The Religious Liberty Quiz, and Why Crediting Original Writers Matters

I keep telling myself that it shouldn’t matter. So long as a good message is getting out there, why does it matter who gets the credit? And in a time when the state of Indiana has passed a law that will hurt so many of my LGBTQ friends and family, why am I wasting my time on an issue of citation?

I keep telling myself that a more spiritual person wouldn’t care about this. But the reality is that I do.

Over the last few days I have seen this graphic shared repeatedly on Facebook, Twitter, and around the blogosphere:

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The first time I glanced at it I realized that I was looking at my own words. Verbatim in many instances. “Oh, someone made that article into a graphic,” I thought. But then it hit me…the article wasn’t being cited on the graphic at all.

In the late summer of 2012 I wrote a blog post called, “How to Determine if Your Religious Liberty is Being Threatened in Just 10 Quick Questions.” I shared it on my own blog, in a local paper, and in the Huffington Post’s Religion section, where I often blog. It was at HuffPost that the article took off. It has now been “liked” on Facebook over 225,000 times and shared widely. Here is the original post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/how-to-determine-if-your-religious-liberty-is-being-threatened-in-10-questions_b_1845413.html

I have to admit, I don’t think it’s my best writing. It was written quickly, on an iPhone, while watching the Republican National Convention on television during the 2012 Presidential elections. It was also written just over two months before my wedding to my now-wife.

Heidi and I were sitting in our living room, a minister and a seminarian, making plans about the religious marriage ceremony we would be having at her home church in Boston. This was a marriage that would be recognized by our church, but (in the time before DOMA was overruled) not by our country. And we were hearing speaker after speaker coming to the podium saying that their own religious liberties were being threatened by marriages like ours. (You can read more about that here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/the-religious-liberty-qui_b_4878040.html)

It made no logical sense. And so, instead of yelling back at the television, I wrote this tongue-in-cheek quiz to demonstrate the logical fallacies of the “religious liberty” red herring that has been perpetuated for far too long by anti-gay figures.

The piece took off. And, unfortunately, it has been recirculated widely several times in the last few years. I say “unfortunately” because each time that has happened it has been in response to another law like the new “religious freedom” legislation in Indiana. I had really hoped that we could stop having this argument about now, but it seems Governor Pence and others have other plans.

And so, the article is once again circulating. And so is the above graphic, which uses my verbatim wording without crediting the original article. And, like I said, maybe this shouldn’t bother me. But it does.

Here’s why: plagiarism has always bothered me. Maybe the person who created the graphic did not mean to plagiarize. But they did copy exact phrases from an article I wrote and not put my name on it. Deliberate or not, that is plagiarism. Ask your freshman English professor, and they’ll agree.

So why does it matter, especially if the intentions are good? For me it’s because of this: I’m a writer. I’m a pastor first, but a part of my ministry, and a large part of my own spiritual practice, revolves around being a writer. Most of what I write, I write for free. Each month I write two devotionals for the United Church of Christ’s daily devotionals, and donate them to the church. I write blogs for HuffPost Religion and other blogs and I am not paid. I write on my own blog for free. And here’s the thing: I am fine with not being paid. It feels good to me to be able to write, and to share for the benefit of the larger church and others, and to pass on ideas I believe in deeply.

But, writing is sometimes emotionally exhausting work. That is especially true when we are writing about painful things. And that night that I wrote the religious liberty quiz, with a wedding weeks away and people on the screen in front of me saying horrible things about my family, I was feeling some pain. And I took that pain and channeled it into my writing, and into something I believed might help others. I also wrote it both as a LGBTQ person, and as a person of devoted faith, contexts that I believe are crucial to the piece. (Especially as I find most people falsely assume this quiz was written by someone hostile to religion and faith in general, and not someone who deeply loves their faith tradition.)

In the end I don’t need money or fame for it. But, I just think that when anyone writes from their experiences, especially a member of a group being openly and hostility attacked, they should be given the minimal courtesy of being named. For so long my LGBTQ friends and family had to hide because of whom they were. That is, thank God, changing. But the silencing of our experiences comes in so many forms, and even with the best of intentions it is still painful.

UPDATE: This graphic is now being shared at Patheos, Daily Kos, and more. If you see it, please make a note of the source. Thank you.

The Religious Liberty to Support Equal Marriage

“Religious liberty” is the buzzword of those who are trying to stop the now nearly inevitable legal recognition of same-sex marriage. Recognition of same-sex marriages, they argue, will constitute a real and immediate threat to the religious liberty of people and churches who oppose it.

I’m not sure what they think is about to happen. Maybe they visualize hordes of gay couples trundling down to the local homophobic church and forcing the minister to marry them under duress. Or perhaps they think that two women are going to interrupt “Amazing Grace” next Sunday as they demand an immediate wedding while an ACLU attorney stands nearby with a lawsuit in hand.

I have never seen Christians look more afraid than when they are talking about how churches will be “forced” to perform same-sex weddings should marriage equality become legal. Seriously. It’s a fear I’ve never seen when faced with the very real threats of poverty, child sex trafficking, hunger, or violence. The threat of gay marriage sends some Christians to DEFCON 1, ready to send guards to man the church doors.

Which has always struck me as, frankly, ridiculous. And here’s why. Here is how a clergyperson stops a wedding from occurring in their church: they say “no”.

I know that because I have said “no” to couples wanting to get married in the church I serve. The reasons? I didn’t think they were ready. Or I didn’t think they communicated well. Or they asked me not to say “God” during the service.

The legal recourse I have faced as a result? Nothing. Nada. Zip. That’s because the law already absolutely protects me, as well as every other clergy member in this country, from having to officiate at a wedding I do not believe should occur.

And clergy have used that law for some pretty heinous reasons. They’ve denied interracial couples a marriage in their church. They’ve kept divorced people from marrying again. They’ve refused weddings to couples where the woman does not agree to submit to the husband.

And, as awful as it sounds, they’ve done it all legally.

Every clergyperson knows where the boundaries are on this. Which means that any clergyperson who tells you that the legal recognition of same-sex marriage is a threat to their place of worship is therefore quite simply lying.

And here’s the other thing they don’t tell you. By trying to keep the legal recognition of same-sex marriage from occurring, they are themselves threatening religious liberty in this country.

The reality is that a growing number of religious groups support equal marriage and allow their clergy to religiously marry same-sex couples in their places of worship. This is true for the United Church of Christ, Unitarian-Universalists, some Episcopalians, several Jewish groups, and others. In fact, a number of these groups signed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court supporting equal marriage.

As a clergyperson who officiates at same-sex weddings and offers the blessing of my church, I feel that my own religious liberty to pray as I see fit is what is really under threat here. Why do the prayers of clergy of other churches matter more than my own? Clergy can act as agents of the state when they solemnize marriages, so how come their religious services are backed by the full blessing of the federal government while mine are not? Why is the federal government legitimating some religious views while marginalizing others?

There’s a lot of talk about “real marriage” going around, so let me tell you about what makes a marriage “real”. Last November, my now-wife and I stood up at Old South Church in Boston, a United Church of Christ parish, and we covenanted before God that we would love and support each other for life. When we said those vows, and received the blessing of our church, we were “really married”. The fact that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and our home state of Vermont recognized it was just icing on the cake.

But unlike every straight couple who has stood up at that church and proclaimed their vows using the same ceremony, we left that church unequal under the eyes of the federal law. We may have received the blessing of our religious community, but we also received a federal tax bill for 2012 that was $1200 higher than a straight couple’s would have been. And when we put our wedding rings on each other’s fingers, we also had to put our names on stacks of paperwork that will (hopefully) ensure that our bond to one another is respected when it comes to pensions, medical decisions, and legal issues.

Why? Why is the blessing of my church worth less under the eyes of the federal government than that of the church down the street? Why does that church get to have a say about the legitimacy of worship services performed in my own? And, furthermore, why do religious groups even get to have a say in the legal status of marriages performed outside of houses of worship?

If we want to talk about religious liberty, let’s be honest. Religious leaders who reject same-sex marriage on the grounds of their own religious liberty are asking for special treatment that tramples on the rights of others. And their religious liberty ends when it begins to infringe on the liberty, religious and otherwise, of others. Because that’s not liberty. That’s oppression. And anti-gay religious groups know nothing about being on the receiving end of it.

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The “Religious Liberty” quiz on Huffington Post, and why I wrote it.

Dear friends,

Over the past few days my blog has seen an increase in traffic driven by my latest post on Huffington Post’s religion section. (Found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/how-to-determine-if-your-religious-liberty-is-being-threatened-in-10-questions_b_1845413.html ) That post made the leap from the religion page to the front page, has been shared nearly 5,000 times on Facebook (edited: now about 12,000 times), and has been picked up by other sites. Thank you all for the shares and for your blog visits, emails, tweets, and words of encouragement. I’m humbled.

I wrote the piece on my iPhone last week while sitting watching the Republican National Convention with my partner. That is not to say that this is an anti-Republican post. Not at all. (I know some wonderfully inclusive Republicans and some of the rhetoric at the DNC on this frustrated me just as much.) It’s just to say that was the occasion for its writing.

You see, my partner and I are marrying one another this November at her UCC church in Boston. We are blessed by the fact that our marriage will be recognized legally in both our state of residence and the state in which it is performed. More importantly, it will be recognized by our church. It will not, however, be recognized by the federal government. The question of whether it will be soon, and whether it will be in more states, is causing an increase in calls of “religious oppression” from anti-gay religious folks.

Getting married two weeks after the presidential election, in a year when debate over equal marriage is more divisive than ever, adds a whole other layer to the stress of wedding planning. It means that every quip about equal marriage feels like a referendum on your own upcoming marriage. (And really, between the catering and the invitations, I already have more than enough to think about.)

That’s why watching the RNC, every slight about “real marriages” and “real families” cut us to the quick. And every reference to “religious liberty” used to deny my partner and I the rights we deserve just offended me. My partner and I are religious people who love God. We love the church. And we love Christ, who taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves. But the fact that our neighbors, and our Christian brothers and sisters, were claiming that they were the oppressed ones here, was not just offensive; it was ludicrous.

My partner and I want basic rights. And our basic rights do not intrude on anyone’s religious liberty. How that has become so convoluted, I don’t know. But those who would use religion to claim they are being victimized by the rights of others, are being intellectually, and religiously, dishonest. No one is forcing churches to marry gay couples. Any clergy member will tell you that they are legally free to deny marriage to any couple for any reason with impunity. They know that, but they spread false fear to their communities in an effort to deny the rights of others. Meanwhile, our own church, which blesses our marriage, is being denied equal legitimacy under the law by the actions of these religious groups who attempt to withhold legal recognition from the marriages other religious groups bless.

So here we were, sitting in our living room, watching politicians say that the marriage of a minister and a seminarian would destroy religious liberty in America. And it’s so offensive, so painful, and just so, so false. This is the stuff that used to make me want to drink. Now it just makes me want to fight harder for my rights, and the rights of my partner, and the rights of all of us…because, gay or straight, this is about all of us.

That’s how the quiz was born. Because it’s important for the ones who have oppressed others for so long to understand that they, in fact, are not being oppressed. I know what oppression feels like. I grew up gay in the Bible belt. I was bullied in the name of religion. That’s not what “religious liberty” is about. THAT is oppression. And I’m thankful that, finally, my own religious liberty is being taken seriously by more and more of my fellow citizens. I hope the quiz helps more to be able to realize what “religious liberty” really means.

God bless you all.

Rev. Emily C. Heath

How to Determine if Your Religious Liberty is at Threat in Just Ten Quick Questions.

It seems like this election season “religious liberty” is a hot topic. Rumors of its demise are all around, as are politicians who want to make sure that you know they will never do anything to intrude upon it.

I’m a religious person with a lifelong passion for civil rights, so this is of great interest to me. So much so, that I believe we all need to determine whether our religious liberties are indeed at risk. So, as a public service, I’ve come up with this little quiz. I call it “How to Determine if Your Religious Liberty is at Threat in Just Ten Quick Questions.” Just pick “A” or “B” for each question.

Question One

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A)I am not allowed to go to a religious service of my own choosing.

B) Others are allowed to go to religious services of their own choosing.

Question Two

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to marry the person I love legally, even though my religious community blesses my marriage.

B) Some states refuse to enforce my own particular religious beliefs on marriage on those two guys in line down at the courthouse.

Question Three

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am being forced to use birth control.

B) I am unable to force others to not use birth control.

Question Four

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to pray privately.

B) I am not allowed to force others to pray the prayers of my faith publicly.

Question Five

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) Being a member of my faith means that I can be bullied without legal recourse.

B) I am no longer allowed to use my faith to bully gay kids with impunity.

Question Six

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to purchase, read, or possess religious books or material.

B) Others are allowed to have access books, movies, and websites that I do not like.

Question Seven

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) My religious group is not allowed equal protection under the establishment clause.

B) My religious group is not allowed to use public funds, buildings, and resources as we would like, for whatever purposes we might like.

Question Eight

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) Another religious group has been declared the official faith of my country.

B) My own religious group is not given status as the official faith of my country.

Question Nine

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) My religious community is not allowed to build a house of worship in my community.

B) A religious community I do not like wants to build a house of worship in my community.

Question Ten

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to teach my children the creation stories of our faith at home.

B) Public school science classes are teaching science.

Scoring key:

If you answered “A” to any question, then perhaps your religious liberty is indeed at stake. You and your faith group have every right to now advocate for equal protection under the law. But just remember this one little, constitutional, concept: this means you can fight for your equality…not your superiority.

If you answered “B” to any question, then not only is your religious liberty not at stake, but there is a strong chance that you are oppressing the religious liberties of others. This is the point where I would invite you to refer back to the tenets of your faith, especially the ones about your neighbors.

In closing, no matter what soundbites you hear this election year, remember this: religious liberty is never secured by a campaign of religious superiority. The only way to ensure your own religious liberty remains strong is by advocating for the religious liberty of all, including those with whom you may passionately disagree. Because they deserve the same rights as you. Nothing more. Nothing less.

New blog at Huffington Post: Separation of Church and Santorum

“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state are absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country. … To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up.” –Rick Santorum

Rich Santorum’s quote about Pres. John F. Kennedy’s speech on the separation of church and state has received a tremendous amount of airplay this week. Even if you remove that last viral line, it’s a strong pronouncement of Santorum’s displeasure with the limits imposed on religious institutions in the public arena. It’s enough to make the ears of any person of faith who thinks differently than Santorum perk up.

Speaking as a pastor in a mainline Christian denomination (you know, one of the ones Santorum says is in “shambles”) I’m surprised to find myself in some agreement with one part of his quote. I also believe that it is “antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country … to say that people of faith have no role in the public square.” And yet, I would suspect Santorum and I have very different ideas of what that means.

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