Religious Liberty Redux

Americans haven’t talked this much about religious liberty since the Puritans defined it as worshiping the right God (and making sure their neighbors did too). A few examples:

Creationists are building Noah’s Ark in Kentucky. Per Juanita Jean:

“They feel that it will be a great tourist attraction. Who knows? People go to Dollyworld. Need I say more?

So, they set themselves up as a non-profit and applied for $18 million in tax incentives from the good people of Kentucky.

One problem. They will only hire you to work there if you are a fundamentalist Christian.

It turns out that the state will not grant incentives to companies that discriminate in hiring. Ken Hamm, the creationist applying for Kentucky tax dollars, says the state’s refusal to fund him is persecution–that the governor is attacking his religious freedom and persecuting his organization “because of our Christian message.”

Meanwhile, in Ohio, there’s a guy facing legal action if he doesn’t take down the Nativity scene he erected at his own expense on his own property, because it features zombies instead of traditional biblical characters.

Jasen Dixon told WXIX that he manages 13 Rooms of Doom haunted house, so he already had the zombies, including one resembling the baby Jesus.

“I wanted a Nativity scene and I worked with what I had,” he explained.

Town officials claimed that Dixon was breaking rules that limited displays to no more than 35 percent of the yard. Needless to say, more traditional displays with equal proportions have not been cited, and Dixon had displayed the same size installation at Halloween on the same property with no problems.

And back home again in Indiana, State Senator Scott Schneider intends to “shore up gaps in Indiana’s religious liberty framework.”

“The focus has been on same-sex marriage because that’s the hot topic right now, but it goes far beyond that,” he said. “It’s important to have some religious freedom and protection.”

The “freedom” Schneider wants to protect is the freedom to discriminate against gay customers and citizens on the basis of (his preferred) religious doctrine.

Let’s cut the pretense. What people like Schneider and Hamm want is preferential treatment by government for their particular beliefs.

Hamm wants to use public money to promote his religious literalism; Schneider wants to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT patrons. At the same time, they and other “religious freedom” theocrats want to use the authority of the state to shut down private religious displays or observances of which they disapprove.

Here’s the deal: thanks to separation of church and state (and yes, Virginia, the First Amendment may not use those words, but separation is what the religion clauses do) you have a right to believe anything you want. You also have a right to practice much–but not all–of what you believe. (You can’t sacrifice your firstborn, or beat your children senseless, or use illegal drugs in the name of your particular God).

Religious liberty does not mean you have the right to use other citizens’ tax dollars to promote your religious beliefs.

And Scott Schneider’s definition of “religious liberty” to the contrary, the First Amendment does not give businesses that rely on publicly-supported roads, sidewalks, transport, snow removal, garbage collection and the like the right to pick and choose which members of that public it will serve.


  1. Separation of church and state encompasses far more than the education system. Regarding the Ohio nativity scene featuring zombies; while in poor taste, it gave we fans of “The Walking Dead” a laugh…at the ado it caused. Just walk on by any and all religious, sacreligious, non-religious or scientific displays and remember the freedom of speech part of the 1st Amendment.

  2. If this legislation is discussed and passed, they all know they’re ultimately going to court to settle the upcoming challenge with ACLU or another party and they know they’re going to lose. Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. In a real world scenario, I would expect Schneider’s fellow republicans to take him aside and tell him to quit wasting their time, but hey! this is Indiana.

  3. I learned on NPR yesterday that our Puritan friends BANNED Christmas celebrations in the early days. Never going to hear that on Fox. Its all just nuts.

  4. I am a Baby-Boomer, I grew up a Roman Catholic. We had Heaven, Hell, Purgatory and Limbo. Essentially, only Roman Catholics could get to Heaven or so we were taught. We learned all about the Saints. Saint so and so Martyred during the reign of Nero, etc. We scoffed at the idea that the Ancient Pagan Romans might for tell the future of a Military Campaign by sacrificing animals or observing comets. Constantine, however is believed when he saw a flaming cross in the sky and heard a voice say in this sign you shall conquer in 312. (So much for Peaceful Christianity) Within 100 years it was the Pagan Temples that were torn down and and Christian Heretics were persecuted.

    Why the History Lesson? Toleration has never been a strong point in Judeo-Christian history.

  5. And promises for another entertaining legislative year. The guys with the aluminum foil hats are waiting in the wings to bring stunning propositions that sane people will need to read several times to be sure that they haven’t missread what they read correctly the first time. “Shock and awe” started the Iraq war. We have it on a yearly basis in Indiana.

  6. And now for something completely different …

    Can I get a Government Grant (ie, Tax Payer Dollars) to
    help me develop and perfect my “Silly Walk”

    (Monty Python, circa late 1960’s)

  7. Sheila, as soon as I read about this planned bit of Indiana bigotry I knew it would soon be a topic of your wonderful daily thought bits. I have been anxiously waiting to comment. I consider myself a Christian, not the flavor of Hamm or Schneider’s faux-christianity (small c intended). They use Christ as a weapon for their greed and bigotry. I hope Hamm’s ark sinks in the Ohio River never to be seen. If somehow this idiotic law passes I want to know the names of the businesses who use it to discriminate, so that as a Christian I can be sure to expose them and not patronize them. Happy New Year, Sheila and all! I look forward to more thoughtful discussions in 2015.

  8. Juanita Jean should be let in on a little info about that attraction in Pigeon Forge, TN. . .it’s Dollywood, not Dollyworld. But I digress.

    Bill Nye the Science Guy made Ken Hamm look like the total fool that he is. Their “debate” was over before it even began. Hamm was completely ill-equipped to go into a battle of wits and intelligence. He’s happy in his alternative universe. They know him there. Scary, but he does have quite a few followers.

    Happy New Year to all! Batten down the hatches. The coming year will likely be a bumpy ride from the looks of what happened in November.

  9. I’m amazed that so many of us don’t understand the concept of freedom. Or democracy. I think that many believe that a piece of paper, a contract if you will, our Constitution, grants them whatever they want, rather than specifying the limits of government that we duly elect.

    Freedom doesn’t require certain behaviors but requires responsibilities to treat others as specified by law. For those who can’t be responsible as specified there are consequences.

    Within that framework there should be zero favoritism. What applies to one applies to all.

    Religion promotes proselytizing. Conversion. Recruiting more followers. So be it as long as it’s a voluntary conversation from both sides. Who is not allowed to participate? Government. The law in any way. Pro or con.

    So simple. So fundamental to democracy and freedom.

  10. Truth is more amazing (and funnier) than fiction. The guy just using the zombies he had to create a zombie nativity scene made me laugh out loud. The Lord does work in mysterious ways. You can’t make this stuff up.

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