Not Your (Founding) Fathers’ Definition of “Religious Liberty”

Sunday Sermon time….

It’s not just the fight over RFRA.

Increasingly, defenders of “religious liberty” are insisting that what their liberty requires is the right to dictate the behaviors and prescribe the rights of others. Any effort to remind these theocrats that non-Christians and nonbelievers are entitled to equal treatment by government is met with outrage and accusations of “political correctness” and “waging war on faith.”

Think I’m exaggerating? These three examples all crossed my desk on a single day:

In Michigan, a Catholic hospital repeatedly refused to perform a medically-necessary tubal ligation, despite the doctor’s strong recommendation.

Weeks after learning she would give birth to her third child, Jessica Mann was faced with a difficult decision: because she was stricken by a life-threatening brain tumor, her doctor recommended she have her fallopian tubes tied at the time of her scheduled cesarean section delivery, later this month….

Mann’s doctor advised her that tubal ligation during the C-section it would be the safest route, consistent with long-established standard of care, and prevent the need for another surgery.

The hospital cited its Catholic affiliation–and its liberty to follow the teachings of  the Church, even if that meant it was sufficiently in conflict with the medical “standard of care” as to be considered malpractice– as justification for the denial.

In Tennessee, self-identified “Sovereign Citizens” are refusing to buy license plates or to register their automobiles. From the Marty Center at the University of Chicago, we learn that

While the sovereign citizen movement is often represented as a collection of scofflaws creating elaborate interpretations of the American legal system in order to scam it, the reality is more complex…

The majority of sovereign citizens conceive of and engage in their claims and practices as religious.

These sovereign citizens claim–and fervently believe–that the law as they espouse it always supersedes other interpretations of the law. Their “liberty” to follow the “real” law is thus more important than the government’s interpretation of the law.

But this is my favorite: In Washington, D.C., a church is actually claiming that the location of a proposed bike lane adjacent to its property would “infringe on its constitutional right to religious freedom.” (You really can’t make this shit up.) As a post at Think Progress pointed out:

Currently, D.C. provides the church with a benefit that is paid for by taxpayers: a road near the church which does not include a bike lane. D.C. proposed offering the church a different benefit which would also be paid for by the city’s taxpayers: a road near the church which does include a bike lane. The church, in effect, is claiming that it has the right to dictate which taxpayer-funded benefits the District of Columbia shall provide, solely because it happens to be a religious organization.

These assertions of “religious liberty” would have baffled the men who drafted America’s Constitution. They are certainly inconsistent with the libertarian construct that emerged from the Enlightenment and influenced America’s founders: the notion that each individual has a right to make his or her own moral choices–follow his own telos–so long as he does not thereby harm the person or property of a non-consenting other and so long as he is willing to accord an equal right to others.

To put the philosophy of the Bill of Rights into modern terminology, it’s pretty much “live and let live.” (Again, so long as you aren’t harming anyone else–and “harming” is admittedly a contestable definition.)

That philosophy definitely isn’t “I get to do what I want, and since I have a direct line to God and Truth, I also get to make you behave the way my religion thinks you should.”

We are each entitled to liberty, not privilege.


Getting From Here to There

In his latest column, urbanist Neal Peirce recounts the deteriorating condition of mass transit in the U.S., and details the ways in which that deterioration–if left unattended–will further depress the economy and damage the environment. It’s a gloomy picture, not just because it is clearly accurate, but because our political system is in the thrall of people who find reality inconvenient, and are determined to ignore real problems in favor of culture war diatribes against gays, immigrants and women’s reproductive rights.

Fix transit? How pedestrian (terrible pun intended)!

One of the few positive elements in this otherwise gloomy state of affairs is the steady growth in the number of people who bike rather than drive–to work, to do errands, and of course, for recreation.

As Jay Walljasper (no, I did NOT make up that name) has recently reported, biking has even taken hold in places where the climate doesn’t seem hospitable. He chronicles the things that Minneapolis, of all places, has done to encourage the growth of people who pedal, and there is a lesson for Indianapolis here.

“In a city where bicyclists of all ages and backgrounds already ride recreational trails the goal is to encourage people to hop on their bikes for commuting or short trips. This is not a far-fetched dream, since nationally half of all automobile trips are three miles or less—a distance easily covered on bike in twenty minutes.

To make that happen, Minneapolis is committed to creating separate rights-of-way for bikes wherever feasible — which helps explain why the city defies trends of bicyclists as overwhelmingly male. While only a quarter of riders are women nationally, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reports 37 percent in Minneapolis.

Research shows that most people — including many women, families and older citizens — are wary of biking alongside motor vehicles on busy streets. Having the option to ride apart from heavy traffic encourages more people to try out biking as a form of transportation.

Since the 1970s Dutch planners have separated bicyclists from motor vehicles on most arterial streets, with impressive results. Women now make up 55 percent of two-wheel traffic and citizens over 55 ride in numbers slightly higher than the national average.”

The lesson here is that how governments do things is every bit as important as what they choose to do.

Here in Indianapolis, one of the things the Ballard Administration has actually done right is focus on expanding bicycling. The Mayor has received a good deal of –deserved–commendation for extending bike lanes. But as a female rider, I can certainly attest to the accuracy of Walljasper’s report on the importance of separating those lanes from busy streets. Even my husband, a far more intrepid biker than I will ever be, tries to avoid the bike lanes that take riders across Michigan and New York Streets alongside speeding automobiles that far too frequently seem intent on running bikes off the road. A colleague of mine who doesn’t own a car, and commutes everywhere by bicycle, was seriously injured when a car sideswiped her last year.

As unglamorous as infrastructure may be, our elected officials need to learn to do things the right way. Just as it isn’t enough to pave roads if you don’t maintain them, it isn’t enough to slap some paint on an existing street and call it a bike lane.

So I’ll give Ballard an A for effort, but a D for execution. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much a description of his last four years.