclean homos.  These laws have come under legal attack as unconstitutional, and eventually the United States Supreme Court is likely to deem them so.  Really?  Yes, says the lawyer.  Of course freedom of religion in the First Amendment to the Constitution would and should keep governmental entitles from enacting laws dictating how religions must run themselves (“Catholic Schools must teach that the bible is wrong when it says gays are an abomination”—such a statute would be obviously unconstitutional), but religious people moving around in the public sphere have to behave as all citizens do in the marketplace or when dealing with authorities.

Meaning?  Well, flower shops run by a believer in Islam cannot refuse to make flowers for a Jewish customer.  If the Muslim owner of the shop doesn’t like that, he/she should get into a business that doesn’t deal with the public.  Kim Davis, a country clerk in Kentucky, has to issue marriage licenses to everyone—it’s her job—and can’t use her personal beliefs to decide she’ll not perform that job when a gay couple wants to exercise the power of the state to marry.  If she can’t bring herself to issue the license, she’s self-deciding she's not fit to do her job and must therefore either resign or be fired.  There’s no right to be a public official who can change public laws because of disagreement with the lawmakers who passed them. 

Deeply religious people, very upset by this, are vigorously asserting the contrary.  I read in the news recently about a clerk in a Department of Motor Vehicles office who used religion as the grounds for not issuing a driver’s license to a gay applicant.  If the clerks of the country could legally do that we’d soon have a patchwork of citizen “types”: those whose status offends no one, those who offend some but not most people, those in questionable categories who would never be sure if they could buy a burger, attend a movie, hire a wedding photographer, etc.

Our country cannot operate with degrees of protection for public access.  “Religious Freedom” laws sound like a good idea only because of their title (no one is against religious freedom) but extending them to sanction “pick and choose” compliance with the law either in the marketplace or when seeking government services would mean that the United States is abandoning concepts of citizenship that have been treasured on this continent for centuries.

Summing up is simple: Let’s be very sure we don’t legislate hatred.

Related Posts:

A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

“Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality and Gay Marriage?” June 29, 2014;

North Carolina Forbids LGBT Protection, Romer v. Evans, and the Future, March 31, 2016;


The Pope In America: Women, Sexual Minorities, and Kim Davis, September 28, 2015;


"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010;

Monday, May 2, 2016

My Blog Hits 500,000 Views!

In the fall of 2009 I went from clearly dying of heart disease (atrial fibrillation) to near perfect health.  The reason for this dramatic shift was the heart transplant I received on Monday, November 23, 2009, just days before Thanksgiving, an event I’ve written much about (see “Related Posts” below).

It is a startling change to go from planning one’s death to planning one’s life, and as part of that process I hit on the idea of starting a blog.  My joke at the time was that that beginning a blog is “required by law whenever one experiences a life-altering event.”  Since I’m a lawyer some people thought I was serious.

My blog’s first pitiful post was dated Thursday, December 17th of that year and was quite short.  It did, however, contain this pithy comment: “The whole experience has been like science fiction.”

From the very beginning I was determined not to make my blog posts full of idle chitchat about my day or the meals I ate, etc.  Instead they quickly evolved into mini-essays on many topics, reflecting not only the incidents and interests of my life (some funny and others terrifying), but my philosophies, views on politics or sports, or, since I’ve been a teacher all my adult life, instructions on everything from how to write a “payment in full check” to “how to play craps Las Vegas style.”  My years as a gay activist fueled many posts on that topic and on how people should deal with homosexuals, and my more recent activities in the atheist community plus the writing of my atheist thriller (“Imaginary Friend”) led to lectures on religion and nonreligion.  Finally, my retirement years have allowed me to go back to the theater, and since 2004, when I left full-time teaching at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, I’ve been in over 20 shows, either acting or directing.  The photo below was taken just recently outside Little Theatre Off Broadway in Grove City, a suburb of Columbus, where I'm appearing with my husband, David Vargo, in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”  As usual, he steals the show when the plot forces his character, a slave named Hysterium into drag, and my character, Senex, a dirty old man, chases him around the stage.

I was very pleased that my blog, though starting small, picked up a following, and through the years I’ve written posts celebrating various anniversaries and explaining which posts are the most popular (sexual ones usually, and the ones helping people out of legal difficulties) and determining who appears to constitute my readership.  The blog has been visited by people living in 202 countries, a fact that floors me.  Through both comments appended to the various posts and emails, I’ve been able to correspond with strangers all over the world, an amazing experience showing that in the 21st century we are all living very closely together indeed. 

Many have been pleased that an explanation of legal issues (foreclosure on their home or questions about disputes) has helped them work their way through some legal mess.  The greatest thrill comes from seeing that someone living in small town in America or a country that I only vaguely recognize, has spent considerable time on the blog reading posts having to do with “How To Tell If You Are Gay,” “How Many Gays Are There In the World,” “How To Come Out,” and “How To Deal With Homophobia.”  I picture some young gay or lesbian teen, terrified but determined, trying to find guidance in a situation that may well be very dangerous.  One reader wrote me that his father had announced he would kill him if he found out his son was gay, and asked me what I’d do in his shoes.  He had less than a year left to live at home, and I advised him to be very careful not to let his father learn the truth until he was safely away, and—in any event—to have an escape plan already mapped out if trouble arose suddenly.

[Note misspelling of "faggot"]

Brunei Darussalem
Just as April of this year ended and May began this blog reached a new record: 500,000 pageviews.   A “pageview” occurs when a visitor to the blog first logs on and sees a screen that contains a “page,” which can be scanned down to reveal between three and four blog posts; if the visitor moves on to another “page” another “pageview” occurs.  Most visitors read just one post (hence one “pageview”), but many do delve deeper into the blog and some become heavy readers.  I can’t tell who is reading the blog, but I can tell if the same IP address returns again and again, and when that reader switches from page to page.  On rare occasions a reader, either from admiration or intense disgust, has visited every page of the blog—this has been the case not only with visitors from the various United States, but also ones from the U.K., Tunisia, Australia, Korea, and Brunei Darussalam (a country on the island of Borneo), among others.

In the beginning I was able to track the number of visitors to my blog, but when the number exceeded 50,000 it became too expense to check on this, and I am limited to statistics for the last 50,000 visitors.  However, from various sources it is possible to say with some certainty that the number of visitors is roughly half the number of pageviews, so that would make it a quarter of a million people to date.

Many thanks to all of you who have visited my blog.  It has been very rewarding to write these posts, and I hope they have been worth reading.  What a true pleasure for me at the end of every evening to open up my blog and to realize that it’s been read that very day all over the world!  To track the readers on the day you’re looking at this post, click on “View My Stats” near the top left of each page (just under “StatCounter”), and then wait until a new page loads.  It will display some statistics from the day; from the column on left click on “Recent Visitor Activity.”  That will lead to a complete breakdown of all the visitors to the blog for the past week and more.

[Click to Enlarge]

Related Posts:

A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

"About That Heart Transplant," January 24, 2010;

"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010;

"Today My Blog Had Its 300,000th Hit, For Which I Am So Grateful," October 31, 2014;