Tag Archives: rights

Is Jeff Sessions Trying to Establish an American State Religion?

sessions
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

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.

It’s tough to get an unbiased view of what Sessions is up to, so I had to look at a number of differing sources, including The Hill and a memo on the Department of Justice website.

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.

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Does God Owe Us “Rights?”

“Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend,
Nor services to do, till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world without end hour
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour
When you have bid your servant once adieu.
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought
Save, where you are, how happy you make those.
So true a fool is love that in your will,
Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.”

-William Shakespeare
“Sonnet 57”

This is more of a question than a statement. Well, maybe it’s a statement and a question. I occasionally read commentaries on various blogs including several Hebrew Roots related blogs. One of the concepts that comes up repeatedly is the idea of “rights.” Specifically, whenever the topic of differentiation of identity between believing Jews and Gentiles within the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots arenas comes up, and someone (like me) suggests that the Torah mitzvot are applied differently to Jewish people than to Gentile people, one of the classic responses from Hebrew Roots is “We have a right to observe the Torah in the same way as a Jewish person observes the mitzvot!”

It’s an odd thing to say that one has a “right” to be obligated. It’s like saying we have a “right” to be obligated to obey the speed limit while driving, or a “right” to be obligated to pay our taxes. Obligations and rights tend not to go hand in hand, even when we consider that obligation just and correct and even desirable. After all, when my children were young (they are all adults now), I had a legal obligation to provide a certain level of care for them, even though as a father who loves his children, I did so and more out of love, not legal obligation.

But the big question here is “does God grant us rights?”

According to the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

But that’s the Declaration of Independence, which defines our rights as citizens of the United States of America, not the Bible which (among other things) defines our roles as human beings in relation to each other and in relation to God.

The Torah (in this case, I mean the Five Books of Moses) contains a large amount of law code that was to be applied to the ancient State of Israel, a state that existed as Earth’s only functioning Theocracy; the only nation ever to exist to be directly ruled by God as their King. Even after human Kings were anointed (first Saul, then David, and so on), the law code in the Torah was still valid.

the-divine-torahThe legal force and application of the various law codes and such have changed over the long centuries, in part because of the loss of the Temple, the Levitical priesthood, the Sanhedrin court system, the functional King, and the nation itself as Israel went into progressively longer exiles.

The modern State of Israel currently exists, but the vast majority of the Torah legal code is not applied to their laws, at least as originally intended in ancient days. They probably won’t be applied in that manner until the return of Messiah King, Son of David.

But be all that as it may, are any of the obligations to the citizenry of Israel considered “rights?” That is, does a Jewish person have a “right” to don tzitzit? Does a Jewish person have a “right” to daven with a minyan? Is it a “right” to recite the Modeh Ani upon awakening and the Bedtime Shema before retiring? Is it a “right” for a Jewish baby to have a bris on the eighth day of life?

I don’t see God so much as a “rights giver” but as a definer of identity and responsibility. According to the Master’s teaching:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40 (NASB)

These don’t sound like rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but obligations to love God with the entire scope of our resources and our being and to love our neighbor just as we love ourselves. Where are the “rights” in all that, since it is a summation of all of the Torah and the Prophets?

It seems like the focus of God and what He’s trying to tell us in the Bible is that it’s not all about us, believe it or not. It’s all about God and it’s all about what we do for other people. It’s not about what we can get out of the deal.

I know the Christian interpretation of the Gospel of Christ can be summed up as “a plan of personal salvation.” That is, we just have to believe and we, I, me, are, am personally saved from hell and damnation and promised a life of pleasure and peace when I die and go to Heaven.

While that’s terrifically good news, it also seems kind of self-centered and even narcissistic. It says absolutely nothing about how Jesus presented the two greatest commandments. It says nothing about loving God, being in awe of God, deeply respecting God, being thankful to God, and out of all of that, responding to human beings around us with love, respect, generosity, compassion, and, employing a rather Jewish way of looking at it, being thankful to the poor, the needy, the orphaned, for giving us the opportunity to serve God by serving them.

rabbi-prayingNone of that sounds like “rights” and all of that sounds like “obligation,” but even though we know that obligation is right and true and valid and what we really need to be doing all of the time, it’s always directed outward, from who we are to other people and to God. We are, in response to God, directing everything that we are, all of our resources, even our very lives, to the service of God and the human beings He loves (and He loves all human beings, even the ones we don’t love).

I’m really not convinced that observant Jews have a “right” to wear tzitzit or even a “right” to feed the hungry. Those are obligations assigned to them by God because they are Jews and they were set apart at Sinai based on a set of laws and responsibilities they agreed to uphold in perpetuity. Whether the Jewish person wants those obligations or not, they’ve got ’em. Only converts ask to be Jewish. People who are born Jewish didn’t ask to be born into a covenant relationship. It just happened by God’s will.

So whatever obligations you may feel you have to the service of God and people around you, I don’t think you, or I have a lot of room to be talking about “rights.” That doesn’t strike a very respectful tone in relating to God. After all, do you really think God owes you something?

Particularly as non-Jewish people who are grafted in and who aren’t even original parts of the tree, so to speak, do we have a right to define our obligations to God and a right to respond to those obligations as we see fit as individuals or as religious groups? What do you think?

Or talk to Job. He knows the answer.