Category Archives: Religious Liberty

Someone Needs to Explain Free Speech to Micah Clark

Recently, a State Trooper was sued for proselytizing a woman he’d stopped for speeding. The Indianapolis Star has the story.

Not surprisingly, our homegrown theocrats saw nothing wrong with this.

Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, said that although the traffic stop might not have been the best time to quiz someone about faith, he questioned whether a police officer should lose his right to free speech because he is wearing a badge.

“I have people pass out religious material all the time. Mormons come to my door all the time, and it doesn’t offend me,” Clark said. “(This case) might not be the most persuasive time to talk to someone about their faith, but I don’t think that a police officer is prohibited from doing something like that.”

Let’s try this slowly, so that even folks like Micah can understand: when people are acting in their individual capacities, they have free speech (and free exercise) rights. When they are acting on behalf of government–when they are what lawyers call “state actors”–the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits them from using their governmental authority to impose their religious beliefs on others.

That’s why a sectarian prayer from the Speaker’s Podium at the Statehouse violates the Establishment Clause, but a group of legislators voluntarily praying in the back of the chamber or on a street corner is protected by both the Free Exercise and Free Speech clauses of that same Amendment.

When you are acting as a private citizen, you can pray or proselytize to your heart’s content.

When you are acting as a representative of the government of all the people, you can’t.

It isn’t rocket science.

 

Getting REALLY Tired of This

Talking Points Memo reports:

 

 

It Isn’t Whether–It’s How

Extremists on the Right constantly complain that religion has been banished from public school classrooms. This, of course, is inaccurate: what the Establishment Clause prohibits is proselytizing–imposing religious beliefs or observances on the “captive audience” that is the public school classroom.

The courts have been careful to distinguish between official endorsement or sponsorship of religion, which is unconstitutional, and instruction about religion, which is not only constitutional, but entirely appropriate. (Try teaching history, or art history, without reference to the immense influence of religious beliefs.)

One of the problems caused by low levels of civic and constitutional knowledge is that some schools have become skittish, avoiding even the appropriate study of religion for fear of lawsuits, while at the other end of the spectrum, schools have simply ignored the line between proper and improper instruction.

But some schools have gotten it right. Modesto, California is one of them.

The course’s inclusive curriculum ensures that it meets constitutional standards. It’s obvious from the design of the course and from emerging evidence that it succeeds in providing a thorough and objective education in world religions. For that reason, it’s a useful example of how religion ought to be taught in schools, if it’s going to be taught at all. And it’s sharply distinct from the Religious Right’s various attempts to insert sectarianism in public classrooms.

Modesto’s course and curricular proposals stand in sharp contrast to the Bible class designed by Hobby Lobby’s owners that has been proposed for use in Mustang, Okla., public schools. Steve Green, the corporation’s current president, called the class “the fourth leg of my personal ministry” and stated that it’s intended to complement his planned Bible museum in Washington, D.C. Legal objections from groups like Americans United have put the class on hold for now, but it could still be implemented in Mustang’s high schools.

If the goal is to have kids know about religion, there are perfectly legal ways to do that. The problems arise when your goal is really to impose your particular beliefs on others.

 

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.