make-way-for-ducklings-boston_cropIn our home state of Massachusetts, there is a new challenge to the freedom of religion.

This challenge comes in the form of a new transgender accommodations law which allows the use of public restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, and any other traditionally sex-segregated accommodations on the basis of “gender identity” rather than biological gender. This law, called the “Bathroom and Locker Room Law” by those who oppose it, gives the right to anyone whose “gender-related identity is sincerely held as part of one’s core identity“ to use the public facilities of whichever gender they identify with, regardless of whether or not it is in accordance with their biological gender.

An example of what this law allows, and indeed protects, is the ability for a biological male, who sincerely believes that he is a woman, to freely use the women’s locker room at the local gym. The new law allows this, and also stipulates that any who might protest against this situation is subject to fines and imprisonment.

So, you may be thinking, “What does this have to do with the freedom of religion?” To answer that question, we must consider what religion is. Religion, as defined by my favorite search engine, is “a particular system of faith and worship.”

Religion, at it’s core, consists of the activities which surround the expression of faith. At the expense of boring you with more definitions, let’s look at what faith is. A good working definition of faith is that it is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In other words, faith is a sincere and hopeful belief in that which cannot be seen or cannot be scientifically proven.

Thus, it seems quite clear that a person’s “sincerely held” belief regarding their gender identity, which is in opposition to the observable evidence of their actual biological gender, is a statement of faith. In fact, it can be nothing other than a statement of faith.

As the saying goes, If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. In the same way, if an individual’s gender identity is not based on their observable biological identity but rather it is based on a sincerely held belief, then it very much looks like a matter of faith.

It can then be properly understood that the practice of their faith is expressed by dressing differently, using the opposite bathroom, etc. These are some of the external expressions associated with their faith. Just like when a Muslim wears a burka, or a Christian wears a cross, a transgender individual may wear clothing which is consistent with their faith-based identity.

In a pluralistic society, this is all well and good. That is, until the government mandates by law, under threat of fines and imprisonment, that everyone else has to agree to the statement of transgender faith. This is the result of the “Bathroom and Locker Room Law” in Massachusetts. Everyone is forced to adhere to the tenents of the transgender faith. As far as I can see, this plays out in three different ways.

There is the most obvious case where a man, who sincerely believes that he is a woman, is standing fully undressed in the presence of other women in a locker room (please don’t think that this hasn’t already happened). He may be practicing his faith, but I can tell you for sure that while the women in that room are not interested in practicing his faith, they are compelled by law to do so, or leave the room. In that moment, they are forced to practice in his faith, and they are stripped of any ability to not practice his faith. Their locker room has become his state-sanctioned faith experience.

Secondly, according to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) gender identity guidance legal document, the act of not using the “preferred name and gender pronoun” of someone’s sincerely held gender identity constitutes “sex discrimination”. If that didn’t sink in, let me say it this way. If you do not call him “her”, or her “him”, based on his or her belief, then you are in violation of the law. Can there be a clearer case of the government forcing individuals to verbally affirm the statement of faith of another individual? It is difficult to imagine a more clear violation of religious conscience than to force an individual to verbally affirm the tenants of another’s faith.

Finally, the implications of what was just stated above applies to churches. There are no special provisions in the “Bathroom and Locker Room Law” that exempt churches from its reach. Thus, churches, which are wholly devoted to the expression of particular faiths are being forced by the government to ascribe to the tenants of a faith which may be entirely at odds with their own beliefs.

In the context of Christianity, it is of paramount importance for pastors and parishioners alike to have the freedom to speak with biblical and loving expressions of truth. Whatever the sin, whatever the offense which has been committed against a holy God, the first step towards repentance, forgiveness, and ultimately salvation, is understanding the truth about the offense. It is a grievously flawed law which inserts itself into that process, blocking the very words that might be spoken in order to bring about forgiveness and restoration to a precious soul.

September 16th, 2016

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