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.


  1. Your points are well-taken. However, I would look at an aspect that would seem more obvious, of greater personal importance to the people over whose wedding an individual would officiate, and one that does not implicate the Constitution. Who would want their marriage solemnized by a person who believes that marriage to be morally void? Why would someone want a person who discriminates against them to perform their wedding ceremony? This proposal is nonsensical as much as it is an act that illustrates lack of knowledge of constitutional provisions. It implies people will exercise bad judgment as to who performs the ceremony. Face it, enough bad judgment is afloat in matrimonial matters. When it comes to the point of “who officiates?” the bad judgment already has played out.

  2. My understanding is that this would also allow county clerks and judges to refuse to perform marriages too. So our own government officials, who are paid with OUR tax dollars, can refuse us service. So not only is this bill stupid in its unnecessary protection of clergy, it’s abhorrent in that it allows the government to treat us as second class citizens. Personally, I would rather know that a bigoted clerk is required to provide me service and that, upon learning he or she does not like gay marriage, we could refuse THEIR service and ask for another clerk, than the other way around. There’s a big difference there!

  3. I checked the wording in the Bill – ” sincerely held religious beliefs” is mentioned. Who determines “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Is there some test? True or false questions, multiple choice, fill in the blanks, or a DNA Test. Some people believe the Pope has the last word on what you should believe.

    I will say the Bible Thumpers are not deterred at all in seeking ways to remind the Gay Community they are second class.

    IMHO trying to point out some phrase in the Bible that allows Gay Marriage, etc., plays into the Thumpers hands by giving the Bible or some other Religious Document “status” to determine truth. You may say in support of evolution the days of creation are not literal, but that will not convince a Thumper. Evolution does not need to be levered through some convoluted meaning of what is a “Day” to fit the Biblical Wording. The battle is lost when you allow the Thumpers to determine the Rules of the Game.

  4. I failed to receive this blog today; however, I will still take up the cause with the previous commenters.

    How else would the right-fighters, Bible-thumpers, and other deniers get their exercise if they couldn’t get up on their hind legs about three days a week? It gets them air time and press time, regardless of the fact that various protections are already in place. They make me tired.

  5. If equal marriage rights were to become the law, then wouldn’t we insist that nonprofits also acknowledge that law or give up their tax-supported 501(c)(3) status? Maybe that is what ultra-conservative lawmakers are anticipating with their proposed legislation.

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