Religious Liberties

When the RRR speaks about the fight for religious liberties, they're actually speaking about fighting to retain the special privileges they have accumulated over the years and are loathe to give up. Special privileges like having one of the holiest and most sacred days of their faith recognized as a national holiday. Like having the words "under God" (vs. under Allah or under Thor) in the Pledge of Allegiance. Like having "In God We Trust" on the money they use. Like hotels putting a copy of their sacred text in virtually every room of virtually every major hotel and motel chain. Like having prayers said to their God at the opening of Congressional sessions and board meetings. Like posting copies of some laws from their sacred text on the walls of courthouses and in public parks.

The RRR claims that this nation was founded with the express purpose of creating a Christian nation. I grant that the first Pilgrims came here from England with the express purpose of founding a religious colony. But that is the key word: colony. They had no intent to settle here in order to form a new country. They were quite content to remain under English rule, a colony of England. However, by the time the founding fathers got around to framing our Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, the intent of creating a Christian colony had been replaced by the intent to create a nation with no state religion. Their very clear intent— as witnessed through the First Amendment, through the historical accounts of failed attempts to make this a Christian nation, through the autobiographies of Jefferson and the papers of Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin and many others— was to create a nation wherein all faiths were free to practice according to their creeds and tenets. The very fact that there is a First Amendment that prohibits the government from establishing a state religion flies in the face of the commandment "Thou shalt have no other gods before me".

Another misrepresentation put forth by the RRR is that our countries judicial code was founded on the Ten Commandments. The truth of the matter is that the Ten Commandments (aside from those that deal directly with worshiping God) are simply specific examples of the Golden Rule— a rule that has appeared in virtually every faith, first appearing in writing in the Vedic texts of Hinduism a full 3000 years before Christianity and a full 1700 years before Judaism. Because of this mistaken belief, they see nothing wrong with the public display in schools and in court houses of these tenets of their faith. They either can't or won't see the emotional and psychological burden it places on anyone who is not Christian when they walk into a courtroom and see a plaque of the Ten Commandments on the wall. I wonder how they might feel if one of them walked into a courtroom and saw some suras from the Qur'an posted on the wall. Or perhaps the nine statements from the Satanic Bible. I wonder how quickly they would protest such a plaque posted on the wall of a courtroom where they were the defendant or even just a juror.

Perhaps one of the biggest lies being told by the RRR is that school prayer is illegal. The truth of the matter is that any child (or group of children) may, at any time during the day, say whatever prayer said child sees fit as long as said prayer does not interrupt the class time of the other students, impede the movement of other students OR intimidate/coerce any other student into participating in said prayer. The ONLY prayers that are illegal are those that are led by a school employee to be said by the students or those that are said during any official school function at which attendance is mandatory.

As an example, at the high school I graduated from, attendance at the graduation ceremony was mandatory. A non-Christian family filed for an injunction against the school district, which planned on having a Christian preacher deliver an invocation at the opening of the ceremony. They, of course, got their injunction because such a prayer is unconstitutional since students are required to attend. The school had every intent of complying with the injunction. Then the class valedictorian (or perhaps it was salutatorian, I'm not sure) got up to give her speech and asked everyone to join her in saying the "Lord's Prayer (Our Father)". She received a standing ovation. I wonder what kind of reception she would have had if she stood up and asked everyone to remain silent while she chanted to Kali or recited a prayer to Satan. It amazes me that the Christians who would find this offensive cannot see that those who hold different views than theirs are just as offended by Christian prayer. This is the height of hypocrisy: to expect others to tolerate your faith yet to be so intolerant of the faith of others.

Recently (June, 2006), the valedictorian of a Las Vegas school had the plug pulled on the microphone she was using to give her graduation speech. The reason: "she began deviating from a pre-approved speech and reading from a version that mentioned God and contained biblical references." The RRR is screaming discrimination against Christianity. But in truth, the woman was violating the rights of everyone else to be free of her proselytizing. Just as at my former high school, she needed to put herself in the shoes of others: how would she have felt if she were in the audience and someone began speaking about Satanism or Islam. My guess is that she'd have been outraged at having to listen to that in a commencement speech and would have felt that her rights were being infringed upon.

The current big battle is now over the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. A little history of the pledge is in order here. Written by Francis Bellamy in 18921, there was no mention of a deity from this socialist (yes, you read that right— a socialist!) Christian who was forced from his Baptist church because of his beliefs. This failure to mention God was intentional as Bellamy was so disgusted with the infighting and hypocrisy of the church in his day. In 1954, at the urging of the Catholic lay group, the Knights of Columbus, Congress made a proclamation inserting the words "under God" into the pledge. Francis Bellamy, who had died in 1931, was unable to protest the change, but his children and grandchildren are on record as stating that he would have been greatly upset with the addition. The RRR often points to the pledge as proof that we have a Christian heritage, hoping beyond hope that most people don't remember the time when the pledge was said without the words "under God" in it.2 Just as with school prayer, one wonders how long it would take for Christians to protest if the words "under Satan" had been added instead.

The American public in general is confused about what is and what is not allowed in public (ie, government or school) buildings. Part of this confusion is due to the misinformation campaign being waged by the RRR, but unfortunately, part of it is due to the fact that some people (teachers, school officials, etc.) misapply the law. Forbidding a student to bring a Bible to school is not allowed. Forbidding that student from reading the Bible during biology class is. Forbidding a student to write about Jesus if the assignment is to pick any topic that interests you is not allowed. Forbidding a student to write about Jesus if the topic is modern scientists is. Forbidding a student or group of students to meet in the hallway between classes or in the classroom before classes and quietly say a prayer is not allowed. Forbidding that student or group of students to use the school's PA system to broadcast their prayer throughout the school is.

There is no denying that some Christians face discrimination— usually brought on by someone's ignorance of the law. This has to stop. But as long as the RRR continues their misinformation campaign about what the laws really say, people will be confused and the laws will be misapplied. I see the discrimination against the RRR as merely the hen coming home to roost: they put out the misinformation and then complain when the misinformation is used against them to discriminate against them.

Recently, two sets of parents have sued a Massachusetts school district over the use of books that depict gay families. They claim it is a violation of their civil rights to have their child taught about "alternative lifestyles" [in quotes not because those were their words but because there is no such thing as a gay "lifestyle"] that they consider sinful. They contend the school was in violation of a law that allows parents to opt out their children from issues that deal with human sexuality. The school contends the book was part of their diversity curriculum and that, since the state allows gay marriages, it's something the children are going to run into and therefore need to know about. But the gender of the person you have sex with doesn't determine one's orientation, therefore orientation and homosexuality are not sexual matters that require parental notification. The schools activities in no way prevent the parent from telling the child such "behavior" is immoral or a reason to be sent to hell. Again, this is another case of claiming "discrimination" when others point out that they themselves are discriminating. The RRR wants to use their First Amendment right to freedom of religion to create laws that would deny that same freedom to others. Religious liberties must be protected, not only for Christians but for every single citizen of this country.

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1Bellamy's pledge is not the first pledge to the flag. The Balch flag salute was already being used in New York City public schools when Bellamy penned his version of the pledge. The Balch flag salute entailed students touching their foreheads and then their hearts while saying, "We give our Heads and our Hearts to God and our Country." [This next part should make you cringe.] They then held their right arm outstretched, palms down while facing the flag, and said, "One Country! One Language! One Flag!"
2The RRR often makes a similar claim of "proof" for a Christian heritage by noting that our money has "In God We Trust" on it. They fail to mention that none of the founding fathers were alive when the words "In God We Trust" were placed on our money in 1864 during the Civil War.

Click on any of the links below for more articles I've written about the RRR and religious liberties, including their misinformation campaigns.
Faith Based Initiatives Faith Based Initiatives
Synopsis: Faith-based initiatives allow a fundamentalist Baptist counseling agency to tell a gay teen that he is an abomination in God's eyes— and YOUR tax dollars pay for it.
Read Between the Lines Read Between the Lines
Synopsis: How to really read the propaganda put out by the radical religious right— in this specific instance, the Christian Coalition.
Fear-Mongering Fear-Mongering
Synopsis: Another example of the distortions and propaganda put out by the radical religious right— this time the ACLJ.
Smoke and Mirrors Smoke and Mirrors
Synopsis: Just another example of the way the radical religious right obscures the real issues with misrepresentation, distortion and outright lies.
Conscientious Objectors Conscientious Objectors
Synopsis: Taking a backdoor approach to limiting freedoms for those who don't follow the path of the RRR, laws allowing for "conscientious objectors" to refuse medical treatment for procedures and/or prescriptions that violate their faith have already been introduced in many state legislatures as well as the US House and Senate. Much the same argument was used when clerks refused to issue civil union licenses in Vermont or marriage licenses in Massachusetts to gay couples. But such laws don't protect their individual freedoms like they want you to believe: such laws allow them to impose their beliefs on you and force you to live by their beliefs as well.

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