Encroaching religious freedom bills in the US
The nonprofit nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned of the rise of religious freedom bills in the US at the state level that would allow discrimination against LGBTQ people.
Most of these laws are supposedly to protect the religious freedom of business owners or service providers.
Religious freedom bills: Being disingenuous
However, HRW researcher Ryan Thoreson warned that, “Religious freedom is an important value, but these laws don’t respond to any real-world threat to religious freedom and are more about legitimizing discrimination.”
“The debates around these laws are a direct response to same-sex marriage being recognized across the US, and a concern that people who want to discriminate against LGBT people won’t be able to do that if LGBT people are protected,” Thoreson said.
He pointed out this wave of legislation happened at the state level in the wake of 2015 when the right of same-sex couples to marry in the US was established.
“These bills allowed, for example, wedding service providers, adoption and foster care agencies, and in some cases even counselors and mental and physical healthcare providers to refuse to serve LGBT people,” he said.
“Resistance to LGBT equality is the primary motivation for these laws, not a concern for religious freedom,” he added, noting that these laws aren’t really protecting religious freedom but a religious viewpoint.
Effects of religious freedom bills
Thoreson noted these laws would see people being turned away from mental health services under these exemptions, especially for LGBT people who need help during crisis mode.
“One thing that comes up is that a lot of LGBT people just don’t seek mental health services because they don’t know where to find providers who won’t discriminate against them,” he said.
These laws also harm the dignity of the LGBT people, Thoreson said: “As one lesbian woman in Mississippi told me, ‘You’re being treated with disrespect, as a second-class citizen– not even a citizen, an outsider’.”
A further point about religious freedom bills is that these fall on “very fertile ground for further discrimination,” he noted.
“They’re essentially telling providers they’ve got a green light from the state to discriminate against people,” he added.
Fighting religious freedom bills
The HRW researcher said that in order to fight against these bills: “One thing people can do is really push for robust non-discrimination policies in their states.”
“Those policies are supported by a majority of the public in every state,” he said.
He also noted that LGBT people often face intense discrimination from the faith communities and churches they grew up in. Because of this, medical service providers who are religious need to place signals of being open for all clients.
“For example, a doctor who is religious, but also committed to doing no harm and to serving everyone, can make their office an LGBT-affirming space,” he said.