Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Upside-Down World of Religious Freedom

In the United States, the culture wars continue to heat up as Republican candidates for their party’s nomination go on the offensive and claim that President Obama has perpetrated a “war on religion.”  This is supposed to, and often will, create feeling amongst religious conservatives that the President and nation are too secular for America’s own good.  What these candidates seem to miss, is that President Obama not only re-funded the Office of Faith Based Initiatives, but actually bolstered its funding and internationalized the program.

Let’s not forget that the Constitution and Treaty of Paris all note that liberty is not a faith-based contrivance and that it is clearly noted in the First Amendment that there is SUPPOSED to be a separation of Church and State.  American scholars and statesmen such as the twin Deists Thomas Jefferson and James Madison both knew and personally saw the destruction that organized religion could have on freedom and constitutional democracy.

As Founding Fathers of the American Revolution, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, each wrote extensively on the dangers of mixing politics and religion.  They also saw organized faith as counter-intuitive to allowing personal freedom grow the young nation. 

Although Jefferson held slaves, no doubt a failure of his legacy, he knew that true slavery came in the form of organized religious tyranny. Amongst Jefferson’s other claims to fame was his insistence on the use of the phrase, “Separation of church and state” to describe his feelings towards liberty being apart from religiosity.

The pretzel logic of what these ultra-religious folks are arguing is as follows: They’re saying that if the government intervenes or dares tell a religious person or faith-based entity that they are violating the civil rights of others, in essence breaking the law, that in turn the government is violating the consciousness rights of those who interpret their religion as giving them full right to deny professional or any services to others.

Since no one is supposed to be above the law, this religious consciousness argument is fallacy and holds no merit as religious belief is subjective and therefore not anywhere near a valid reason to void or obviously violate laws which secure liberty and freedom for all.

Based on their interpretation of the Constitution, this means that if I accepted the Flying Spaghetti Monster as my person lord and savior (in fact I do) that based on my interpretation of the teachings of that Church, that I could do the following to any other class of citizen based on my religious beliefs:

  • Deny them an education
  • Deny them medical or other health treatment
  • Deny them access to information
  • Deny them access to participate in the political process
  • Deny availability to federal, state and local government programs
  • Deny others the right to live when and where they wish to 
  • Deny them the right to vote
  • Deny them access to transportation
  • Perpetuate slavery and violence against others

If we were to accept the argument and allow a privileged class the right to deny other’s their civil and equal rights based on religious consciousness, we will have totally Balkanized our society. In some states, such rights of consciousness are enforced in law. This means in part, pharmacists have the right not to prescribe medication, doctors do not have to perform abortions, private schools can teach creation myths instead of science, and parents have the right to pray for health rather than provide their sick children medical attention.

If this is the America that those on the religious right say we are denying them as a “war on religion” then we must not stop enforcing the law. Otherwise we will have moved fully away from a secular society where everyone has the same basic human and civil rights. As such, we will be living in a theocratic state which makes and enforces laws based on one specific group’s holy texts.

This sounds a lot less like the United States of the last two hundred and fifty years and more like radical nation-states in the Middle-East whose laws come from the other-worldly.  Or certain current and former Communist nations where doctrine and dogma inhibit the civil rights of individual citizens to live free and prosperous lives.


  1. I do agree with the points in this article. In fact I strongly support them. This is outrageous and it is in contra with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (a document that USA have accepted). However I strongly disagree with the term "Balkanized". I am a Bulgarian and if there is something that my country can teach any other that is secularism. The church in Bulgaria has nothing to do with the political life, it has no state funding and it is not influencing the school system in any way. In fact it is against the constitution. The only thing that one can name as benefit for the church is that of low taxes (but that won't continue for long). In fact there are several high church members that are on trial for tax fraud and their former engagement in the communist national security. So, my dear friends the term "Balkanized" is wrong in that perspective. In any other perspective it might be right. But when we speak about secularism it is dead wrong.

  2. "private schools can teach creation myths instead of science"

    You mean AS science!!

  3. Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you for sharing your opinion and world with us on the site. As as well updating the readers as to the current situation and news regarding the Church in Bulgaria.

    I for one appreciate you taking the time to write and express yourself.

    If "Balkanized" seems like the wrong word, and perhaps it is, then let's just agree to use another. Say, "compartmentalized"? This takes out any specific regional tone but the word and language of its meaning is the same.

    Please feel free to comment on any an all posts which I and/or my guest bloggers publish.

    Thank you.


  4. Hi Pete,

    Yes, your point is well taken. It certainly could be "as science" and I certainly thank you as well for making the site so enjoyable to read.