.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}
Visit Freedom's Zone Donate To Project Valour

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Theocracy And You

This is a quiz up at No Oil For Pacifists (Carl's) regarding to your personal beliefs about religious freedom under the constitution. I am in the process of taking it. Dingo and Carl came to an agreement on specifics on the First Amendment/Freedom of Religion question. Dingo wrote in a comment at Carl's:
I think we are talking around each other here. My concept of freedom FROM religion = I DO NOT have the constitutional guarantee that I can walk down the street without seeing a church, a nativity scene on private property, religious garb being worn, or even you preaching on a street corner to me. I DO NOT have a constitutional guarantee that my congressman or my district court judge will not go to church, temple or mosque to worship. I DO NOT even have a guarantee that my congressman will not attempt to conform the laws to be more in line with his/her religious beliefs. This is the free exercise clause.

I DO have a constitutional guarantee that I will not have to pray with the judge before beginning an argument in court. A defendant DOES have a constitutional guarantee that the judge will not say to the jury, "while the law say X, you are free to disregard the law and instead rely on biblical verse." I DO have a constitutional guarantee that my congressman will not pass a law that says my children must study the bible. This is the establishment clause.
The only thing I would add to Dingo's statement is that he certainly does have a guarantee that his congressman will not be successful in conforming the laws to his or her religious beliefs if such laws conflict with the Constitution. Again, freedom of religion provisions are found in two places in the Constitution. The first is the "no religious test" clause of Article VI for holding public office or trust.
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
The second is the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
This prohibition on Congress was extended to state governments with the Fourteenth Amendment:
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
This is through the doctrine of incorporation and has been done case by case, but it has been judged to include the rights of the First Amendment.

Dingo's language of "freedom from religion" is one of the reasons that I think many people don't understand the real meaning of freedom of religion. These provisions restrict everyone's ability to impose their private belief structures upon other people. For example, they would not allow a religious Congress to enforce a law that the President must take his oath of office upon a Bible, but neither would they allow a secular Congress from prohibiting him from doing so. A judge may not turn his courtroom into a church service if this is done during the course of official proceedings (because a lot of people are in compulsory attendance) but they do allow a judge to read his Bible in his chambers.

It is certainly a violation of the fundamental intent of the "no religious test" clause of Article VI to argue that a person belonging to a religious faith should not be confirmed as a judge. However, the judge's duty will be to uphold the laws and the constitution of the United States. If inquiry into the judge's past conduct or his own beliefs indicates that the nominee would not be able to do so, that would be grounds for rejecting a judge.

I can understand how those who don't understand religious freedoms might fear people with religious beliefs in government, but in practice there is little to fear because of the solid restrictions. However nothing prevents the majority of Congress from passing laws with a valid purpose and an ethical rationale unless those laws restrict freedoms in the Constitution. Most laws are fundamentally oriented toward conducting an ethical and just society. Laws against theft, attack, fraud, abuse, killing etc are promulgated because our society considers them a fundamental harm. Laws about not undressing in public and not having sex in the public park have to do with what our culture considers right and proper in maintaining the public order.

For some those ideas may stem from religion, but for others they may stem from other belief structures or reason. That is an immaterial distinction under the Constitution. Congress and state and local governments do get overruled when they overstep their bounds. That is what happened to the Montgomery Public School system.

As to how badly many people understand this language and their constitutional freedoms, may I present this DU thread:
The U.S. is not yet a theocracy, but many elements are already in place. And if the Christian fascists are able to fully implement their agenda, the U.S. would be plunged into a high-tech Dark Ages—a nightmarish combination of modern weapons and police-state technology coupled with medieval ideology which has the potential to wreak far more death and destruction than anything history has yet seen.
The Christian fascists don’t believe religion should be an individual choice. They believe all of society, and indeed the whole world, must be ruled according to biblical law—in short, they believe in a theocracy with no separation between church and state.
I am amazed and charmed. I do not see how such a thing can be put in place. I am sure there are "Christian fascists" out there. There are also lefty totalitarians, Communists, just plain criminals, the Mafia, anti-Semites, rich people with no compassion for the suffering, selfish people, people who love purple and wait for the mothership, etc. The question is how within our system (considering our government was created and maintained for over two centuries when our nation was far more uniformly Christian than today) can a minority view prevail over the majority? The only time this happens is when the majority is infringing upon the rights of individuals protected in the Constitution.

I think a lot of the "theocracy" rhetoric ignores the facts entirely. This DU thread, entitled "Holy War: religious crusade against gays reaching Biblical proportions" starts in part with the following from the Southern Law Center:
On June 26, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions of two Texas men arrested for having sex. Writing for the majority in Lawrence v. Texas, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that the two men were "entitled to respect for their private lives." The state, he declared, "cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."

The decision was unusually popular. A national survey found that 75% of Republicans and 88% of Democrats wanted to see sodomy laws struck down. But not everyone cheered.
So if 75% of the Republicans approved of the Supreme Court's decision, and 88% of Democrats, where is the "Holy war" of "Biblical proportions"? There is also a corresponding "religious left" to the "religious right". I don't think churches are invading politics. I think politics is trying to use religion as a political weapon. See this DU thread in which a poster reports an interview with a "progressive pastor":
When we talk about Christianity, justice deals with empowering the disenfranchised. What these justices will do is to continue to disenfranchise people, whether its environmental regulations, the rights of Native Americans, the rights to not be discriminated, the rights of the disabled, all of those rights will be disenfranchised if extremist judges with a very narrow and false understanding of the Christian faith get appointed ot these judgeships...

I believe Satan is alive and well, in the hearts of the leaders of the Christian right. Jesus said in Luke 16:10-13, "You cannot serve God and wealth." The Christian right...has been serving wealth and not Jesus in violation of the gospels.

...When government serves the common good, it can set standards because they are protecting the least among us...But deregulation upon the rich so that they can prey upon the poor, Jesus would oppose. That kind of capitalism is wrong. It’s sinful. Why right wing Christians reject Jesus at that point and make up their own theology is not understandable.
Here is another, calling the religious right an "Old Testament Cult":
It seems to me that the Christian right is, more or less, a kind of Old Testament cult. The religious "left" should, I think, should counter that by talking openly about a "Jesus-centered" Christian theology based on the actual teachings attributed to Christ.

I think this could be an easy sell and simple enough for people to grasp. You'd just have to get people to concentrate on the New Testament and the progressive, compassionate words printed in red therein.

It is not a new idea, I know. But I have never seen the idea of a counter-fundie message framed exactly in this way.
We'll have to let the private sector battle out their religious beliefs. Regardless, people's individual moral and ethical principles are what will be influential in making public law - not some small group either on the left or the right. And I believe people's ideas about liberty are in no way being eroded. This country's views and laws have become more liberal, not less liberal.

Another great post--well thought, well-written. I won't say any more because I would just be quoting you!
Thanks Tom. I don't think they teach the Constitution in public schools like they did when I was young (right after the last ice age).
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?