Category Archives: Religious Liberty

This Makes Me Very Uncomfortable

File this one under there’s a right way and a wrong way to get to a desirable result.

A federal district court in Oregon has declared Secular Humanism a religion, paving the way for the non-theistic community to obtain the same legal rights as groups such as Christianity.

ThinkProgress quoted Harvard’s Humanist Chaplain on the decision. “I really don’t care if Humanism is called a religion or not, but if you’re going to give special rights to religions, then you have to give them to Humanism as well, and I think that’s what this case was about.”

I agree that Humanism deserves equal status with religion under the law. But the First Amendment requires neutrality; it doesn’t simply require equal treatment of religions, it forbids government from privileging religion over non-religion.

Here’s the danger I see in achieving parity by labeling humanism as just another religion: for years, religious literalists have pushed for “equal treatment” in science classes, arguing that secular humanism is a religion, that it is being privileged, that fundamentalist Christianity should be entitled to “equal time,” and so creationism should be taught in science classes. Up until this point, federal courts have refused to take that bait, properly noting that secularism is the absence of religion, and that it would be improper to teach religion in public school science classes.

Science is not a matter of faith, or belief. It is a method, an approach to determining the nature of empirical reality. Science cannot explain everything–it is limited to areas that can be falsified–and there are multiple aspects of human existence where faith or ideology  has a role to play. But drawing that line between matters of fact and opinion is only muddled by confusing a non-theist philosophy with religion. (I know there are non-theistic religions, but in those cases–Buddhism, etc.–their adherents claim the label.)

Courts struggled with the definition of religion in cases involving conscientious objectors, but finally recognized that sincere pacifism should entitle someone to claim that status whether or not that pacifism stems from a “recognized” (established?) religion or not. Similarly, the Oregon court could have–should have–found Humanists entitled to equal treatment for purposes of the prison program at issue under well-settled Establishment law principles.

I hope I’m wrong, but this “win” has the potential to be a real loss. How you get to a result is every bit as important as the result itself. Sometimes more so.

J.D. Ford, Mike Delph and the Social Contract

At a recent candidate forum, J.D. Ford–who is running against Mike Delph–made what should have been one of those “duh, yeah, we learned that in high school civics” observations: when businesses open their doors to the public, that constitutes an obligation to serve all members of that public.

There is a reciprocal relationship–a social contract– between business and government. The government (which collects taxes from everyone in its jurisdiction, no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation) uses those tax dollars to provide services. Those services are an essential infrastructure for the American businesses that must ship goods over publicly-financed roads, depend upon police and fire departments for safety, and (in some cities, at least) public transportation to bring workers and customers to their premises.

As Ford noted, business that want to discriminate– who want to pick and choose which members of the public they will serve–are violating that social contract. They want the services that are supported by the tax dollars of all segments of the public, but they don’t want to live up to their end of the bargain.

Where Ford (and I) see fundamental fairness, Mike Delph (surprise, surprise!) sees religious intolerance.

“I was saddened to hear him express such intolerance for those of us that hold deep religious conviction,” Delph told The Star. “Religious liberty is a fundamental American ideal.”

Let’s call this the bull*** that it is.

If your religious beliefs preclude you from doing business with gays, or Jews, or blacks, then don’t open a retail establishment. Don’t enter into a contract knowing that you will not honor its terms.

Religious liberty 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. You have the right to observe the rules of your particular religion in your home and church, and the government cannot interfere. But when you use religious beliefs–no matter how sincere–to disadvantage people who are entitled to expect equal treatment, when you use those beliefs as an excuse not to uphold your end of the social contract, that’s a bridge too far.

Mike Delph wants a government that favors (certain) religious beliefs, and gives adherents of (certain) religions a “pass” when they don’t follow the rules that apply to all of us.

I want Mike Delph out of Indiana government.

 

 

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.