"I Refuse To Give Into Fear": Julian Bond's Inspiring Fight to End Religious Discrimination

As we remember the civil rights pioneer Julian Bond a few days after his passing at age 75, we find that it is incredibly difficult to sum up his legacy in a single blog post. As co-founder and communications director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he led young people in the fight for true equality in America. As co-founder, president and board member of the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of our many allies, he fought hate and bigotry and sought justice for those most vulnerable in our community. As chairman of the NAACP, he worked to educate Americans on the civil right movement and the battles fought by African-Americans across the country. He was a legislator, a teacher, and hero to many.

It's difficult to do justice to such a man, but we do want to highlight his dedication to ensuring that no one’s religious beliefs can be used as a justification to discriminate. In March of this year, Mr. Bond wrote an inspiring op-ed for Advocate.com about the dangers of the RFRA bill being signed into law in Indiana and others being proposed in Arkansas and other states.

From Advocate.com:

"These religious refusal proposals tell folks they can pick and choose which laws they want to follow. That individuals can sue not only businesses but teachers, firefighters, and police officers if they believe their religious rights are violated. If a police officer sues his precinct because he is required to patrol a mosque, can laws like the one in Indiana protect him? If a father sues a teacher because she disciplined his child under a community-wide antibullying policy, can legislation like that before the governor of Arkansas put that teacher in jeopardy? These bills are intentionally vague, leaving it up to an overburdened court system to decide whether an individual’s religious beliefs are more important than another person’s basic civil rights.

We oppose these bills because they seek not to preserve or protect religious believers but to demean and exclude LGBT people, religious minorities, and others who may find themselves standing on the outside looking in.

I have seen discrimination. I have stood inside businesses that would not serve me because of my race, and I have been told that the rights of those business owners were more important than mine. I countered that logic then, as I do now. We have no crisis of religious discrimination; we have a crisis of fear. I stand against these bills and with those who are fighting to stop them. I refuse to allow discrimination to cloak itself in a shroud of faith. I refuse to give into fear."

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Mr. Bond never gave into fear. Just like he advocated for the rights of African Americans in the 1960's and beyond, he spoke out for the civil rights of LGBT Americans early and often. In a 2013 op-ed for Politico, Mr. Bond came out against the religious exemptions in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), saying:

"Let me be clear. Religious liberty is one of our most cherished values.

It guarantees all of us the freedom to hold any belief we choose and the right to act on our religious beliefs. But it does not allow us to harm or discriminate against others. Religious liberty, contrary to what opponents of racial equality argued then and LGBT equality argue now, is not a license to use religion to discriminate.

Today, discrimination against individuals based on their race, sex, national origin, age or disability is almost universally viewed as unacceptable. That is because people of goodwill came together to make it so. At this critical moment in history, we should also come together to make clear that our LGBT brothers and sisters deserve full equality under the law, not just 80 percent."

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In 2001, Congress was considering an ill-advised measure, HR 7, the Community Solutions Act.  This controversial bill, which would have sanctioned government-funded employment discrimination, was a sweeping attack on civil rights and religious liberty.  It also would have overridden state and local civil rights laws that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital status, political affiliate, and more.  Mr. Bond made his position on government-funded employment discrimination clear when he stated that the bill would "erase sixty years of civil rights protections." Thanks to opposition from Mr. Bond, the NAACP, religious liberty advocates like AU, religious denominations, and many more communities, this bad bill was never enacted.

Julian Bond will forever loom large in the history of American civil rights, a towering giant who dedicated his 75 years to fairness, justice, and equality. All of us here at Americans United know we lost a friend and champion in Mr. Bond, and we send our best wishes and sympathy to the family and loved ones he left behind.