Category Archives: Religious Liberty

Quotes From The Founders of Our “Christian Nation”

One of the many things Thomas Jefferson was known for was creating his own version of the bible: he famously excised all of the metaphysical portions, leaving only the moral teachings. (This may be why, when he was running for President, opponents warned that  he would order the burning of all bibles if he were to be elected.) I thought about that recently, when I came across a collection of quotations about religion and religious liberty from Jefferson and America’s other founding fathers. I was familiar with most, but not all of them. Of those I hadn’t previously seen, I particularly liked this one from Jefferson, taken from a letter he wrote to one Peter Carr in 1787:

“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”

Ben Franklin was more blunt. In Poor Richard’s Almanac, in 1758, he wrote

“The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.”

Although not technically a Founder, Thomas Paine was an enormously influential figure in Revolutionary America, and a reliable critic of religion and religious establishments; in The Rights of Man, he wrote

“Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity.”

In 1776, in The American Crisis, he made his disdain for “faith-based” reasoning even clearer, writing

“To argue with a man who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.”

(Explains the problem with several current members of Congress, the General Assembly and most of Texas….)

Madison frequently weighed in on the side of reason and the need to separate church from state. In his often-quoted letter to William Bradford, he wrote

“Christian establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects.”

There are many similar quotes from the architects of our Constitution, easily found in textbooks, history books or a cursory visit to Doctor Google. This nation’s founders tended to agree with Gallileo that “man is not obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect intends us to forgo their use.” However avid our current culture warriors may be about rewriting American history, it’s impossible to ignore the continued relevance of these sentiments. In fact, in view of the current push for explicit religious “liberty” to discriminate against LGBT folks, another Jefferson quote (from A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom) seems especially apt:

“Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.”

You tell ‘em, Tom!

Well, Lookee There! I Actually Agree with Eric Miller. Sort of.

In one of the recent missives sent out by Advance America, Eric Miller gave the reasons why he is (surprise!) supporting Scott Schneider’s “Religious Freedom” bill.

For one thing, it’s because that bullying government (the one that makes it possible for folks to do business) shouldn’t be able to make retail establishments treat gay customers the same way they treat other members of the general public on whom they depend for their livelihood.

Okay–I know you will be surprised when I say that isn’t the part I agree with.

And there was something about transgendered use of bathrooms–for some reason, the “Christian” right is absolutely fixated on bathrooms. I don’t agree with that, either–I don’t even understand that.

Here’s the part I agree with: “A church should not be punished because they refuse to let the church be used for a homosexual wedding!”

I totally agree with that. So does every U.S. court that ever addressed the issue. There’s this pesky little clause in the First Amendment called the Free Exercise Clause, that for some reason Eric Miller must have missed in law school–and among other things, it absolutely protects churches from having to perform rituals that are contrary to their beliefs.

I’m sure that when Eric Miller learns about that bit of what we lawyers call “blackletter” law (so called because such legal principles are so settled and foundational), he’ll amend his fundraising email.

And pigs will fly…..

To Continue My Rant…

I know I’m harping on this, but yesterday a commenter suggested that religious liberty should trump other social goods. (Not his phrasing, but the consequence of his demands.)

That isn’t the law, but more importantly, it isn’t good philosophy either.

Back before so many libertarians made common cause with social conservatives on culture-war issues, and others turned a small-government philosophy into an anti-tax, anti-government cult, I identified as libertarian. The libertarian principle is (deceptively) simple: we each have the right to “do our own thing”– to live our lives as we see fit, free of government interference– so long as we do not harm the person or property of a non-consenting other, and so long as we are willing to extend an equal liberty to others. 

The caveats that follow the “so long as” phrase are important. And they have a critical bearing on the so-called “religious liberty” bills like the one I posted about yesterday– measures to “protect” businesspeople who who defend discrimination against LGBT employees or customers by citing their “deeply-held and sincere religious beliefs.”

As I noted yesterday, similar efforts followed the 1964 Civil Rights Act; then it was a “sincere religious belief” that God wanted to keep the races separate. The courts didn’t buy that argument then, and they are unlikely to buy it now.

As I have written previously, there is a reciprocal relationship–a social contract– between government and its citizens. Government collects taxes from all of us, no matter our race, religion or sexual orientation, and uses those tax dollars to provide public services. The services we taxpayers finance provide an essential infrastructure for American commercial activity.

Businesses ship their goods to market over roads we paid for. They are protected by police and fire departments supported by our tax dollars. Public transportation and sidewalks bring workers and customers to their premises. The deal is, businesses get the benefit of the infrastructure supplied by our taxes, and in return, agree not to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, religion and other markers of group identity.

We can and should argue about the nature and scope of the services government provides, but few people really want to revoke the social contract, dispense with government and return to a Hobbesian state of nature.

Religious liberty is capacious. It allows you to hold any beliefs you want. It allows you to preach those beliefs in the streets, and to refuse to socialize with people of whom you disapprove. It gives you the right to observe the rules of your particular religion in your home and church and social circle without government interference. It gives you a broad right to “do your own religious thing” until you harm someone else, and so long as you respect the right of other people to do their “own thing.” Which “thing” may be different from yours.

Religious liberty doesn’t include the right to disadvantage people who should be entitled to equal treatment, or to use the power of the state to impose some people’s beliefs on everyone else.

Neither the libertarian principle nor the social contract defines “religious liberty” as a right to pick and choose which parts of the social contract you will honor and which ones you will disregard.

 

Mike Delph and “Religious Freedom”

It’s deja vu all over again.

Mike Delph–whose hysterical (in both senses of the word) tweets in the wake of the failure of HR3 left no room for doubt about his feverish homophobia–has introduced a bill to protect “religious” folks from having to recognize the civil rights of LGBT citizens. [Update: Evidently that other "religious warrior," Scott Schneider, authored this particular bill. Given Delph's legislative history, you can understand how I made the mistake...]

(I’m sure Schneider is equally anxious to protect good Christians from being forced to do business with unwed fornicators, bearers of false witness, adulterers and other sinful folks. That bill will undoubtedly be introduced any day now. Not.)

My friend Bill Groth, a highly respected lawyer who frequently litigates constitutional issues, reminded me via a Facebook post that we’ve seen this movie before. In Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc. the Court wrote:

” The free exercise of one’s beliefs…is subject to regulation when religious acts require accommodation to society. Undoubtedly Bessinger has a constitutional right to espouse the religious beliefs of his own choosing, however, he does not have the absolute right to exercise and practice such beliefs in utter disregard of the clear constitutional rights of other citizens. This court refuses to lend credence or support to his position that he has a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of the Negro race in his business establishments upon the ground that to do so would violate his sacred religious beliefs.” 

Newman was decided in 1968.

The identity of the people who we are being asked to classify as second-class citizens may have changed, but the desire to justify bigotry in the name of religion sure hasn’t.

Fortunately, on this issue, that pesky Constitution this proposal ignores hasn’t changed either.

 

Speaking of Religion…

We’re seeing multiple tantrums from self-styled religious folks these days, and it isn’t likely to abate in the coming new year.

Huffington Post recently reported on a lawsuit brought against the Kansas State Board of Education.

An anti-evolution group is suing the Kansas State Board of Education for instituting a science curriculum that teaches evolution.

The nonprofit Citizens for Objective Public Education filed a lawsuit Thursday to block the board, education commissioner and Department of Education from teaching science classes consistent with new educational benchmarks developed by 26 states to align school systems across the U.S. These Next Generation Science Standards, which Kansas adopted in June, have seen fierce opposition from critics opposed to the teaching of climate change and evolution.

Citizens for Objective Public Education argues in its lawsuit that the standards promote atheism and therefore violate the separation of church and state.

I wish the theocrats would make up their minds! Texas textbook reviewers insist that there isn’t any separation of church and state. Marco Rubio agrees with them (which tells you that denying separation is a litmus test for the GOP base). Something called the Jeremiah Project says the theory of Church-State separation is  a nefarious plot by those who deny that America is a “Christian Nation.”

Apparently, interpretation of the First Amendment is a matter of convenience, to be changed when a different understanding is required in order to reach one’s desired outcome.

I must have missed that part of scripture where it teaches us that “the ends justify the means.”

Welcome to 2015.