Obama’s Gun Control and Religious Freedom Connection

Unless you decided to hide under a rock yesterday, you’re probably aware that President Obama announced new executive action calling for the enforcement of more rigorous requirements for background checks to purchase guns. Obama’s announcement was pretty clever in that it called on American citizens to weigh the importance of Second Amendment rights against other rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

“Second Amendment rights are important but there are other rights that we care about as well. And we have to be able to balance them,” Obama said. He went on to list occurrences in our recent history when gun violence occurred in places of worship and when people were killed with guns because of their faith. Obama emphasized that we have a “right to worship freely and safely,” and reminded us that “that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina. And that was denied Jews in Kansas City. And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They had rights, too.”

No matter your politics, it’s sobering to reflect on these instances when the most fundamental of rights – the right to life – was taken by the hands of someone holding a gun. Obama’s statement was also pretty savvy in that it calls on us to question whether gun rights are more important to us than religious freedom rights. Hey conservatives – is your obsessive love for the right to own a gun so untouchable that it outweighs your obsession with the right to religious freedom? That has to be a tough one to answer.

Standing behind President Obama this afternoon was Lucia McBath, a black lady whose son was murdered with a gun by a white man who was angry at the volume of music coming from a car that was occupied by young black men including her son. After her son was killed, she developed a friendship with Rev. Rob Schenck – a white religious right activist who is climbing an uphill battle by attempting to convince fellow white evangelicals that Second Amendment rights aren’t found in scripture, that guns are not sacrosanct, and the Bible doesn’t sanction arming yourself against your fellow citizens.

Now, that’s my kind of preacher!

Conservatives are steadfast in their belief that religious freedom along with religious practice and worship must be protected and view our government as infringing upon that right if it attempts to expand the rights of those on the outside of American religiosity – for example, the LGBT community or Muslims. The support for gun control is based in the belief that gun ownership equals freedom and government regulation is tyrannical. Do you see a common thread? These “rights” of which conservatives are so fond center on the person claiming them (the gun owner, the one claiming his or her religious liberty has been infringed upon), without considering the rights of others.

Obama’s speech offered a vision of a nation where people are free to own their guns, but where the rights of people who may end up being killed by those guns are also protected – rights like religious freedom and freedom of assembly in public places that have become the sites for gun massacres far too often.

It’s unfortunate that tens of thousands annual gun deaths haven’t changed the tune being sung by those opposed to gun control. It’s about their rights, by God, and to hell with everybody else’s. Obama took a baby step toward changing that today. Not by just delivering an emotionally charged speech or closing background check loopholes – but by talking about Constitution and challenging us to ask ourselves what it is that we value most.

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A lucky man. Also a lawyer. Classic oxymoron.

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