I just found out that “Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday announced the Department of Justice’s creation of a ‘religious liberty task force’ to ‘help the department fully implement our religious guidance'” over at CNN.
Actually, someone I know from my Powered by Robots sister blog reblogged an article called The First Amendment Under Siege posted at The Shinbone Star. You can find out more about their staff here (although discovering that one of their reporters used to work for MSNBC told me a lot about the particular bent of this publication).
I suppose I shouldn’t get into politics on my “religious” blog, but this topic is or should be of interest to all people of faith in the U.S.
So “The Shinbone Star” states that the First Amendment is under attack, while Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he’s trying to defend it.
The “Star” believes that any government involvement in the realm of religion or religious institutions is a violation of the First Amendment, and at least hints that it’s an attempt to form a “state religion,” or rather:
We already know how 45 feels about the press and about free speech for anyone who dares oppose him. We also know that the neo-Nazis who march in favor of his policies are “very fine people,” according to him, while the opposition is repeatedly disrespected and dismissed.
So that leaves the first part of the amendment, a provision drawn up by men who opposed the idea of a state religion and who in fact did not mention a deity in the whole of the Constitution.
Sessions’ “religious liberty task force” is an outgrowth of the Trump Administration’s indebtedness to the Evangelical Right, which apparently doesn’t like being told that whom people marry and whether they choose to reproduce is no one’s business.
And this most telling passage:
So, baking a cake is an “ordeal’ for a baker, but being forced to have children isn’t an ordeal for a woman who can’t afford contraception? And I don’t know of any nuns who’ve been “ordered to buy contraceptives,” but in the light of revelations that religious sisters in Africa and elsewhere have been sexually molested and even impregnated by priests, it sounds like a good idea to me.
Not sure who is forcing women in the U.S. to have babies since you’d also have to force them to have sex first.
Okay, let’s find a counterbalance. What does “The Hill” have to say:
Sessions said the cultural climate in this country — and in the West more generally — has become less hospitable to people of faith in recent years, and as a result many Americans have felt their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.
“We’ve seen nuns ordered to buy contraceptives. We’ve seen U.S. senators ask judicial and executive branch nominees about dogma—even though the Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for public office. We’ve all seen the ordeal faced so bravely by Jack Phillips,” he said, referring to the Colorado baker who took his case to the Supreme Court after he was found to have violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.
This seems to present opposing views as to who should have rights and who should not. Are the rights of religious people and those belonging to other groups mutually exclusive?
If a person is an atheist, whether they’ve been religious in the past or not, that person might not understand the depth of the struggle a Catholic Nun might experience if she were forced by law to provide contraception to a patient. They might also not understand what Jack Phillips went through when forced by law to provide a service he felt violated his religious beliefs. In this case, can we say that religious people in the United States have a right to practice their faith without it being abridged by the law or not?
In theory, yes. That’s one of the things the First Amendment guarantees. In fact, the “Star” even quoted those rights from the Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances
–First Amendment to the United States Constitution
It seems that’s exactly what Phillips did, but somehow, he’s “wrong.”
Are Nuns being forced to buy contraceptives or to provide them to others? Not that I’m aware of, unless someone can point me to a relevant and credible news source. I’m not sure where Sessions pulled that from, but if Catholic medical institutions should one day be legally ordered to provide contraception and abortion services, then certainly someone’s rights are going to be trampled on.
Frankly, I’m a little uneasy about this summit and what it could mean. I don’t want the government (Trump’s administration or any other) to get too close to the freedom we enjoy here in practicing our faith. If somehow all of this results in people of faith gaining greater rights and freedoms, then it must be applied equally to all faiths across the board, not just Christianity. And in spite of what Sessions has declared, compared to many other countries, Christians don’t experience much, if any actual persecution in our nation. If you want to find out where Christians are really being persecuted, go to this page at Christianity Today.
But according to the “Star,” this all boils down to:
What this all boils down to is a backdoor way of making abortion illegal and forcing school prayer.
The bottom line from “The Hill” is:
Sessions said the federal government under the Trump administration is not just reacting but is actively seeking to accommodate people of faith.
“Religious Americans are no longer an afterthought,” he said.
These two publications have wildly differing interpretations over what Sessions is proposing.
I can see why the “Star” author is so upset, since any threat to abortion rights tends to trigger a very panicked response, but school prayer? Oh the horror (that last part is sarcasm). Then again, as I’ve written elsewhere, Toxic Fear is the basis for a great deal of hostility, including hostility aimed at religious people.
Actually, school prayer isn’t illegal. Any teacher or student may pray as an individual, and probably if a few religious students wanted to say grace before eating lunch, I can’t see that being particularly harmful or damaging to anyone around them.
It’s organized school prayer led by school staff where students who may not be religious (or of a different religion that has a different praxis) are compelled to participate that’s illegal. Of course, there are also religious schools where (naturally) the right to pray cannot be abridged.
I think there is some merit to what Sessions is saying about the rights of religious people sometimes taking a backseat to the rights of other groups. I guess that’s what the courts are going to have to hash out eventually.
As far as the whole “Christian Baker/Same-sex marriage” thing goes, I’ve said before that the simplest way to deal with the matter is to let the marketplace do what it does best. If one merchant refuses to provide you with the desired cake, then they don’t get your money. Find a different baker who will provide the cake, and then they will get your money. It really isn’t that complicated, and if the Christian bakers in the U.S. suffer a significant drop off in business, they’ll either have to rethink their convictions or stand by them and earn fewer profits.
Oh, to the degree that a Christian person has the right to sue based on a violation of their First Amendment rights, such as Phillips did, then there is, at that point, some sort of intersection between religion and government. The fact that we have an amendment that guarantees the rights of religious people is another intersection, so it’s not like you can completely isolate people of faith from legal recourse.
This isn’t a perfect nation, but to the degree that so many people want to cross our borders and live here, it can’t be all that terrible, either, or at least not as terrible as the countries many folks are trying to escape.
I agree that the rights of people of faith should be considered no higher than any other group, but then again, they shouldn’t be considered any lower, either. Every time leftist politics wins another social justice victory, conservative religious people lose a little more ground (I know I’m going to take criticism for that statement, and for having the audacity to write this blog in the first place).
I’d enjoy living in a country where we really all were equal relative to our basic rights, but Sessions had better walk, very, very carefully. One of the good things about our nation is that Christianity isn’t the state religion. Neither is Judaism, nor Islam, nor any other faith. We should keep it that way.
However, there seem to be other (non-religious) ideologies where the supporters want to have their values tacitly made “state values,” and to the degree that they’re getting laws passed, I’d say their plan is working. This is morally the same thing as a “state religion.” Certain ideologies, such as what I imagine the “Star” espouses, may not be a “religion,” but the “dogma” is just as passionately “preached” and defended (particularly in social and news media) as any theology or doctrine by any religious group.