Fulwider, 4-8-2015

My Word: When God tells us to discriminate

Fulwider, Bryan(Orlando Sentinel, April 8, 2015)

By Rev. Bryan Fulwider

A columnist writes about the meaning of liberty and what can trump it.

Like most Americans, I routinely place my right hand over my heart and intone a pledge about “liberty and justice for all.”

But actually delivering on that two-pronged promise is never simple and almost always seemingly unjust in some way. Need I mention the recent legislative brouhaha in Indiana?

I’m a liberty junkie. I’m hooked on liberty. I feel — and have been rigorously taught — that I’m entitled to it. But when I get seriously analytical and unflinchingly honest, I have to admit that if I’m given unfettered liberty, someone else’s liberty will be curtailed.

All that government “of the people, by the people, for the people” can realistically do is provide as much liberty and justice as possible for as many as possible. Wherever we draw the line, someone, or some class of people, will inevitably feel we’ve failed to deliver on our promise.

Although our Declaration of Independence proclaims that all men are created equal, throughout our nation’s history we’ve had wide-ranging groups of human beings whose treatment has been anything but equal.

To our credit, we’ve slowly but systematically sought to ensure that these disenfranchised groups were enfranchised. Slavery ended. Women got the vote. Segregation became illegal. Interracial couples could marry. The list is long.

Through voter initiative, legislation and court mandate, we’ve collectively declared there must be certain baselines of dignity granted to every person. We call them civil rights. But the fact remains that every liberty handed to once-disenfranchised minorities robs us of our “liberty” to continue discriminating against them.

In our nation’s march toward ever-increasing inclusion and equality, religious people have been catalysts for change. But other religious people have created formidable roadblocks — repeatedly declaring that inclusion and fair treatment of the once-disenfranchised goes against God’s values.

As Americans, we deeply value our freedom to believe as conscience dictates. And to a great degree, we’re also free to act on those convictions.

But we’ve also repeatedly acknowledged that honoring the rights and dignity of others must trump the right of individuals to treat others however they so choose — even if they think God supports them in what they’re doing.

Fortunately, Indiana’s lawmakers seem to have finally arrived at that same conclusion.

The Rev. Bryan Fulwider, founding president of the nonprofit Building US, is chair of the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.