Imagine you and three friends rent a house together. You all pay your shares of the rent, maintenance, utilities and food costs. One of your roommates is vegan, and insists that no food can be purchased or brought into the house that does not meet strict vegan requirements.
If you protest, saying that you are happy to keep your preferred foods separate, but that as an equal contributor to the household, you have a right to eat in accordance with your own dietary preferences, he whines that you are persecuting him.
Most of us would say that the roommate is being an unreasonable bully. Yet his argument is no different from that of the “Christians” who demand laws that privilege their beliefs while ignoring the rights of those whose beliefs differ.
Hemant Mehta over at The Friendly Atheist has a perfect example.
The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) has a simple rule when it comes to reciting Christian prayers over the loudspeakers before football games: Don’t do it. It’s a fair policy considering it echoes what the U.S. Supreme Court said more than 16 years ago.
Last year, two Christian schools made it to the championship game, which would be played in a government-owned arena, the Citrus Bowl. The coach of one of the teams asked to say a prayer over the arena’s loudspeaker. Because the Citrus Bowl is a public facility, the FHSAA refused, and a Christian “defense” group sued. As Mehta noted,
The state didn’t do anything wrong. They didn’t block kids from praying. They merely said a public loudspeaker in a public facility couldn’t be used to broadcast prayer during a state event. This isn’t hard to understand unless you work for a Christian legal group, and your paycheck requires you to scream “Persecution!!!” three times a day…
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits government from endorsing or sponsoring religion. The Free Exercise Clause prohibits government from interfering with private religious expression. As Mehta quite accurately explained,
This game was overseen and managed by the state, even if Christian schools were involved, and that meant following state law. Both teams were obviously allowed to pray before the game, and after the game, and during halftime, and silently whenever the hell they want. They could pull a Tebow during the game if they wanted to. And because they were private schools, the coaches could legally join in.
The lawsuit argued that just giving the schools this expansive right to pray wasn’t enough:
By denying access to the loudspeaker,” the suit states, “the FHSAA denied the students, parents and fans in attendance the right to participate in the players’ prayer or to otherwise come together in prayer as one Christian community.”
Evidently, prayer only counts when it’s Christian, and done publicly and loudly.
A couple of quotes from representatives of Freedom From Religion are worth sharing:
Their right to their own religious prayer practice ends where the rights of non-adherents begin, especially as it involves students. To think that the government should be required to concede to this demand is arrogance of highest order. Would they sit still for Muslim or Hindu prayers over the loudspeakers should such a group field a championship football team? Would they want the government to effectively endorse those religions through such largess?
Cambridge Christian is within its rights to force prayers on students and parents over its own loudspeakers, but not at a state-sanctioned high school championship. We hope the court will see that this is not a matter of censorship, but the appropriate use of a public facility for a secular sporting event and not a religious revival.
The libertarian principle that underlies our Constitution gives each of us the right to “do our own thing,” so long as we do not thereby harm the person or property of others, and so long as we are willing to give an equal right to others.
Forbidding government from privileging certain religious beliefs over others is not censorship, and demanding respect for the “equal right” of all citizens (or roommates) is not “persecution.”
It’s time for religious bullies to get over themselves.