Zaid Jilani: “How Religious ‘Liberty’ Has Been Used to Justify Racism, Sexism and Slavery Throughout History”

SlavePicBy Elaine Magliaro

Zaid Jilani has an interesting article titled How Religious ‘Liberty’ Has Been Used to Justify Racism, Sexism and Slavery Throughout History over at AlterNet. Jilani says that religion has been used for hundreds of years to deny people their rights. He thinks that using religion in this way has hurt both the church and the state.

Jilani opens his article by writing about the “enormous backlash” there has been to “Indiana’s decision to enact a law that would allow businesses to discriminate if they invoke religious liberty.” He noted that Governor Pence responded “to a flurry of boycott threats” by signing a “fix” to the original bill.

Jilani said that battle lines have already been drawn for the religious right—and that 2016 Republican presidential “contenders like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson and others…all rushed to defend Indiana’s legislation, as a number of state legislatures continue to debate enacting similar measures.” He pointed out that in the state of Louisiana, a Republican lawmaker is “introducing a narrower bill specifically taking aim at marriage, with the intent to allow businesses to discriminate against same-sex weddings and deny benefits to employees in same-sex marriages.”


In all of these examples, religious belief is invoked to justify a right to discriminate. Proponents argue that constitutional protections for religious freedom are insufficient, and these new laws—aimed at granting businesses themselves exemptions from laws based on the invocation of religion—are necessary. It’s no surprise that these laws are proliferating around the same time marriage equality is slowly becoming the law of the land in most of the country. However, cries of religious liberty and a religious-based right to discriminatory and harmful behavior are not new. For centuries, religion has been used and abused as a shield for harmful behavior, to justify everything from slavery to sexist violence to racism in the Jim Crow South.


Excerpt from How Religious ‘Liberty’ Has Been Used to Justify Racism, Sexism and Slavery Throughout History:

Slavery’s Religious Supporters

In today’s history books, the righteous deeds of abolitionists—many of them devout Christians—are rightly documented, showing how the Gospel was used to liberate millions of human beings who had been subjugated by slavery. However, while the abolitionists did use scripture to make their case, many of their pro-slavery opponents also invoked biblical traditions.

In 1852, the writer Josiah Priest published a book titled Bible Defence Of Slavery: And Origin, Fortunes, and History of the Negro Race. The publisher’s preface points out the belief that “the institution of slavery received the sanction of the Almighty in the Patriarchal age; that it was incorporated into the only national constitution which ever emanated from God, that its legality was recognized, and its relative duties relegated by our Saviour, when upon earth.

Priest quotes liberally from scripture, citing numerous examples of enslavement being sanctified in the Bible. He writes, “If God appointed the race of Ham judicially to slavery, and it were a heinous sin to enslave one, or all the race, how then is the appointment of God to go into effect? …. God does never sanction sin, nor call for the commission of moral evil to forward any of his purposes; wherefre we come to the conclusion, that is is not sinful to enslave the negro race, providing it is done in a tender, fatherly and thoughtful manner.”

Priest’s interpretations of the Bible were particularly popular in the American South, with the Southern Baptists championing religious justifications for enslavement. Prominent Baptist minister Richard Furman helped polarize southern white Baptists to support the institution of slavery; he wrote to the governor of South Carolina explaining that “the right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures”; he specifically cites the “Israelites [being] directed to purchase their bond-men and bond-maids of the Heathen nations; except they were of the Canaanites, for these were to be destroyed. And it is declared that the persons purchased were to be their ‘bond-men forever;’ and an ‘inheritance for them and their children.’”

It was not until 1995’s Southern Baptist Convention that the organization issued an apology for its former stance on slavery.

The other subheadings of Jilani’s article:

  • Weaponizing the Bible For Sexism
  • Jim Crow’s Holy Defenders
  • Harming Church and State

Click on the link to read How Religious ‘Liberty’ Has Been Used to Justify Racism, Sexism and Slavery Throughout History (AlterNet)

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7 Responses to Zaid Jilani: “How Religious ‘Liberty’ Has Been Used to Justify Racism, Sexism and Slavery Throughout History”

  1. rafflaw says:

    When I was listening to the god Benedictine sisters at St. Lamberts school, they never used their religion to foster hate or discrimination. The Republican candidates for President are in for another defeat with a playbook based on hate. I have asked it before, WWJD?

  2. rafflaw says:

    That should read “good” Benedictine sisters!

  3. I’m sure they’ll forgive your accidental typographic blasphemy, raff. 😀

  4. swarthmoremom says: “On her radio program today, American Family Association governmental affairs director Sandy Rios joined in the right-wing outrage that President Obama dared say at an Easter breakfast that sometimes Christians use “less than loving expressions” that don’t reflect the love of Jesus Christ.

    She also mocked Obama for commending Pope Francis and hailing Jesus’ teachings of “embracing those who were different; serving the marginalized; humbling Himself to the last.” Rios said that when Obama urged listeners “to love our neighbors — all of our neighbors — as ourselves,” he must have been specifically speaking about the bakers and florists who have faced legal action for refusing service to gay customers.

    “He’s talking about these religious freedom laws, among other things; he is talking about the gay community, which is his obsession, I must say,” Rios said. “‘Serving the marginalized,’ in other words, cakes, flowers. We know what he is talking about.”

    “It’s a perversion of Jesus’ teaching to think that we ignore God’s law to do what we know in good conscience we can’t do and that we should be forced to do that in the name of God’s love and in what Jesus said, it’s just really a perversion, it’s very evil and it’s evil to do it at an Easter prayer breakfast,” she added.”

  5. rafflaw says:

    I hope so. Right after posting I looked over my shoulder to make sure a yardstick wasn’t heading in my direction! 😄

  6. Bob Kauten says:

    Damned Penguin!

  7. po says:

    As I say, religion is wasted on the religious.

Comments are closed.