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.
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||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||“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||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||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||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||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.)