Hot Buttons

Frankenstein chased by the villagers

Over the past year, this blog has touched a lot of hot-button issues: women’s choice, gay marriage, stem cell research, Darwinism, school vouchers, taxes, assisted suicide and now I realized that they all have a common link: the separation of church and state. And it took the First Freedom First organization to make me see it.

The separation of church and state is fundamental to who we are as Americans; in many ways it is what separates us from the rest of the world, and if you are like me, you probably have not considered the First Amendment since 7th grade civics class. If you ever considered it at all, that is. I sure didn’t.

The First Amendment is so simple that it is cool: no one can force you to believe something. You can believe (or not believe) whatever you want. This is called the Free Exercise Clause.

This leads directly to the flip side of the First Amendment: the government explicitly cannot create a national religion, nor can it aid any religion in any way. This is called the Establishment clause.

Jeffrey Dahmer

Note: There are some limits, however to the Free Exercise Clause: you cannot have human sacrifices — tempting as it may be given the current Administration — or sex with children, or polygamy, or… and claim it is how you practice your faith. You might belong to the Cult of Jeffrey Dahmer, but you cannot operate the cafeteria with the original recipes. The safety of the citizenry rightly comes first.

The Reverends. Barry Lynn (Executive Director, Americans for the Separation of Church and State) and C. Welton Gaddy (President, The Interfaith Alliance), spoke recently at the Commonwealth Club on the separation of church and state. My idea of a Friday away from work generally does not include one, let alone two preachers. So imagine my surprise when these two Reverands were topical, entertaining, and, well not to put too fine a spin on it, liberal.

Here’s the thing about ministers: they know how to preach, baby. These men did not need sound equipment – they use their voices as tools; I imagine they could use them as weapons, if required.

The point these religious gentlemen made really comes down to this: in our current political climate, the religious right use legislation (against the best wishes and intentions of the founding fathers and the first amendment) to force their will on us, and establish a national orthodoxy. You can call it religionifying politics or politicizing religion, but the chilling effect is that control and conformity are being legislated over liberty and choice.

You can look in the MPS archives here (and archives elsewhere) to find multiple examples of the religious right breaking down the wall (Jefferson used that phrase, by the way) between religion and statecraft. These fine Reverands gave a rundown on the many ways that the religious right is working to take away peoples’ voices in this country.

For your convenience, here is a handy MPS chart that lays out some of the issues they raised:

Exhibit A Establishment Clause Violation Free Exercise Clause Violation
End of Life life Terry Schiavo By legislating restrictions on the right to die with dignity, the Religious Right are imposing a theocratic standard. This is an attempt to enforce a belief standard – saving the cancer patient’s immortal soul is more important than easing pain and letting the individual die with dignity.
Choice choice “Morning After” pill, Restrict Access to Family Planning Clinics The state establishes a religious viewpoint with laws that restrict access to services and information, based upon a narrow set of beliefs. The state codifies the belief that an embryo has rights (and more rights than the mother). A shocking 87% of all counties in the US do not have or do not allow abortions.
Democracy and Taxes democracy Faith-based initiatives; GOP proselytizing in Churches; property taxes By funding religious groups with tax payer money, the state is establishing a religion. In five states it is illegal for atheists to hold public office. Faith-based groups providing services (and paying for them with tax money) require a litmus test of their employees; they can and do discriminate based on religion. In GA, one organization requires the job applicant to list his church and the name of the minister.
Academics academics Teaching evolution, school vouchers for religious schools Vouchers are a way to fund private religious schools with tax payer money, which violates the establishment clause. Intelligent Design is “Creationism wearing a lab coat” and by injecting faith into the curriculum, the states are trying to introduce a belief into the public schools.
Science Science Stem cell research, National Parks The limitations on stem cell research establishes limits based upon faith. Grand Canyon National Park now has signs and other materials indicating that it was created from the Great Flood of Noah’s Ark and that it is only about 6,000 years old. This tries to establish a belief and violates the free exercise clause.
Civil Rights civilrights Federal Marriage amendment An amendment to the Constitution denying rights based upon religious beliefs establishes a baseline of beliefs, and is clearly in violation of the establishment clause. By denying rights to citizens based upon religious beliefs, the state is trying to force citizens to believe a given orthodoxy. This also, ironically, takes away the ability for some denominations to perform marriages.

There are other topics, such as Religious Freedom (and freedom from religion) that they covered, and I will save those for a separate post.

(All images of buttons from First Freedom First There is a petition at their website that I URGE you to sign. Please consider it.)

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17 Responses to Hot Buttons

  1. Blue Gal says:

    Fabulous. Just wonderful. So proud of you.


  2. raceynora says:

    Bravo Tengrain – Amazing they let you in the Commonwealth Club?


  3. Tengrain says:

    Raceynora – I had to wear a diguise and I told them my name was Sven Beaverhaussen. They never caught on!


  4. BAC says:

    This is excellent! I’m so glad you were there, it was great meeting you!



  5. JimmyDean'sFuckedUpCousinClyde says:

    Were they surprised at all when you told them your favorite religious practice involved at least three other people—all naked, vegetable oil, rubber sheets, and very loud pulsating music?

    Just wondering . . .

    More seriously: Good show, mate!


  6. Tengrain says:

    I don’t recall the music, JD’s etc.




  7. Tengrain: the Reverend Gaddy has a show on Air America (weekends around 6:00 pm, I believe). As you know (or suspect), I’m not religious, but I’ve caught his show a few times and must say that I was impressed. Kudos for checking it out and passing.


  8. Tengrain says:

    Pissed – I’m not a person of faith either (I don’t even trust that the next Kleenex will pop up) — but these two gentlemen totally ruled. After each spoke, they did a tag-team questions from the audience that was amazing. There will be more posts coming about this presentation — I’m still digesting it all…




  9. Naomi says:

    Just one teensy little nitpick: Atheists are NOT prohibited from running for office, serving or being appointed, nor working in state government. That is settled law, thanks to Tomasco v Watkins, 1961. All state constitutions that still have it on their books are unable to enforce it. To repeal it (a la Volstead Act) requires, usually, both chambers pass the measure, governor signs it and it goes to the voters. What are the chances that Arkansas, N&S Carolina, Texas, Tennessee (and the other three) will do that? All eight are “red” states. But it’s a great bogeyman to keep atheists from office! (I accidentally did, heard about this issue after I lost in the primary, and researched it.)

    But we may already have atheists in Congress! See: Atheism and the American Congress.


  10. Joe says:

    If you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend you read “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” by Chris Hedges. I think it just hit shelves in January.


  11. Dan says:

    Can you please reproduce that chart as a handy .pdf or a .doc? I would love to be able to have this in printable form to distribute electronically or physically.

    Thanks so much for the informative chart. Excellent work!


  12. John Clavis says:

    If you’re an atheist like I am, believe me, the First Amendment is on your mind a lot.

    Read Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason”. Our Founding Fathers were brilliant men. Sadly, our current leaders are not up to the challenge.


  13. Ron lFowler says:

    There are two Southern “Baptist” groups after a split over doctrine and practice. One is dig in the dirt fundamentalist. The other is moderate, as Southern Baptists have been historically. “Moderate” in the sense that they believe that separation of church and state is part of the gospel, so to speak. Barry Lynn is of the latter group. It’s nice to know that the moderates are beginning to speak up. Barry Lynn is the most noticeable of them. Great post. Thank you.


  14. leslie says:

    the next Kleenex does not always pop up. So your lack of faith is not misplaced. That said, Bravo on this post. And Thank you.


  15. raceynora says:

    Excellent work Tengrain – C&L linked to you today! Hisahhhhhh


  16. Tim says:

    “The separation of church and state is fundamental to who we are as Americans; in many ways it is what separates us from the rest of the world”

    Europe has actually taken the lead in seperating church from state. They are the model that we should aspire to. They don’t understand ( neither do we obviously ) how we can mix religion and politics.
    The problem is very serious and goes very deep into the backbone of our country. I work in the service industry ( I’m a strugling musician really ) and live in a blue state ( NY ). The fundamentalism I encounter is not only shocking but mind boggling. These people are literally effing themselves in the rear end. They don’t see the power trip that’s happening. How do we deal with this ?
    I have to also say that I have met and read books by many people of faith who do believe in freedom and seperation of church and state. I don’t want to come across as a hater of all religion. It’s a matter of who you are talking to or reading. Eric Michael Dyson is a true Christian to me. As is Cornell West. But Pat Robertsaon is an abomination.
    I’m rambling, I know.
    Otherwise this article should be published and made mandatory reading,LOL.


  17. I’ve got another one to add to your list: Abstinence-only sex seducation. American teens have sex at roughly the same rates as European teens, but have higher std rates. It’s probably not a coincidence that sex education in America focuses much more on abstinence here than it does on the other side of the Atlantic. They don’t talk about “safer sex” over there–thus placing doubt in teens’ minds about the efficacy of condoms, which makes them take condom use less seriously–they talk about “safe sex,” and emphasize the tremendous success rates of prophylactics properly applied. The reason we don’t teach kids about responsible condom use is because the religious (read: Christian Right) lobby is more concerned about “sexual morality” than public health.


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