When Christian Extremists Restrict Our Freedom


If evangelical fundamentalist Christians in the United States did not attempt to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of us, this blog would not exist. If Christian extremists were not passing laws in order to restrict our rights on the basis of their Christian beliefs, there would be no Atheist Revolution. There would be no need for any such thing. We would have a secular society, and separation of church and state would receive the respect it deserves.

Unfortunately, this is not currently the case. Again and again, we see evangelical fundamentalist Christians using local, state, and even the federal government to promote their religious beliefs and practices (e.g., prayer). That is bad enough, but what I'd like to address in this post in the subject of these same Christians legislating their religious beliefs in ways that restrict our rights. This is, and probably always will be, my primary complaint about Christian extremists in the United States.

Avoiding "Sin" as a Personal Decision

If a Christian wants to live a particular way, avoiding certain "sins" and spending his or her time in church, praying, or whatever else, he or she is free to do so. This is what religious freedom means, after all. But why not extend the same courtesy to everyone else? Why must so many Christians take the additional step of trying to prevent those of us who do not share their beliefs from being able to do some of the things they don't want to do? Why must they attempt to deprive others of their basic freedoms?

I do not use any tobacco products even though I can legally purchase them. I could drive to a store and buy tobacco products in approximately 5 minutes. I do not do so because I recognize that tobacco is bad for me. Despite an occasional craving left over from a long time ago, using tobacco is not something that interests me. And yet, I somehow find myself without any desire to prohibit other adults from using tobacco. I somehow manage not to use it without seeking to deprive others of their right to do so.

Almost everything I just said about tobacco is true of alcohol as well. I do not drink beverages containing alcohol and have not done so for well over a decade. I can legally purchase them in some areas but not within the county in which I reside. It would take me approximately a 15 minute drive to find myself in a county where it would be legal for me to buy, possess, or use alcohol. Why? The Southern Baptists in the county where I live have maintained Prohibition. I am not legally permitted to buy, transport, possess, or consume alcohol within the county in which I live because...Jesus. Were I to be pulled over by a police officer in this county and the officer were to find unopened alcoholic beverages, I could be cited for it. None of this has anything to do with why I do not drink alcohol. And strangely, the fact that I do not drink it does not lead me to support efforts to deprive other adults of their right to do so.

I could go on and on with all sorts of examples of things I do not personally do (e.g., visit prostitutes, buy pornography, smoke marijuana, play violent video games, gamble) while somehow managing not to interfere with anyone else's ability to do any of these things, but I think you get the idea. I am able to say "no thanks" without trying to take someone else's choices away from them. Why does this seem so difficult for so many evangelical fundamentalist Christians?

Legislating Religious Beliefs to Force Others to Conform

I have an extremely difficult time imagining how it would impact anyone else if I were to decide to have a beer in my own home, and yet, to do so is illegal. It is illegal because evangelical fundamentalist Christians have decided that alcohol is "sinful" and are willing to pass laws to deprive the rest of us of the right to reach different conclusions. In many areas, these Christians have managed to get anti-sodomy laws on the books in order to criminalize what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes. Again, it isn't good enough for them to refrain from doing whatever they view as sodomy; they want to police the behavior of everyone else.

This sort of thing - policing others' behavior to make sure it conforms to one's own religious beliefs - has always been my chief complaint with evangelical fundamentalist Christians. In areas where they are able to exercise sufficient control, they have tried (and often succeeded) in restricting things as diverse as heavy metal music, dancing, premarital sex, abortion, same-sex marriage, and alcohol.

When an evangelical fundamentalist Christian tells me that he or she refrains from a particular "sin," I can respect that. I might think the reasoning behind it is silly, but I can respect the person's right to decide what is best for themself. What I will not respect is when this same Christian decides to deprive the rest of us of the opportunity to make our own choices. This is not what religious freedom means. I'm perfectly fine with this Christian choosing not to have an abortion, drink alcohol, or marry someone of the same sex. I am not at all fine with them banning these things for the rest of us. If religious freedom has any meaning at all, it must mean that the rest of us are free to reject the religious beliefs of the majority.

Secularism to the Rescue

Secularism provides us with the way out of all of this nonsense, but it needs to be strengthened to be effective. Under secularism, religious believers are free to make their own choices but not free to apply government power to impose their choices on others. At least, that is how it is supposed to work. That is doesn't always work that way is not a failure of secularism but a failure on our part to protect secularism from those who undermine it because they prefer Christian theocracy to secular democracy. As we are now witnessing with the U.S. Supreme Court, this is far too important for us to be caught napping.

Those of you who were active online during Trump's first presidential term may remember the jokes about how he was going to force Americans to say "Merry Christmas" instead of "happy holidays" or other alternatives that communicated respect for religious pluralism. These were jokes, of course, but what if they weren't? What if we were all legally required to say "Merry Christmas" and punished for saying anything else? I know this sounds absurd, but I assure you that there are Christian extremists in the United States who would welcome the opportunity to force this on you.

After the Christian extremists have overturned Roe, limited access to contraception, made it even harder to vote than it is now, and managed to once again ban same-sex marriage and criminalize sodomy everywhere, who's to say they might not decide to treat those of us who have been mocking their war on Christmas as terrorists. If power corrupts, what do you suppose will happen when they've got more of it and decided they enjoy wielding it? And does anybody seriously think atheists aren't likely to face the worst of the treatment they'll eventually dish out?

If we are counting on secularism to save us, we may be in for a disappointment when we discover how weak we have allowed it to become. If we hope to count on secularism, we are going to have to defend it, strengthen it, and expand it. We are only one or two Supreme Court decisions away from losing a great deal of the progress we've made. Even if that happens, we cannot give up but must be prepared to make secular activism a priority in ways we haven't been willing to do yet.

Update: For a different and less pessimistic take on this subject, see Religion vs. Freedom by Infidel753.