Religious Liberty

This is going to be long. But it has to be. It’s not something that fits on a bumper sticker, and it is very important to get this straight.

I realize I risk being called a racist and a homophobe … but … ho-hum. By now I’m about numb to baseless accusations hurled thoughtlessly to avoid serious discussion.  They don’t know me.  Nor do they care if they are wrong.

Morgan points out that we’re all tired of arguing about gay people and we should be talking about other things instead, and I understand what he’s saying. But the reason we’re arguing over them is some of them (not all) and their advocates are pushing into areas that severely threaten religious freedom. When American culture gains a foothold in foreign countries, the Left wails about “hegemony”. “America” pushing her beliefs and culture on people who don’t want it.  But they apparently have no compunction over doing it here.

Certainly there are other, larger problems our country currently faces – but this one actually has something to do with who we are.

Because it’s not really about gay people.  It’s about religious liberty.

I’ve been reading the flame wars between people on both sides of the issue, and I’ve noticed that in general, we’re arguing about the wrong things.

People concerned with religious freedom are arguing what the Bible says and what it means (which even Christians have many disagreements about) with atheists and agnostics who don’t care (except to use Old Testament passages to beat Christians over the head with). And the pro-prosecution side calls up images of Jim Crow laws and the Negro Motorist Green Book, and lecturing Christians on what they “really” believe. I even read one person arguing that religious liberty ends at the Church door!  (Isn’t that pretty much what the Soviet Union said?)

So What’s This All About?

At this point, it’s pretty clear that a top-down state re-definition of “marriage” is coming. I believe this is wrong — because marriage doesn’t come from the state. But that ship has sailed. So today the fight is over religious liberty — specifically, the right to practice one’s religion without interference from the state.

The First Amendment states, among other things:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

That’s pretty clear. It’s even more clear when you realize that the first Colonists came over to secure religious freedom. There were state religions in Europe – that is certain Christian Churches had unelected official positions in government, and if you happened not to belong to that denomination, you could be required to support it or subject to rules made because of denomination’s official position. There was actually state-sponsored persecution of people of certain denominations because of their beliefs and practices. They came here to get away from that.

Today, there are at least four or five cases in different states where vendors have declined to provide their services for events which contradicted their religious beliefs. They were subsequently sued and lost for not providing equal accommodation to same-sex couples that they provide for heterosexual couples. They cite civil rights laws that compel businesses not to discriminate based on race or gender. The argument is that sexual orientation is in the same category as race or gender.

Civil Rights

Inevitably, when we find ourselves in the odd position of having to argue for religious freedom in a nation that has its roots deep in it and is based on liberty — the plight of blacks in the South gets brought up as an illustration why we can’t allow businesses to discriminate because of religious belief. It is the first civil right protected under the Bill of Rights.

It is said that the religious liberty argument was used to justify many white businesses not serving black would-be patrons. That argument was dismissed in the 1960’s, and therefore it is argued that such protests should be likewise dismissed today against participating in a same-sex wedding.

What we’re overlooking, here, is that the argument was dismissed because the protest was found to be lacking. Jim Crow laws and sitting blacks in the back of the bus and segregating drinking fountains and lunch counters were clearly more about spite and hate than anything else. Few, if any real religious convictions lay behind it. It does not follow that the same is true for same-sex marriages.

There is this logic “short circuit” that afflicts too many people when it comes to reasoning, and it’s been introduced mainly by those who seek to manipulate us by stopping us from thinking very deeply, or sometimes at all, about certain things. An example is the States Rights argument.  Slave states used the States Rights argument to argue that they had a right to keep their own slavery laws – that the Constitution didn’t give the Federal Government the authority to abolish slavery within their borders. They lost that argument. And today, hucksters have implanted the idea is that States Rights is an argument for slavery, and any use of the argument is clearly racist and should be dismissed.

But Wisconsin used the States Rights argument to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act, as they refused to deport runaway slaves back to their owners in slave states.  They were in violation of Federal Law in doing so.  But nothing could be more anti-slavery and non-racist than this act which used the same argument.  Few would say that Wisconsin was wrong.  And yet if you say “states’ rights” you’ll hear “racist!” before the last “s” is out of your mouth.

Regardless of what you think of it, it is absolutely no secret that Christianity and Islam, among other religions, have long-standing widespread beliefs that homosexuality is wrong. When a Christian declines to involve herself in an event she considers immoral, it’s no stretch at all that she’s not making it up, no matter what other Christians may think of it.

Jim Crow and the Plight of Southern Blacks

There is no disputing that the horrors blacks went through, especially in the south – were terrible and inexcusable. Quite a bit of the problem was fallout from a known birth defect our nation inherited from the European colonialism that spawned her. Our founders were well aware of the contradictions between a nation founded on Man’s inalienable rights and the slavery that existed long before and certainly at the time of the founding. Our founders included abolitionists, some of whom were actually slave holders themselves, born into it — and southern states whose economies were heavily based on it needed to be brought into the union in order to be strong enough to win the War of Independence. Still, it is clear in our founding documents that the desire was there in the 1780’s to end the practice, and while some effort was put into weakening the slave states’ positions, some of the compromises made it messy and it took 72 years and a bloody civil war to finally end it.

The scars are still with us today, but they are most likely better than they would have been had anti-discrimination laws Republicans had long sought had not been enacted in the 1960’s.

But just as the imperfect compromise in the beginning, the solution was also imperfect. There probably was no perfect solution. It essentially created a protected class, and in addition, infringed on our basic right to free association, and created the concept of a “public accommodation” — which was relatively well-defined but has basically been interpreted in later years by many as any business that is open to the public.

Laws are often imperfect and more often than not have unintended consequences. Though many of its cultural intentions were fulfilled, unintentional cultural fallout has created a class dependent on government aid and the political carpetbaggers who have taken advantage of this have fostered a culture of entitlement, resentment, and separatism. Several modern black leaders cite this as having much more to do with what is holding most blacks back today than actual racial discrimination. The left often argues that the Constitution is outdated. But they’ll never consider that the Civil Rights Act might be outdated or at least in need of some refinement.

But I Thought We Were Talking About Religious Liberty

Indeed, we are. We are because the Civil Rights Act is being used to argue against religious liberty, and to prosecute those who try to exercise it. That should raise some big red flags. And it does, in people who are serious about religious liberty.

The Civil Rights Act was an extreme move that used restriction of liberty to address an extreme problem.

Here’s the kinds of things blacks faced:

Racist laws, discriminatory social codes and segregated commercial facilities made road journeys a minefield of constant uncertainty and risk. The difficulties of travel for black Americans were such that, as Lester B. Granger of the National Urban League puts it, “so far as travel is concerned, Negroes are America’s last pioneers.” Businesses across the United States refused to serve African-Americans. Black travelers often had to carry buckets or portable toilets in the trunks of their cars because they were usually barred from bathrooms and rest areas in service stations and roadside stops. Diners and restaurants also rejected blacks, and even travel essentials such as gasoline could be unavailable because of discrimination at gas stations. To avoid such problems on long trips, African-Americans often packed meals and even containers of gasoline in their cars.The civil rights leader John Lewis has recalled how his family prepared for a trip in 1951:

There would be no restaurant for us to stop at until we were well out of the South, so we took our restaurant right in the car with us… Stopping for gas and to use the bathroom took careful planning. Uncle Otis had made this trip before, and he knew which places along the way offered “colored” bathrooms and which were better just to pass on by. Our map was marked and our route was planned that way, by the distances between service stations where it would be safe for us to stop.”

Finding accommodation was one of the greatest challenges faced by black travelers. Not only did many hotels, motels and boarding houses refuse to serve black customers, but thousands of towns across America declared themselves “sundown towns” which all non-whites had to leave by sunset.

If you’re going to force people to violate their consciences, you’d better at least demonstrate a compelling need — like on the scale of the one above.  What extreme hardship is placed on gays by protecting the religious liberty of a Christian or Muslim when they’re asked to engage in something they find to be morally wrong? Where are there laws that literally prohibit straights from serving gays? Where are gays being run out of shops, told to stand at lunch counters, run to the backs of buses simply because they are gay? Gays have many, many options for accommodation. The situation isn’t even close to the same. And subsequently, extreme measures that trample people’s right to practice their religion in their everyday lives are not needed, and shouldn’t be used. If current law makes it necessary to trample religious liberty, then the law needs to be modified.

Slavishness to bad precedence is being used today to trump one of our most sacred founding principles.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

The “Public Accommodation” clause in the 1964 Civil Rights Act spelled out the following:

  • hotels
  • motels
  • restaurants
  • movie theaters
  • stadiums
  • concert halls.

Now it’s being argued that any business “serving the public” is a “public accommodation”, so the Christian photographer and the Muslim Barber as one of the people I recently argued with are just “out of luck”. Because as a condition of their business license, they can’t discriminate.  The argument is “you chose serve the public”. Check your religious liberty at your front door.  If you photograph nude women, you have to photograph nude men. If you photograph heterosexual unions, you have to photograph homosexual unions.  If you cut mens’ hair, you must cut womens’ hair.

But here’s the rub. People don’t go into business to serve the public.  They go into business to make a living, in pursuit of happiness – as the term is properly understood. If you are required by law to get a business license to open a business, and that license requires that you, at times, must violate your religious beliefs, then it is a law that “prohibits the free exercise thereof”.

That says Unconstitutional to me.  If who we are is rooted in liberty, something needs to change.

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11 thoughts on “Religious Liberty

    1. nightfly

      Burning a religious symbol does not make one religious. It rather suggests the opposite, that the symbol and the faith it represents are in fact unimportant. And as the man has already written – those guys lost, and lost big.

      The reason they were able to flourish for so long was that their discrimination was sanctioned by law. If I ran a luncheonette in 1950s Georgia, I couldn’t have served blacks at my “whites only” lunch counter, even if I wanted to – I would be violating the Jim Crow laws, and I could expect an official visit from government folks about it; or worse, an unofficial visit from those same folks in the dead of night, wearing their best linens. And there would be no punishment to them for any of that, even though it would destroy my business.

      So, in your inimitable fashion, you have the comparison exactly 100% wrong. Jim Crow laws were state attempts to force society at large to violate their consciences – as mine would have been violated by forcing me to turn away customers solely on the basis of their ethnicity. Likewise, the current state of the law is that business owners must, again, violate their consciences. Just because that violation means forced acceptance rather than forced rejection makes no odds – the common value there is the forcing process… that business owners are not free to choose their own clientele.

      1. Zachriel

        nightfly: Burning a religious symbol does not make one religious.

        No, but they were religious, and made religious arguments to justify segregation.
        http://thinkprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/KKK-Church-e1393466113529-972×454.jpg

        The basic contentions were that racial purity was a gift from God, and that miscegenation was in defiance of Divine Order. They pointed to the story of Ham, and how God created the races on separate continents so that segregation was the natural condition. “The good Lord was the original segregationist.”

        nightfly: The reason they were able to flourish for so long was that their discrimination was sanctioned by law.

        It was sanctioned by law in the South because a majority of whites voted for it. But even though there was no legal segregation outside the South, the result was much the same. “Lassie can stay at the Waldorf, but Negroes can’t.”

        After generations of abuse, not only was Jim Crow overturned, but new laws against discrimination in public accommodations were enacted. It’s hard to even imagine a just society where it would be legal to racially discriminate.

        Jeffrey: The Civil Rights Act (of 1875) was found unconstitutional.

        Yes, while separate but equal was upheld.

        1. nightfly

          I disagree that they were religious. Their interpretation of Genesis left a great deal to be desired and were officially rebutted in every denomination I can think of. Sticking a picture of a bunch of guys in sheets and hoods hobnobbing outside one parish building is not really evidence. It would be like saying, “Parishioner X kicks puppies and is a Anglican, therefore the Anglican Church sanctions puppy kicking.” Their “contentions” are not the same as doctrine.

          But even if it was – and it wasn’t – the point was (and remains) that they forced this interpretation upon everyone in several states via the force of government.

          1. Zachriel

            nightfly: I disagree that they were religious. Their interpretation of Genesis left a great deal to be desired and were officially rebutted in every denomination I can think of.

            Just because you disagree with their Biblical interpretation doesn’t mean segregationists weren’t religious and justified their segregationist views on the Bible.

            Southern Baptists were deep into institutionalized racism. They finally apologized in 1995 for perpetuating individual and systemic racism, and they have asked forgiveness of their African-American brothers and sisters.

            nightfly: But even if it was – and it wasn’t – the point was (and remains) that they forced this interpretation upon everyone in several states via the force of government.

            We addressed that. Segregation was also endemic in states not under Jim Crow. We understand you would rather the problem have been solved without government action, but the history of racism has shown that institutionalized racism wasn’t going to end without it. As we said, it’s hard to even imagine a just society where racial discrimination is allowed in public accommodations.

  1. Jeffrey

    Racist.

    The Civil Rights Act (of 1875) was found unconstitutional. It was championed by well-meaning “radical” Republicans. The Supreme Court at the time rightly pointed out that the constitution does not have the power to prohibit individuals from discriminating against other people. It’s the same old idea that we can make behavior judged to be immoral illegal, regardless of whether it infringes on the rights of others.

    Liberty is liberty, regardless of whether or not it’s religious.

    And I don’t understand Zachriel’s link at all.

    1. Severian

      Don’t worry, you won’t. They are incapable of making a clear, or even coherent, point. Their sole function is to spew digital squid ink all over conservative blogs, which is why around here they’re known as The Cuttlefish.

      Which is why I banned ’em from commenting on my posts, as did co-blogger Cylar Z. If Philmon chooses not to do the same, they’ll keep cutting and pasting their nonsense for as long as you choose to engage them. They’re the worst kind of trolls — epically stupid ones with OCD.

  2. philmon Post author

    Some people tried to make religious arguments in favor of it, warping facts to fit the conclusion they wanted, which was justification for treating blacks badly because they looked different.

    The KKK — depicted in Zacheriel’s link as some sort of proof that religious belief lie behind the broad practice of discrimination is laughable. They were the radicals among radicals, and hated anyone who wasn’t white and protestant. Race was only one of their criteria for hate.

    I did say “little, if any” and my point was that the argument was rejected by most Americans. There is nothing in any mainstream Christian teaching that says black people are inferior and should be treated as sub-human — whereas thousands of years of religious teaching in several religions establishes a precedent that it is no stretch to believe that a person in one of those religions believes that homosexual behavior is wrong. And note it’s behavior that is condemned, not race.

    Race has no moral standing (unless you’re a Marxist hawking class envy trying to divide and conquer.) Behavior, on the other hand, is the very subject of morality, and the long recognized realm of religion.

  3. philmon Post author

    I have always found Zacheriel’s “we” kind of creepy in that Aurorian “group mind” kind of way. Like The Borg. You will be assimilated.

    If you don’t just find that whole concept creepy and evil, you’re probably already one of them.

  4. Zachriel

    philmon: Some people tried to make religious arguments in favor of it, warping facts to fit the conclusion they wanted, which was justification for treating blacks badly because they looked different.

    That, and they had an economic benefit.

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” — Upton Sinclair

    philmon: They were the radicals among radicals, and hated anyone who wasn’t white and protestant.

    At one time, the KKK had wide support, especially in the South. Yes, they hated anyone who wasn’t white and Protestant.

    philmon: There is nothing in any mainstream Christian teaching that says black people are inferior and should be treated as sub-human —

    While we certainly don’t agree that persecution is justified by the Bible, Southern Baptists were certainly a mainstream religion. They and others provided just such justifications.

    Your original statement was “Few, if any real religious convictions lay behind it.” That simply is not the case, and we provided more than sufficient evidence to rebut it.

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