In the doublespeak of modern politics, the term “religious freedom” has come to mean the freedom of the powerful to impose the consequences of their religious beliefs on the less powerful. For example, several organizations and companies run by people with strong religious beliefs claim that they have the right in the name of “freedom of religion” to deny reproductive health care benefits to their employees. In other words, if I own a company and have religious beliefs against birth control and you work for me, I not only have the right to follow my own religious beliefs and abstain from using birth control, I have the right to do my darnedest to make you adhere to my religious beliefs and keep you from using birth control, too. You will enjoy true freedom when you learn to do as I say.
How did the term “religious freedom” become so twisted that it is now used in an attempt to prevent people from following their own beliefs and trying to coerce them into following the beliefs of their “betters?” When did people begin believing that the word “freedom” means that you’ll do what I tell you to do?
I hope that when all of these court cases are settled, religious freedom will mean that you can personally practice your religious beliefs as long as they do not harm others, but you will have no right to force your beliefs or the consequences of your beliefs on people who work for you.
On the somewhat related argument of who’s allowed to use which bathroom or shower stall, I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe. My first exposure to unisex bathrooms came when I was attending the University of Grenoble in France. All of the bathrooms were unisex, but there was no exposure. Everyone went into a stall to do private business. I admit that I felt uncomfortable with the arrangement at first, but I did get used to it and eventually accepted it as normal.
In many of the hostels on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a Catholic pilgrimage, shower rooms are also unisex. Again, there is no exposure of private parts to members of the opposite sex or to anyone else. You shower in a private booth and then come out to brush your teeth or shave at sinks where men and women wash their faces and hands side by side. No one seems to have a problem with it, even in hostels run by monks and nuns.
When it comes to true freedom of religion and sex identity, the United States is still stuck in a 19th-Century mentality. Getting the country to move into the 21st Century is probably too much to ask, but at least we could attempt to move into the 20th.