Category Archives: Religious Liberty

How Dumb Is Rick Santorum?

People for the American Way have posted a recent radio interview with former U.S. Senator and all-star culture warrior Rick Santorum.

During the discussion, Santorum said that Christians have allowed their faith to be removed from the public square and need to start fighting back, arguing that removing the Bible from public school classrooms is not neutrality but rather the promotion of the secular worldview. He suggested that conservative Christians should respond by “calling secularism a religion because if we did, then we could ban that too.”

Claiming that the absence of religion is itself a religion, Santorum said that Christians must reassert themselves and insist that Christianity “should be taught in the schools” instead of worrying about offending people.

Leaving aside the massive constitutional ignorance Santorum (once again) displays,  I’m intrigued. How do you ban the absence of something?

Earth to Santorum: “secular” means “not religious.” It doesn’t mean “anti-religious.” An experiment in science class is secular; the study of the periodical table of elements is secular. English grammar is secular. History–even when it includes study of the influence of religious beliefs and movements–is secular.

Stuff that isn’t religious is secular. It’s a descriptive term, not an ideology.

The removal of religious doctrine from the public sector (government)(which is not at all the same thing as its removal from the public square, where religious expression is protected by the Free Exercise Clause) is simply a recognition that in a free society, the government doesn’t get to impose or endorse a set of preferred religious beliefs. The transmittal of religious doctrine is the prerogative of families and religious institutions.

There are a lot of culture warriors who really do understand the First Amendment, but choose to pander to the sizable number of Americans who don’t. I don’t think Santorum is one of those. I think he’s a true believer.

And not a very good thinker.

In fact, his diagnosis of secularism reminds me a lot of his diagnosis of Terri Schavo. He sees things that aren’t there.

 

 

God and the Congresscritters

Hunter, over at DailyKos, reports:

During a conference call last month with the National Emergency Coalition, Rep. Steve King said that the U.S. needs to crack down on immigration because our nation’s borders were established by God. Disrespecting the borders, the congressman suggested, is disrespecting God’s will.

And then there’s this…bet you didn’t know that God doesn’t want coal regulated. Or that we have nothing to fear from climate change because in Genesis, God promised not to cause another flood. Or that God doesn’t want the woolly mammoth to be the South Carolina state fossil.

I think this is what you call “arguing from authority”–when you don’t have any rational arguments for your point of view, you can always claim that you’re listening to the Big Guy.

There was a reason this nation’s founders wanted to separate what James Madison called the different “jurisdictions” of Church and State–to make it harder for lunatics like King,   Cruz, Bachman et al to pervert religious doctrine (their version of Christianity makes the fundamentalists look reasonable–or at least coherent) and insist that government legislate accordingly.

We’ve always had crazy people; we’ve always even had crazy elected people. But we haven’t usually had so many of them.

The Real Problem with the Hobby Lobby Decision

There are lots of things one might say about the Supreme Court’s immensely wrongheaded decision allowing closely-held corporations  to deny birth control coverage to female employees in contravention of the corporation’s “sincere religious convictions.”

We could point to the hypocrisy of an owner who buys lots of merchandise from China, with its mandatory abortion/one child policy, but whose religious sensibilities recoil from offering birth control to female employees who want it.

We could note that, thanks to the Administration’s willingness to accommodate religious paternalism, the costs of coverage didn’t even come out of the corporate pocket–the insurers paid it. How does that “burden” the corporation?

We could certainly consider how this decision fits into the broader backlash against equal rights for women that has characterized American politics for the past decade. Reliable birth control gives women control of their lives, and it’s clear that a significant number of men resent anything that promises women personal autonomy.

We could observe, as one of my sons did, that America is devolving into feudalism–that this case is just one in a series of recent policies and judicial decisions favoring the rights of the powerful over the rights of their serfs. And we could couple that observation with growing dismay over the attribution of “personhood” to entirely fictional beings called corporations. Legal constructs created to facilitate economic activity have now been invested with freedom of speech and religion. (Ironically, this case confers religious rights on legal fictions while taking them away from real, human women.)

And we could–and should–point out that the Supreme Court doesn’t really have the final word: we serfs–i.e. consumers– do. Any woman who shops at Hobby Lobby after this is a traitor to her gender. There may not be legal recourse from a Supreme Court decision–at least, not until or unless we get better Justices and this decision is revisited–but we can certainly encourage fair-minded folks to boycott the theocratic corporate “person” called Hobby Lobby.

All of these thoughts–and some not fit to transmit–went through my head when I learned of the decision. But what really struck me was a warning from a 1992 book by Jane Jacobs. The book was Systems of SurvivalA Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics. It’s a slim volume, and an easy–and fascinating–read. I recommend it. The basic premise was that once we recognize the universal rules of moral conduct (“don’t steal, don’t lie, etc.) there are two very different moral “systems,” a commercial system and a “guardian” or governmental system, with rules that make sense only within the imperatives of that system.

When you apply the moral rules developed for one system to activities properly within the jurisdiction of the other, you really screw things up.

Corporations are not inherently good or evil; they are simply a useful fiction. A line of cases that invests them with human attributes is worse than perverse; it’s dangerous.

Feudalism was bad enough when the Lord of the Manor was human, and would die.

 

Ignorance on Display

Yesterday’s Indianapolis Star devoted much of its editorial real estate to the same-sex marriage debate. The paper took an editorial position in favor of recognition–an immensely encouraging sign of sanity I never thought to see in my lifetime–and also ran an “editorial dissent” that was a model of respectful disagreement.

Then there were the letters, most prominently a screed from Ryan McCann of Indiana Family Action. It would be hard to find a more perfect example of civic ignorance.

McCann trots out the Right’s usual list of dangerous incursions on “religious liberty,” including the claim that pastors will “come under legal attack” for refusing to marry same-sex couples.

Read my lips: the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment absolutely protects pastors and churches from officiating at weddings incompatible with their theologies. Period. Full stop. Anyone with even a modicum of constitutional knowledge should know better than to make or credit such a bogus claim, and it is a sad sign of how widespread civic ignorance is that the Rabid Right continues to parrot it.

McCann then bemoans the consequences for “small businesses” that refuse to serve same-sex couples (or, one intuits, gay customers generally) for reasons of religious “conscience.” He utterly fails to understand the difference between a church and a doughnut shop, which may tell readers more about his theology than he intended.

When a merchant opens a commercial enterprise, and advertises “come one, come all,” there is an implied transaction with local government; the government provides  streets and sidewalks allowing customers access the business, police and firefighters to ensure its safety, and–in some cities–adequate public transportation to enlarge the pool of potential  customers. In return for those services–necessary in order for a retailer to thrive– government asks that the owner pay his taxes, clear snow from his sidewalk, and honor that “come one, come all” invitation.

Catholic shopowners don’t get to refuse service to divorced and remarried customers; Jewish merchants don’t get to reject people who munched on BLTs before browsing the merchandise. Business owners whose “sincere beliefs” include a healthy amount of racism no longer get to turn away African-Americans. (Indeed, McCann’s letter echoes earlier laments from Southerners whose “liberty” to discriminate against black customers was being infringed by those hateful civil rights laws.)

So yes, “open for business” probably means open to anyone who wants to buy your cupcakes.

On the other hand, if your God tells you that gay people are all sinners headed for hell, your pastor and your church can continue  to operate on that theory, and the nasty old government can’t touch you.

You are protected by the Constitution that you evidently read as selectively and uncomprehendingly as you read that bible you keep thumping.

 

 

 

Greg Zoeller, Mike Pence, Micah Clark and the Dustbin of History

Well–yesterday certainly was a DAY in Indiana!

Federal Judge Richard Young–no wild-eyed ‘librul’– issued a beautifully-crafted, soundly-sourced opinion invalidating Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriages. As a (recovering) lawyer, I read the entire decision with appreciation for its logic and application of precedent; it was extremely well-written, without more than occasional resort to the “legalese” that jurists so often employ.

As quotable as much of the 36-page opinion is, however, my favorite paragraph is this:

“In less than a year, every federal district court to consider the issue has reached the same conclusion in thoughtful and thorough opinions–laws prohibiting the celebration and recognition of same-sex marriages are unconstitutional. It is clear the the fundamental right to marry shall not be deprived to some individuals based solely on the person they choose to love. In time, Americans will look at the marriage of couples such as Plaintiffs, and refer to it simply as marriage–not a same-sex marriage. These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such.

At virtually the same time as Judge Young handed down his ruling, the 10th district Court of Appeals was upholding lower court decisions invalidating Oklahoma and Utah bans.

It’s over. I know that is a bitter pill for our elected homophobes to swallow, let alone the folks whose fundraising depends upon demonizing gay folks, but it could hardly have come as a surprise. The handwriting has been on all the walls for several years now.

It’s past time for Greg Zoeller to stop spending Hoosier dollars defending discrimination. His determination to appeal a decision that mirrors every other decision the courts have handed down is an exercise in futility, a waste of time and money, but of course, he and Pence and the other Professional Christians can’t help themselves.

They refuse to understand that they already live in the dustbin of history.