Prejudice is what we hold in our heads. We all have our prejudices – some of which we feel uncomfortable with and whose impact on our thinking and behavior we try to minimize. Others are strongly held beliefs that we may feel to be well-founded World Views.
Discrimination is the mechanism by which we allow our prejudices to cause harm to others.
The legal system uses the term “protected class” to identify groups who share a characteristic over which they have no control – their race or ethnicity, religion, cultural background, country of origin, skin color, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc.
Discrimination against any of these groups is an attempt to put obstacles up to prevent them from being successful and fully integrated into our society. Limitation of career choices or occupations, political participation, organizational membership, educational access, land or business ownership have all been used to hobble every immigrant, ethnic, religious or cultural minority throughout history.
Now, we’re hearing that placing a limitation on people’s ability to discriminate, to turn their private prejudices into institutional and public policy, represents a limitation of their “religious” freedom, and indeed, constitutes a “war on religion”.
Our rights are not absolute, but within obvious limits (we might all take exception to virgin sacrifice or ritual beheadings), people have and always will be free in the United States to believe as they wish, and to freely practice their religion. However, it in no way restricts anyone’s practice of their religion if we deny them the ability to use discriminatory practices to try to coerce other people to live the way they think they should, or to otherwise successfully reduce a group of Americans to second-class status.
Once again, religion is being used to achieve some truly ugly goals. No unit of government should allow it’s citizens to use religion as an excuse to institutionalize or condone discriminatory practices.