OPINION — In January 1959, in a Virginia courtroom, Mildred and Richard Loving pled guilty to “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth,” and accepted a cruel sentence that spared them jail time but separated them from their families.
The judge’s opinion — pronounced in the Lord’s name without a shred of irony — was based in his definition of faith: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
The couple, each of a different race, was forced to leave their Virginia home and not return together for at least 25 years.
In announcing the Justice Department’s religious liberty task force, Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week said: “Let’s be frank: A dangerous movement, undetected by many but real, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom. There can be no doubt. It’s no little matter. It must be confronted intellectually and politically and defeated. This election, this past election, and much that has flowed from it, gives us a rare opportunity to arrest these trends and to confront them.”
That may sound righteous to some. But reading that Virginia’s judge’s ruling from not that long ago was a reminder of how religious belief can be sincere yet twisted to serve the prejudices of all-too-human beings.
Consider this: While the Supreme Court decided in the Lovings’ favor in 1967, striking down state laws against marriages between people of different races, Sessions’ home state of Alabama, in a symbolic move, took until 2000 to remove the law from its books. Even then, about 40 percent of citizens voted to keep it.
There is a reason groups such as the ACLU and the Human Rights Campaign saw in the new task force an effort to discriminate against LGBT Americans, especially against the backdrop of a Supreme Court that this year narrowly sided with a Colorado baker who had refused to create a wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage.