The Watering Hole; Friday April 1 2016; Religious Freedom

Untouched by Morning
And untouched by Noon —
Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection —
Rafter of satin,
And Roof of stone.
[. . .]

There seems to be, these days, a major thesis that drives the attitudes of a significantly sized segment of the American populace. Those who practice it, including most of the GOP Presidential, Senatorial, and Congressional candidates, seem convinced that the ‘proper’ interpretation of the Constitution is that it defines the  United States as a “Christian Nation,”and that there is no “separation of church and state” expressed or implied — a concept which they presume defines their consequential “Religious Freedom” as a special level of privilege.

A quick search suggests that “Religious Freedom,” aka “Freedom-of-Religion,” has basically two definitions which (courtesy of read as follows (highlights mine):

(1) The right of people to hold any religious beliefs, or none, and to carry out any practices in accordance with those beliefs or with that absence of belief, so long as these practices do not interfere with other people’s legal or civil rights, or any reasonable laws, without fear of harm or prosecution.

(2)  The right, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, to choose religious practices or to abstain from any without government intervention.

As the second definition notes, it’s the First Amendment which typically serves as the basis for the concept of “religious freedom.” The amendment was written by James Madison, and its final revision — the first sixteen words in the Bill of Rights — reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .

Note that it’s the last five words, not the first eleven, that are presumed, by some, to imply that ‘religious freedom’ — the right to believe (and act) as one’s belief might demand — allows for no restriction on said belief and does not (cannot) disallow any religious practices which might  interfere with other people’s legal or civil rights.

So today, talk of the “right” to discriminate against anyone who happens to support things that someone’s religion (Christian, of course) might find offensive — abortion, contraception, LGBT rights, gay marriage, the list is lengthy — is presumed guaranteed by those five words in the (so-called) “Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment. One can only wonder if that sort of boundless “religious liberty” was what Madison had in mind when he drafted the amendment.

It’s fair to note that the wording of the First Amendment as it stands today has little or no resemblance to the wording of Madison’s original draft, which read as follows (highlights mine):

The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.

The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.

The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good, nor from applying to the legislature by petitions, or remonstrances for redress of their grievances.

Note the highlights; are those two phrases not the essence of today’s conflict in the words “Religious Freedom” plainly spelled out? On the one hand, no one’s rights can ever be abridged by religious belief, but on the other hand, neither can the full and equal rights of conscience be infringed on any pretext. Which prevails? Civil rights, or the rights of conscience? Does it mean that Madison meant that the free exercise of religion trumped everything else? Or, in today’s jargon, since gay marriage violates certain religious beliefs or conscience, that therefore allowing same sex marriage violates the first amendment even though it’s been deemed, by the Supreme Court, to be a civil right? And how about abortion — deemed a constitutional right in the Roe v. Wade decision — is it actually unconstitutional because it violates a religious conscience somewhere?

I happen to believe that a thoughtful (i.e. Liberal) mind would never agree that “free exercise” of religion means that all matters of conscience or belief stand taller than any so-called Civil Right. But there are a great many who believe the opposite, that religious freedom trumps everything else, every other “right” expressed or implied. One can only wonder what the future holds. As Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver noted in re his objections to gay marriage,

“Pendulums swing and I believe that if you remain faithful, you will ultimately be encouraged by being on the right side of history. People say, ‘Well, you’re on the wrong side of history.’ I would rather be on the side of God’s history and the natural created order, millennia of human history than some newfangled idea. This is an assault on marriage and family, our freedom and an assault on God himself.”

An assault on Religious Freedom is apparently viewed, by the faithful, as anything that impinges in any way upon, in Madison’s words, the full and equal rights of conscience.

If that be the case, we have a hell of a long way to go.

[. . .]
Light laughs the breeze
In her Castle above them —
Babbles the Bee in a stolid Ear,
Pipe the Sweet Birds in ignorant cadence —
Ah, what sagacity perished here!
(Emily Dickinson)







17 thoughts on “The Watering Hole; Friday April 1 2016; Religious Freedom

  1. Maybe I see things too simply. We are all free to believe, or not, however we choose. We are free to act on those beliefs to the extent that our actions do not cause us to infringe upon the rights of others.

    • I couldn’t agree more, I see it exactly the same way. If the courts/law were to MANDATE same sex marriage, or abortion, or etc., I would be among the first to scream my objection, but the fact that such things are simply allowed as a personal choice does not, as Jefferson once said, “pick my pocket or break my leg and therefore it’s no harm to me.”

      Sadly, the loud and hate-filled voices of the religious right do not see things that way, and they’ve come to insist that ‘religious freedom’ guarantees them the right to impose their religious beliefs on everyone else — it’s in the Constitution, after all.

      Madison could have made a slightly better choice of words in re the first amendment, but he blew it and in the process gave the nitpickers room to manipulate. And these days, lots of nitpickers are running for office, and some are on the Supreme Court. If they should ever become the functional majority, the results will be hugely painful for anyone with a functioning mind.

      • Jefferson understood the dangers of state sponsored religion. As one of the reasons for the necessity of Virginia’s religious freedom law he wrote: “That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;”.

      • It seems so very obvious that with the horrors of the Reformation, the Counter Reformation and the Thirty Years war part of every European monarchy’s baggage, that the writers of the USC Constitution would deliberately try to take all the foundations of power from the monarchies. The religion clause is so clearly that …. just because you believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, you don’t get to force me to eat pasta everyday – got it?

    • There it is OIMF. Freedom is the right to be free to make your own choices provided these choices do not restrict the choices of other citizens

      It works across the spectrum – from industries emitting pollution into the air or water of the neighbouring town, to some hypocritical bigot refusing to do her job because her God tells her to hate someone.

  2. What is a Religion ? I mean when does my belief in fairies at the bottom of my garden, the existence of spacemen from the planet Zog or whatever, become a Religion with a capital R?

    Is it when the IRS says: “Yeah sure, you can have a tax break for the Church of the Planet Zog”?

    is it when you say: “I have here my book, it comes in three parts and was divinely inspired and tells of the battle between good and evil, with Gandalf being the Good Guy, who dies and is resurrected and the Bad Guy, Sauron – it’s all here in my divine trilogy, because I said so, so it must be true”

    • In this country, it’s when you say “I’m a Christian” or “I’m a Republican.” Not so much if you call yourself a Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Flying Spaghettist, etc., and not at all if you call yourself a Muslim. Then you’re a ‘terrist’.

  3. One of my High School history teachers opined that the way to eradicate racism in America was to pass two laws. One to forbid marriage to same race couples, and the second to amend the constitution to put civil liberties ahead of religious liberties.
    What a thoughtful soul, Marlin Foxworth.

    • The problem with Madison’s thesis on “rights” is twofold: first, he was a slave owner, so nix on the racial equality concept. Second, even in his first draft of what wound up as amendment one, on the one hand he said that “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship,” but then he followed that by saying “nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.” Ask any wingnut politician, and they’ll tell you that religious freedom DEMANDS they be allowed to ‘follow their conscience’ and hate, fear, and willfully discriminate against all sinners everywhere (and they will define sinners, of course, as all who don’t believe like they do).

      Anyone who doubts any of that need only to ask Ted Cruz. He’ll ‘splain it all.

      I do like the Marlin Foxworth theses. They have that special something embedded in them that causes one to THINK about the issues on the table — not always an easy task.

  4. Today’s April 1st, and low & behold here’s the consummate April Fool (also the Jan-Mar and May-Dec Fool):

    Ted Nugent Promotes Fake Racist ‘2 N*ggers And A Stolen Truck’ Moving Van

    National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent posted a racially derogatory image on his Facebook page that he said was an advertisement for a moving company called “2 n*ggers and a stolen truck.”

    In a March 31 post, Nugent shared the image with his comment: “Before all the braindead dishonest lying scum politically correct racist hatepunks get all goofball toxic on us here, I am simply promoting a brilliant entrepreneur in Detroit that created a clever bussiness. His words, not mine. Ya gotta luv this guy!! When in doubt whip it out!”

    In addition to racist language, the image also has racial caricatures of black people.


  5. Speaking of Religious Freedom:

    Mississippi’s Sweeping Religious Freedom Bill Heads To Governor’s Desk

    The Mississippi House on Friday passed a religious freedom bill that would allow businesses and public employees to deny services to people based on the belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman, sending the legislation to Gov. Phil Bryant (R).

    The bill, passed by the state Senate earlier this week, also allows businesses to deny services based on the belief that “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage” and that the belief that gender is determined at birth.

    Additionally, the bill would allow religious groups to fire someone whose “conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with those of the religious organization,” and let those organizations block adoptions due to religious beliefs.

    The legislation allows clerks to refuse to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples, too.

    Ben Needham, the director of Project One America, a LGBT advocacy project in the South run by the Human Rights Campaign, told Buzzfeed News that the Mississippi legislation is “probably the worst religious freedom bill to date.”

    State Rep. Randy Boyd (R), one of the bill’s sponsors, has said that the legislation was aimed at protecting Christians from discrimination.

    ‘Protecting Christians from discrimination.’ Right. Uh Huh. It’s in the Constitution, dontcha know.

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