Let's talk about what religious freedom means

The Iowa State Capitol building is seen after short snow storm the day after the caucuses in Des Moines on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
The Iowa State Capitol building is seen after short snow storm the day after the caucuses in Des Moines on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Guys, I think we need to talk about religious freedom. Religious freedom is a great thing, because it allows you to follow any faith you desire.

Want to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior? You can totally do it! Do you believe that Allah is the only God and that Muhammad is his Prophet? That’s cool too! Or do you just want embrace the dark nihilism of Cthulhu because it makes you more metal? Hey, that’s your right!

You can have one god, or many, or none at all. And the government can’t tell you which faith to follow or prevent you from following your chosen faith.

But one thing religious freedom doesn’t mean is that one faith can impose its belief system on another group of people and or use it to deprive someone of their life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness.

To paraphrase a common maxim, “One’s liberty to swing their arm in any direction ends where another’s nose begins.”

I bring this up now because there seems to be a contingent of lawmakers in Des Moines that does not seem to understand this concept. Within the last couple of weeks the Iowa Legislature began considering a trifecta of religious-backed bills that serve little in the way of a compelling state interest for their existence.

There’s House File 2031 — the Bible literacy bill — designed to offer an elective class to teach school students the about the Bible. Given the state’s budget crunch, it should be noted that nearly every church in Iowa already provides this service for free.


Next, we have House File 2164 — a trans bathroom bill, a watered-down version of North Carolina’s infamously bad law.

Finally, there is Senate File 2154 — a restoring religious freedom bill so broadly written it seems you can claim religious exemption to any state or local law, except in prison. For all intents and purposes, these kinds of laws have been used in other states to effectively nullify civil rights protections for GLBT people by removing critical protections in areas of housing, employment, medical care and other daily activities.

Should schools teach the Bible?

The Gazette is showcasing multiple perspectives on House File 2031 throughout today's opinion pages.

Look for three guest columns -- from Crawley, Stump and Wichtendahl -- online and in the Sunday Gazette.

If you have something to add to the conversation, we welcome your submission.

We are committed to providing balanced coverage of local issues. Read more at thegazette.com/trust. Was this information:

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Discrimination isn’t something that can be supported constitutionally. And personally, I can’t see how it could be supported scripturally either.

Didn’t Christ command his followers in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats to heal the sick, feed the hungry and take in the stranger? (Matthew 25:31-46)

Didn’t Jesus teach his followers in the Parable of the good Samaritan to show compassion and mercy to their enemies and to “love your neighbor as yourself”? (Luke 10:25-37)

Did he not stand up to the high priests and other religious leaders who demanded that a prostitute be stoned to death under Mosaic law? He dared those who were without sin to cast the first stone. (John 7:53-8:11)

I have always believed that humility, kindness, compassion to others and mercy are the values that best exemplified the Christian faith. And those values are not represented in these bills.

Speaking as a trans woman, I’ve seen discrimination firsthand. The month I trans­itioned was the same month that I was kicked out of my apartment, making me effectively homeless. It was distressing to have to ask friends for a couch to sleep on, while having to hunt for a new place to live and trying to find the right words to explain to my then-2-year-old son why we didn’t have a home anymore. It was devastating. At least I still had a good job. My best friend was not as lucky.


She moved from Tennessee to Iowa to pursue a career as a health care aide. When her manager discovered her trans status, she used every punitive measure in the book to force her out of the company. Three months after moving to Iowa, she was jobless and had to resort to delivering pizzas and driving a cab to keep a roof over her head. She moved back to Tennessee shortly thereafter.

Finally, speaking as an elected official, these bills do Iowa no favors. My first year on the Hiawatha City Council we drafted our comprehensive plan that was a road map for new small-business development and new residential properties that would be filled with young, working professionals.

But keeping and attracting young professionals in Iowa has always been a challenge. We are already hobbled with lower wages compared to our neighboring states. So why would anyone want to come here if they’re not only going to be underpaid but also risk discrimination to themselves or their friends?

It is with that in mind I ask for your help to keep these bills from becoming law. Please write and call your legislators in Des Moines to oppose these bills and tell them to instead pass legislation to make Iowa a better place and to live and work.

• Aime Wichtendahl is a member of the Hiawatha City Council.



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