Category Archives: Religious Liberty

Here We Go Again

According to the Indianapolis Star,

 Four legislators, including Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, chairman of the Education Committee, say “serious questions have been raised about whether academic freedom, free speech and religious liberty have been respected by BSU in its treatment of professor Hedin, its subsequent establishment of a speech code restricting faculty speech on intelligent design, and its cancellation of professor Hedin’s … class,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Gora.

For those with cloudy memories, the roots of this particular “inquiry” are described here.

Why, exactly, do Hoosier voters are continue to elect people who do not understand the difference between science and religion, the operation of the First Amendment’s religion clauses or the difference between Free Speech and government speech?

Let me spell this out—not that Senator Kruse or his theocratic cohorts will listen.

Academic freedom insulates the academy from the Senator’s own efforts to dictate the content of courses taught by the University. It does not protect a professor who is teaching discredited or inappropriate materials— I don’t have “academic freedom” to teach flower arranging in my Law and Policy classes; a historian does not have “academic freedom” to insist that the Holocaust didn’t occur; and a professor of science does not have “academic freedom” to substitute creationism for science.

Freedom of speech and religious liberty allow Senator Kruse to believe and promote any cockamamie thing he wants. It does not give him—and it most definitely does not give the legislature, which is government—the right to demand (overtly or covertly) that a public university give equal time in science class to an unscientific religious belief.

Can creationism be taught? Sure—in a class on comparative religion, or in a history of science class, or as part of a political science class’s exploration of the ongoing tension between religious orthodoxy and science.

Senator Kruse and his cohorts do raise a question that Hoosier voters should take seriously: When will the General Assembly stop spending so much time on religiously-motivated efforts to marginalize gays, keep women second-class and pregnant, control what Hoosiers drink and when, and teach religious dogma in our public schools? When will they start paying attention to the economy, the quality of life in our state, and the other genuine problems we elected them to address?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not holding my breath.

 

 

 

 

Privileging “Faith”

Sometime today, the House of Representatives will vote on an Act exempting anyone with “sincerely held religious beliefs” from the ACA’s mandate to buy health insurance. The measure didn’t go through the usual legislative procedures; it suddenly appeared—like magic!– a product of the increasingly hysterical opposition to healthcare reform.

And of course, it’s framed as “respect for religion.”

Religions began because humans attributed things they couldn’t explain to mysterious gods and their mysterious ways. Did lightning strike the village? Someone angered the deity. Was drought starving the tribe? Sacrifice a virgin. When smallpox vaccinations first became available, clergy warned that God–who sent the disease to those who “deserved” it–would disapprove of the vaccine’s use to evade His purposes.

We may laugh at these examples, but a significant percentage of the American population—never mind “natives” residing elsewhere—still harbor similar beliefs. Pat Robertson has famously attributed hurricanes to toleration of GLBT folks, and James Inhofe (who inexplicably serves on Congressional climate committees) believes climate change is blasphemy–denial of the Truth that God will protect the planet.

A not insignificant number of Americans are Freethinkers—agnostics or atheists–but very few of us are comfortable “coming out” as nontheistic in a society that pays so much homage to even the most farfetched “sincere” religious belief.

American culture privileges protestations of religion in innumerable ways.

Deference to dogma routinely distorts public policy. It explains institutionalized homophobia and sexism, the conflation of “sin” with “crime,” opposition to stem cell research…the list is extensive. Most recently, employers outraged at the prospect of providing basic birth control as part of comprehensive health coverage—even though they need not pay for the coverage and even though those workers have their own, very different religious commitments—have had their arguments received with (unmerited) respect. Because, you know, they’re “religious.”

And now, a bill that says “Hey—if you’re religious (or say you are), the law won’t apply to you.”

Thoughtful religious people understand that genuine faith requires humility.

Faith—religious or otherwise—means belief in something that by its nature cannot be scientifically or logically proven. There’s a reason it is called a “leap of faith.” There’s a reason that generations of religious thinkers have wrestled with the problem of doubt.

There’s also a reason that our legal system separates Church from State. The Constitution protects your right to believe in God, Jesus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but it also protects me from the operation of your theocratic impulses.

I don’t think I’m the only person who is very tired of kowtowing to the demands of the Ostentatiously Pious and those who use them for political cover.

 

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Civics Education Should Start with Legislators

I’ve been pretty hard on Indiana’s General Assembly, and I’d argue deservedly so, but I certainly don’t want to give anyone the impression that we Hoosiers have cornered legislative incompetence. Over at Peacock Panache, for example, Tim Peacock reports on a bill introduced in Arizona, in the wake of Governor Brewer’s veto of that state’s badly misnamed “Religious Liberty” bill.

HB-2481, also called “Arizona’s First Freedom Act,” seeks to protect those solemnizing marriage in Arizona to protect them from ceremonies they do not want to participate in. Specifically, the GOP is marketing the legislation as protecting ministers from having to marry LGBT couples as it violates their freedom of religion.
Are the bill’s sponsors really that ignorant, or are they just playing to the perceived ignorance of their constituents?
The First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause already allows ministers to limit religious services as they alone see fit. No minister can be forced to preside over the nuptials of people in violation of his or her beliefs. Free Exercise allows any cleric to decline to perform any wedding: intermarriages, marriages of divorced people, same-sex unions….whatever his or her doctrine proscribes.
These clerical decisions cannot be overruled by government, thanks to the Separation of Church and State that so many conservatives insist we don’t have.
No statute is necessary to preserve this right. Any first-year law student who didn’t know that would be unceremoniously booted out of law school, and any lawmaker who is ignorant of so basic a principle of American law should forfeit re-election.
I really wish the people demagoguing about religious liberty would visit a high school class on the Constitution and discover what rights they actually do and don’t have. That won’t happen, of course, because they are thoroughly uninterested in accuracy. They are pursuing an agenda.
And people with an agenda read the Constitution the same way they read their bibles, if they read them at all: very selectively.

Religious Right to Discriminate–One More Time

Apparently, the right of religious folks to discriminate based upon their sincere beliefs is the issue du jour. 

Yesterday’s post centered upon a subset of that debate, but the broader question is the one posed by an Arizona law currently awaiting Governor Jan Brewer’s signature. That measure–which has most of the state’s business community demanding a veto–would allow shop owners and merchants to refuse service to people to whom they have some sort of religious objection.

Observers have assumed that the law is intended to target the GLBT community, but as written, it protects a merchant’s right to refuse service to anyone, so long as the proprietor can claim a “sincere” religious belief as motivation.

It boils down to a fairly simple question. Does government violate a fundamental liberty by forcing a devout person to do business with people he believes to be sinful?

As the saying goes, this debate is deja vu all over again.

This is the same argument that erupted when Congress enacted the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Opponents argued that being forced to hire or do business with women or people of color violated their liberty to choose their associates. And they were correct; it did limit their liberty. Of course, in a civilized society, our liberties are constrained in all sorts of ways; I don’t have the liberty to take your property, or play loud music next to your house at 2:00 a.m., or drive my car 100 miles per hour down a city street. Etc.

Here’s the deal: The guy who opens a bakery– or a shoe store or a bank or any other business– relies on an implied social contract. He expects police and fire departments to protect his store, and local government to maintain the streets that enable people to get there–and he expects government to provide those and numerous other services to all citizens, not just white citizens or male citizens or Christian citizens. In return for financing the government that provides those services, We the People expect those who are “open for business” to provide cakes or shoes or loans to anyone willing to pay for them.

Opening a business implies a “come one, come all” invitation to the general public. (For purely practical reasons, people who don’t want to issue that invitation probably shouldn’t open a business.)

Bottom line: If you don’t approve of gay people, or African-Americans or Jews, or whoever–don’t invite them over for dinner. I’ll fight for your right to entertain only the people you like. I’ll fight for your right to exclude “sinners” from your church, your private club and your living room.

Your hardware store, not so much.

 

 

Discriminating with Your Tax Dollars

I guess one person’s discrimination is another’s religious liberty.

The most contentious provisions of George W. Bush’s “Faith-Based Initiative” were those that proposed to allow organizations doing business with government to discriminate on the basis of religion. The Initiative has largely faded away, but the debate –as we saw yesterday in the Indiana General Assembly–keeps popping up.

Here’s a scenario that may help illuminate the issue: Church X feeds the hungry in a soup kitchen in its basement. If local government pays for both the soup and an employee hired to ladle the soup, can Church X refuse to hire a soup ladler who does not live in accordance with Church X’s beliefs? i.e., an unwed mother, a GLBT person, a Jew?

If Church X were using its own money to run the soup kitchen, it could hire who it wants. It could even require the hungry to pray over their soup. The Free Exercise Clause protects churches from anti-discrimination laws inconsistent with their teachings (it would be ludicrous to insist that Baptists consider hiring an atheist Sunday School teacher). Free Exercise protects Eric Miller’s pastors no matter how extreme their anti-gay rhetoric.

But (you knew there was a “but,” didn’t you?) that’s when they are using their own money. 

When a religious organization has a contract with government–when it accepts tax dollars to provide a secular service–citizens have the right to expect that the service will be provided in a non-discriminatory way. We have a right to insist that people whose salaries we are paying with our tax dollars be protected against discrimination–including discrimination based upon religious dogma.

Most states agree, and most have laws providing that when governments contract with private or nonprofit organizations–including religious organizations–the contractor must agree to abide by the state’s civil rights laws.

Yesterday, Eric Turner tried to change that longstanding practice. Perhaps he was “getting even” for losing the second sentence of HJR 3. Perhaps–as one reporter suggested–he was trying to rescue  Indiana Wesleyan University‘s workforce training contract.  (Turner filed the measure shortly after the state rejected a longstanding workforce training contract with Wesleyan. The attorney general’s office determined language allowing the Christian university to hire in part based on religion violated state law.)

Whatever his motive, Turner proposed amending Indiana’s civil rights law to allow religious institutions doing business with the state to hire and fire employees for religious reasons.

The measure narrowly passed the House Ways and Means Committee, but Speaker Brian Bosma killed the measure shortly after it sparked a heated debate on Twitter. (His experience with HJR 3 may have dampened his enthusiasm for culture war politics.)

Look, if despising GLBT people, or Jews or Muslims or whoever, is really, really important to your religious organization, go for it! Hire people based upon religious criteria, provide services only to people who agree with you, preach your dogma to whoever will listen. No problem.

Just don’t demand tax dollars to subsidize those activities.

No one is interfering with your freedom to discriminate. We’re simply declining to finance it.