Faith, freedom and leadership were explored and challenged by over 60 clergy and laity at a symposium entitled “Liberating Religious Liberty” September 10 on the campus of Wayne State University in Detroit. The purpose of the gathering was to help equip religious leaders articulate a positive definition of religious liberty and explain why religious liberty should not be used as a license to discriminate. A positive concept of religious liberty can be used to further religious pluralism in the United States.
Hosted by CLGS and the ACLU of Michigan, along with other local organizations, the summit was a full day of workshops and discussion about the role of faith in public life, the conflicts between some religious doctrines and civil rights and how to move forward towards a more just and inclusive environment both in the public sphere and in houses of worship.
Rev. Roland Stringfellow, Coordinator of CLGS’ African-American Roundtable, said, “What we worked on is what I believe, which is that beliefs should not be weapons. Because some people maintain a very narrow and rigid view of religion, it causes a lot of spiritual violence.”
The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Voelkel was the open plenary speaker providing the religious leaders with practical tools how to frame the topic of religious liberty to their congregations. Rana Elmir of the Michigan ACLU and Kathleen Campisano of the National LGBTQ Task Force led a workshop where the participants could put into practice what they learned. Proponents for religious liberty argue that no burden should be placed on an individual’s religious conviction and if providing public service to married same-sex couples does that, for example, then a person who feels burdened may refuse those services. Michigan is one of many states that is considering placing this overly restrictive legislation into law. This symposium was incredibly timely.
The evening was capped off with a funny, moving and inspirational message from Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. She said there is much to celebrate with the passage of marriage equality, but everyone must also remember that this victory was achieved because so many people stood with the LGBT community. “How we got to this moment is that people who didn’t have a dog in this fight stood up for us,” said Kendell. “Ben Franklin is credited as saying, ‘Justice will not be served until those that are unaffected by injustice are as outraged as those who are.’
Kendell closed by quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “Power without love is reckless and abusive. Love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
CLGS is planning additional symposiums on “Liberating Religious Liberty” in the near future in states facing this dangerous legislation.
By Rev. Roland Stringfellow and Jan Stevenson