We have all heard the term “sincerely held religious belief” in various laws to get special privileges for Christians. And we have seen Pastafarians mess with that law by wearing spaghetti strainers on their heads for drivers license photos. But what you may not be aware of is that the word “religion” is superfluous in those laws.
We’ve also all heard “The Constitution gives us freedom of religion, not freedom from religion”. But that’s not actually true. The First Amendment actually gives us freedom from religious rule BEFORE granting freedom of religion. It starts, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” That’s freedom from religion, first thing on their list.
What this means is there can be no law carving out exemptions specifically for “sincerely held religious beliefs”. According to the very first words in the First Amendment, the correct reading of those laws is simply “sincerely held belief”. It doesn’t have to be a religious belief. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law, so EVERY time an exemption is carved out for religious beliefs it is carved out for ALL beliefs.
To try to hide this from us the laws often include other things, such as philosophical beliefs, to give you the impression that lawmakers have the right to dictate which beliefs are protected and which are not, but they very much do not have that right. All beliefs, religious, philosophical or otherwise, are equal under the law. So ANY right carved out specifically for religious reasons, that right applies to EVERYONE, regardless of religious affiliation or beliefs. You don’t have to invent a religion to enjoy those same rights. ANY belief will do. And that is something the religious right doesn’t want us to know.