Written by Don Byrd

Last week the Newseum in Washington, D.C. hosted a riveting panel discussion entitled “Rise Up: LGBTQ Rights and Religious Freedom.” The panelists, which included the Baptist Joint Committee’s Holly Hollman, are all contributors to an important new book, “Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and the Prospects for Common Ground.”

The discussion – like the book – tackles one of our most intractable and polarizing religious liberty and civil rights dilemmas today, with an eye toward cultivating the possibility of common ground and common interests to lead us through the thicket of our current legal, political and cultural debates surrounding that issue. In particular, the panelists focused on the question of how to address respectfully the harms claimed on both sides of the issue.

In one of her responses, Hollman suggested that there is likely not one magical fix that will eliminate all the legitimate claims to harm in this arena, but emphasized that when it comes to tax dollars, we as Americans should be able to come to agreement. Here is an excerpt (my rough transcript) of that portion of her remarks:

We have to let some harm go, not because it’s not harmful but because we can’t fix it; or that’s not the best way to fix it.

We can say that there are harmful teachings in religion. Who’s in here in a religion that has no harmful teachings? [Laughter] Or hasn’t seen religion work in harmful ways, right? Religion is a complex matter…

But one place that we can avoid harm is not discriminating in government services. It’s very hard…to allow religious objectors that work in government services to have their conscience validated…without not serving the customer, the taxpayer. We are equal citizens under the law. That’s the bottom line. We’ve gotta at least agree on that. We are equal citizens without regard to religion. That is a fundamental American value that makes us hold up religious freedom as a shining example to the world.

I don’t think that we can discriminate in government-funded services, in government-funded programs. It’s very hard to say that my tax dollars support some kind of service that then I’m not allowed to have even though I pay my taxes because I’m gay or I’m the wrong religion.

So I think there are certain places that we must allow for these non-discrimination norms, and then there are other places that we leave them – in our churches, and in other religious areas. We don’t always worry about the harms. We leave them, not because we agree on everything, but because we respect that place, that realm of religious freedom and don’t have to answer all these questions perfectly.

You can watch video of the discussion here. If this is a topic that interests you – and if you follow religious liberty issues, it likely does, I highly recommend it. It’s about an hour of insightful, impassioned dialogue from experts who sound determined to find respectful ways to communicate across one of the deepest cultural divides we face as Americans today.