In the early settling years of America, many people pilgrimaged here, seeking freedom from religious persecution. The Puritans, who are commonly associated with this hopeful migration, wanted freedom to worship how they believed—without the oppression of the more wide-spread Church of England—so they came to America, a land still so new and unspoilt. They came to ensure their own rights. However, when they were introduced to the Quakers, religious freedom was apparently a right that only they possessed. They tormented the Quakers shamelessly. The Puritans, who had just been persecuted, were now dishing it out to others for the very same reason that they had been on the receiving end—they were different.
This seems to be the pattern of human rights. Seek desperately for your own rights and then take away the rights of those who do not agree with your belief system or who don’t fit your mold. Equality is all well and good—as long as you have more of it than those who are different from you. It’s my middle school reading of Animal Farm all over again, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” (George Orwell). This pattern of imbalanced equality has continued in America, even into our 21st century. The Irish Catholic were persecuted for being different—just think about what a major game changer it was for John F. Kennedy to be elected president. Catholics had been here since the beginning of our America, and yet, it took until half way through the 20th century for a Catholic to be accepted. The Mormons were driven from one city to another and from state to state until they were finally outside the borders of the United States. Because Mormon beliefs were different, those who ignorantly feared them actually extended an Extermination Order. Yep. Equal rights were definitely not for Mormons. Thankfully, they were eventually accepted (of sorts) and even managed to get a viable Presidential Candidate…after much harangue. Currently, Muslims are being estranged and tyrannized because, once again, people fear what they don’t understand.
It is not just the acceptance of different religious groups and their right to rights that we as a humans struggle with. I want to point out that it is rights in general that people have a hard time sharing. The Native Americans were branded savages and their land and homes were taken in the name of Manifest Destiny. The Japanese American, many of which had lived their whole life here, were placed in concentration camps after Pearl Harbor…because they were of Japanese descent. Hollywood was turned inside out in the Communist witch hunt. Black Americans were not allowed to use the same bathroom as white Americans…because even after 200 years living here, they were still just the color of their skin. All four of these examples were driven by ignorance and fear. Women were not allowed to vote because…well, they were women, you know, the “weaker sex”. In each instance, a group of Americans had to fight for their rights against those who feared losing their own. There is no room for fear in America. It gets in our way of being united. Being an American should mean that you have the right to worship, vote, and think as you please…as long as you are devoted to America and upholding her freedom.
Outside of America, and yes there are plenty more examples inside of America, the French Revolution stands out in my mind as a horrible example of what happens when one group of people finally gain their rights, and fail to remember the importance of equal rights. The long oppressed poor of France won control of their country. They finally could have equal rights; but many were filled with a vengeful passion. Their own rights were not enough. They had to destroy everyone who represented what kept them down. So they went on a so-called legal attempt at genocide of the entire upper class. Women, men and children were executed because of the life-style into which they were born.
No, life is not fair. Equality is not free, and it oftentimes must be fought for. Whether it is religious freedom or civil rights, we can’t forget why America was established in the first place: freedom and equality for all. America is not perfect. Why? Because it’s people are not perfect. However, this does not excuse attempts to take away the rights of others because their viewpoints are different. Different viewpoints are what make America so strong and so beautiful. They are what keep us from falling under the tyranny of despots. Seriously! The Founding Father’s came up with that truly inspired idea. The more groups of citizens with differing opinions (factions), the safer America is from dictatorship.
It’s true that we need to fight to gain or keep our personal rights, but I would add, it is even more important, for all that America represents, to fight for the rights of those whom with we don’t agree. Why? Because equal rights are not limited to one viewpoint. Equal rights are strengthened and perfected when we uphold the rights of all. If you want equality, then you must take it and give it at the same time. So whether you are a believer in God or Atheist, Christian or Muslim, White or Black, Gay or not, Woman or Man, or whatever other group you may identify with, fight for your rights and fight for the rights of those who do not share your beliefs.
In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling, I would ask that those who gained their rights not seek to take away the rights of those who opposed. Do not let history repeat itself. Stop thinking of rights specific to your ideology. Remember the important separation of Church and State and that there really is a difference. And then remember, it is not gay rights verses religious freedom; it is American rights and American freedom.