This essay on the recent repeal vote on Springfield city ordinance 6141 was published in the Springfield News-Leader on April 13, 2015.
In the days and weeks leading up to the repeal election I was surprised and disappointed at certain voices publically raised in behalf of the repeal: a bishop, a mega-church pastor, a leader of an international religious denomination, as well as numerous pastors of local churches. These religious leaders urged their memberships to vote to repeal city ordinance 6141, which extended anti-discrimination protection to lesbians, gays, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens in the city of Springfield with regard to housing, employment, and public accommodation. They succeeded in convincing many of us that the election was about religious freedom rather than simple fairness.
The ostensible reason for their descent into hard-knuckle political activism was to protect religious liberty. What that means in practical street language is that business owners who shared what was touted as the biblical view of marriage (one woman to one man) would not have to participate in LGBT marriages (i.e., by providing flowers, food, clothing, and/or facilities, etc. for the ceremony). In other words, they argued that their religious views be accepted as legal justification to deny service to those citizens who did not share their religious views.
The fact that certain business owners, with the vocal approval of certain religious leaders of Springfield, apparently intend in the future to deny service to LGBT citizens was justification for affirming city ordinance 6141.
We live in a representative democracy in a secular state, where we elect our representatives who in turn make our laws, which seek to allow the greatest amount of personal liberty to the largest number possible (that is the ideal at least); we do not live in a theocracy, where religion mandates how we should conduct our lives (as would be the case, for example, in an Islamic state, or a Christian state). Our system of government is secular (in spite of certain "Christian" trappings), and no particular religion, even though it represents the majority, should be permitted to impose its religious views on citizens who do not share those views.
The idea that "my" religious ideas can be used as a justification for causing harm to others is insidious, for it implies that religious ideas are more important than the civil rights of all citizens in a secular state. Perhaps they truly believe this, but, if consistently applied, it will eventually turn a secular state into a theocratic state.
The public voices of the religious leaders were less than candid with their various constituencies by suggesting that the Bible reflects one particular concept of marriage, for the Bible reflects a range of ideas on the relationships between men and women—something they should have known. What was noticeably lacking in their common opposition to city ordinance 6141, however, was a lack of compassion for the situation faced by the LGBT community, one of the "least of these" (Matthew 25:45) in contemporary society. Perhaps that was their greatest leadership failure on this issue (Mark 12:29-31).
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University