Freedom of religion is misunderstood


I read with great interest the news of the Student Association Senate’s vote in the Chick-fil-A debate. I would like it understood that I still greatly appreciate the Senate’s decision to take up this issue, and while I believe that it has made a grave mistake in its decision, I bear absolutely no ill will toward any individual member or the body as a whole.

To me, there is great misunderstanding about what constitutes religious freedom and freedom of expression in a democratic Republic based also on the idea of individual responsibility which coexists with society’s needs and laws. I have already addressed the speech issue, so I turn now to religious freedom, which many appear to feel would be abridged if the SDSU community were to deny Chick-fil-A’s desire to establish a campus presence.

When Mr. Cathy (CEO) or anyone else brings their religious beliefs into the political arena and uses consumer proceeds to try and, in many cases, succeed in imposing those beliefs onto a diverse Republic through constitutional amendment, they are no longer simply practicing religion, they are also practicing politics. When they place themselves in the political arena and work to restrict the rights and freedoms of others, they have no right to expect that there will not be pushback. Furthermore, they are betraying democratic principles by trying to make a minority into second-class citizens and are no longer acting as citizens in that society. They are acting as a citizen of their church, and not of a country. As such, they are abdicating their responsibilities as citizens of a diverse society to protect the rights of others and thereby protect the principle of equality under the law — a long-cherished right of every citizen in this country, one that separates a democracy from a theocracy.

They also run the risk, perhaps not in this but in future generations, of the abolition of the very principle of equality under the law, a principle which protects every minority from the tyranny of the majority and which is the very fabric that holds our society together. In short, they put their own rights at risk, and those of their children and grandchildren should they find themselves in a minority someday. Freedom of conscience and religious freedom means the freedom to be who we are, not to decide who everyone else should be. The latter is not religious freedom, it is discrimination, and can and does easily turn into oppression. The right of all of us to be who we are as long as we respect others’ rights and property, and to have equality under the law, is true individualism, not the right to actively  try to impose our beliefs on others. To stand up and say that we reject that attempted imposition does not abridge Mr. Cathy’s religious freedom. Rather, it is a statement that we all have to protect the rights of all tax-paying, upstanding members of society, even if they are a minority. It is not an approval of anyone’s personal values or lives; it is the recognition that we must protect the rights of all in order for our rights and for society as whole to survive.

Maria C. Spitz, Ph.D.

Department of Modern Languages