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Apr 22, 2016

The difference between a belief system and discrimination

Recently I was contacted by a pillar of a community that is currently in the center of a large dispute over what many call “right to hate laws” that are sprouting up around the country.  He asked “Does a belief system that differs from other ones automatically get classified as discrimination?”

To me, the answer is a definite no. Belief systems in and of themselves are far from discriminatory. People are and should be able to believe what they do without issue. It's when they push their beliefs and will on others that discrimination can happen. For instance. If you think all Christians are simple minded fools that love fairy tales*, that is your belief. If you then say no simple minded fools are allowed health care, counseling, access to the bathroom etc. that is when it becomes discrimination. (*not my view but something that was said to me).

If you think that, but treat Christians with respect and dignity that is part of one’s civil rights, that is not discrimination. Treating those that you disagree with as human beings is not an example of your belief system being discriminated against. It’s the opposite in fact, as it shows that you respect the right of others to live as you expect your rights to life to be respected as well. It’s just part of being a citizen in a country that is not homogenized and shows that you are “living the golden rule.”

If you want your rights to believe to be respected, you need to also respect the rights of others to believe as well, as long as they are not causing you personal harm. Simply living a life that defies your sense of moral decency is far from causing harm to you and your beliefs. If say, they entered your house of worship and defiled it in some way, such as by spilling pigs’ blood when pork is against your religion (blood at all actually) or having a massive orgy in the pews when your religion espouses celibacy, then they have indeed crossed a line and your belief system is being attacked. If they passed laws outlawing your right to practice your religion in your home, wear a crucifix in public or required you to register with the government and become part of a watched list if you were of a certain faith, then you have indeed been discriminated against. Lacking that though, you would be hard pressed to produce a cogent argument that you are being discriminated against.

The test on whether or not you are crossing a line is really not that difficult. Take the situation in question and write it down but when writing it down, replace your name and the name of the other group in question. If you are still ok with this happening to you and yours, it just may be an ok situation. If however, this happening to you would make you feel like you have been discriminated against, it’s very likely that the other folks would feel the same way. It’s really not all that complicated when you think about it.

This country of ours has many scars from past and current divisions. We have seen times where people of color, Jewish, Irish, Native Americans and others were refused access to water, bathrooms, housing and medical care. We have seen times when they were lynched for being different while “good (enter group name)” watched on and sometimes applauded. It got us nowhere but in a world of hurt and despair.

I’ll never forget the time when I was super young when a young boy was hit by an ice cream vender’s truck. The vender was dismissive of the accident because it was a child of color; to him it didn’t matter. Thankfully that young man survived though he was terribly scarred. He noticed that his scars came in white and asked his mum if he got hit again could he turn all white so he could have a better life. It wasn’t because he was ashamed of who he was but because he wanted more than anything to be treated with respect and decency in a time when “his kind” was not.

Lack of an ability to apply oppression to others is far from the oppression of you and your views. If you must dislike a group based on their beliefs, sex, orientation, race etc. that is your right though I have no idea why you’d want to do so; preventing others from having the freedom to choose their own way, preventing folks access based on things that are beyond their control is also reprehensible.

We have a choice before us. We can turn towards past mistakes and atrocities and embrace them or we can decide to head in a direction that leads to peace and understanding. Embrace your “enemy” by learning more about them and what they stand for. Expand your mind through the exploration of more than one way of thinking and being. You just may find that you have much more in common than you can imagine.  There is only one earth; lets share it. 
"Doc Warren" Corson III is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm ( 

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