I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means….

I wonder what theocrats think the word “liberty” means?

I guess we’re going to find out. According to Vox and a number of other media outlets,

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a “Religious Liberty Task Force” that will enforce a 2017 DOJ memo ordering federal agencies to take the broadest possible interpretation of “religious liberty” when enforcing federal laws. That memo, for example, prohibits the IRS from threatening the tax-exempt status of any religious organization that actively lobbied on behalf of a political candidatewhich is not allowed under the Johnson Amendment.

In a bold speech delivered at the Justice Department’s Religious Liberty Summit, Sessions characterized the task force as a necessary step in facing down the prevailing forces of secularism. “A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom,” he said, which “must be confronted and defeated.”

I don’t think I’d call the speech “bold.” “Ignorant” might be a more appropriate adjective.

Secularism, properly understood, is simply the absence of religion–an absence which evidently constitutes an existential threat to the worldview of people like Sessions. And liberty, at least as defined by those who drafted the U.S. Constitution, definitely does not mean the privileging of Christianity and its adherents over all other belief systems, religious or secular, which is quite clearly what Sessions intends.

While the task force will only enforce the guidelines listed by the religious liberty memo, the language in Sessions’s speech was as significant as the creation of the task force itself. Using striking rhetoric and the incendiary narrative of culture wars, Sessions characterized America as an implicitly Christian nation under attack from secularists. In so doing, he is continuing a wider pattern of the Trump administration: treating the federal government as a necessary participant in the longevity of Christian America.

He’s advocating for the kind of Christian nationalism — blending patriotism and evangelical Christianity — that the administration has consistently used to legitimize its aims and shore up its evangelical base.

As the Vox article noted, over the past few years Sessions’ version of “liberty” has gained considerable legal ground–from the Hobby Lobby decision, allowing closely-held corporations with religious shareholders to deny contraception coverage to its employees, to the case of Trinity Church, in which the Court held that a Lutheran church could use taxpayer funds to build a playground on its property. The confirmation of Kavanaugh would likely carve another hole in the wall of church-state separation.

It is obvious that this task force and various other efforts to take America back for (their version of) Jesus have been prompted by fury over civil rights for LGBTQ folks–especially recognition of same-sex marriage–and hysteria over the growing recognition that White Christian cultural domination of America is on the way out.

I’m not going to waste pixels on the fundamentalists who use religion as a justification for their bigotry and who experience any loss of privilege as discrimination. But I am going to protest the misuse of language.

In America, the word “liberty” means “personal autonomy”–an individual’s right to self-government. Liberty means we each have the right to “do our own thing” so long as we do not thereby harm the person or property of someone else, and so long as we are willing to accord an equal right to others. It most definitely does not mean (as the theocrats would have it) an obligation to do the “right thing” as that “right thing” is defined by the theology of the majority and enforced by government.

The First Amendment protects the integrity of the individual conscience against government overreach, and together with the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, it prohibits government from favoring some religious beliefs over others, or from favoring religion over non-religion. (Or vice versa, for that matter.)

The fact that we have an administration filled with people who reject that understanding of liberty—who are dismissive of the most basic premises of America’s history, philosophy and law–is more than unfortunate. It’s scandalous.

Or to coin a phrase, deplorable.

 

 

 

26 thoughts on “I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means….

  1. And the word “memo” does NOT mean “law”! Not even a “memo” from AG Jeff Sessions to federal forces to force his interpretation of religion on others! What happens when the religion of those federal forces does not agree with Sessions’s; whose “broadest possible interpretation” will be used? Or did Sessions’s”memo” specify religious preferences?

    “The First Amendment protects the integrity of the individual conscience against government overreach, and together with the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, it prohibits government from favoring some religious beliefs over others, or from favoring religion over non-religion. (Or vice versa, for that matter.)”

    Or do those words not mean what we think they mean?

  2. JoAnn,

    “Or do those words not mean what we think they mean?”

    No, those words don’t mean what we think they mean. That’s what Sheila is pointing out today by Attorney Jeff Session’s memo. The Trump Administration is conducting a BLITZKRIEG against PROCEDURAL DEMOCRACY in the U.S.

    No one understands that better than Professor Kennedy.

  3. How likely is it that the Sessions “task force” is wired to identify the predetermined conclusion that Sessions anticipates? Is this the next Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity? With the same conclusion?

  4. Jeff Sessions, Mike Pence and their fellow ideologues need to read Tom Paine. Then they must read his writings to Donald Trump and explain it. Instead of the Religious Liberty Summit what is needed is an Age of Reason Summit.

  5. When Sessions’ directive first hit the news a few weeks ago my first thought was that this was a request from pence.

    The evangelical religious right is losing ground daily due to their efforts to force their religious beliefs onto others. They are grabbing at straws as they watch their long held power disappear.

  6. This part of today’s blog says more than is written: “Secularism, properly understood, is simply the absence of religion–an absence which evidently constitutes an existential threat to the worldview of people like Sessions. And liberty, at least as defined by those who drafted the U.S. Constitution, definitely does not mean the privileging of Christianity and its adherents over all other belief systems, religious or secular, which is quite clearly what Sessions intends.”

    According to the words in the First Amendment, and virtually every court ruling on the subject, secularism and even atheism is NOT illegal. Then, the Cracker General is all about interpreting HIS views of law.

    Yes, this is what we’d expect from right-wing reactionaries given the reins of power. Ideologue is too kind a word. I’m thinking more along the lines of NAZI.

  7. I know where this is going: look from needing id to buy groceries or buy something to knowing what church you belong to OR DON’T… it is a perverted sick vision of ‘millennialist’ christians and others that see some apocalypse necessary to purge their own begotten evils. They are SICK. They are lost in a lie that they just add to with each new turn. And what it is built on is sick. I know the human condition needs healing – it doesn’t need religion or ideologues like Sessions or Pence(! omg!) NO: We do not need idiocy, it needs to stop. When asked, “What would Jesus do?” I usually answer with, “Simple: He’s slap the shit outta you!”

  8. Vernon,

    ” I’m thinking more along the lines of NAZI.”

    With that type of attitude, we might start getting somewhere before it’s too late. To have a COUNTERVAILING FORCE, you first have to be willing to use COUNTERVAILING WORDS. And since we’re not in CONTROL, our words have to be tougher than those of our opposition.

    This battle is not being waged within the confines or conduct of a COURTROOM. It’s more like the rules you have in a knife fight. There aren’t any.

  9. According to VOX, The DOJ memo, “prohibits the IRS from threatening the tax-exempt status of any religious organization that actively lobbied on behalf of a political candidate, which is not allowed under the Johnson Amendment.”

    The Johnson Amendment is part of a law. How can a DOJ memo negate part of a law?

  10. I’m guessing the ACLU and a myriad of other separation of church and state groups suing Sessions before he has a chance to implement this cluster.

  11. Vernon,

    Rev.,

    “Thanks for your succinct, irreverent and completely correct analysis.”

    Include me in on your reply to the Reverend. Let’s not go “like sheep to slaughter.”

  12. Thomas Paine Quotes:

    All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

    Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.

    Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst.

    Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.

    The Christian Mythologists, after having confined Satan in a pit, were obliged to let him out again to bring on the sequel of the fable. He is then introduced into the Garden of Eden, in the shape of a snake or a serpent, and in that shape he enters into familiar conversation with Eve, who is no way surprised to hear a snake talk; and the issue of this tête-à-tête is that he persuades her to eat an apple, and the eating of that apple damns all mankind.

    After giving Satan this triumph over the whole creation, one would have supposed that the Church Mythologists would have been kind enough to send him back again to the pit: or, if they had not done this, that they would have put a mountain upon him (for they say that their faith can remove a mountain), or have put him under a mountain, as the former mythologists had done, to prevent his getting again among the women and doing more mischief. But instead of this they leave him at large, without even obliging him to give his parole—the secret of which is that they could not do without him; and after being at the trouble of making him, they bribed him to stay.
    ==============================================================================
    Paine in a historical perspective when he wrote the Age of Reason was within 100 years or near of Salem Witch Trials of 1692-93, as close in time as we are to World War 1.

    I suspect the Age of Reason would not be required reading in High Schools, even though it should be.

    I am an Agnostic so I find all these contortions of what Jesus said or what someone else wrote and meant in the bible to be amusing.

    The fact that you can have so many different versions of Christianity being taught is like ordering a cup of coffee- from Sumatra, or Kenya – black, or with cream or with cream and sugar. You could even get Decaf. Pick which ever version suits your taste buds.

  13. maybe a major relocation of all these religious zealots to any of the mid east / indo china where religious freedoms dont exists,would open some eyes. i find in trucking,its so called religious right is nothing more than a one sided right for me me me ,or bigotry. when i listen to them, they believe in jesus, then ramble on on whos fu,,,,, who in thier own family,nuff said.
    i dont spare a dime of talk in religion, you either believe or you dont,practice the words,or get rebuffed. maybe some good ol shameing is overdue.. (sessions needs a exorcism)if the evans get to spout its bigotry from the pulput, ill take a good ol southern baptist in the woods sing along antime..

  14. The general gist of the administration’s message does not mean what it says either.

    Until we know what they in this administration are trying to say, we cannot devise a strategy to defeat it. See if you can get out of it what I am getting.

    They are telling us not so much that their beliefs are right and should be mandated by law, although those are the words coming out of their mouths. They are telling us that they have been patient for a couple hundred years and permitted America to be run according to the intellectual’s Constitution, and that has gotten us to where we are today – failure, weakness, sloth and veniality. They are saying that democracy, liberty and justice has failed; it is time for something else.

    UNTIL WE CAN CONVINCE THEIR FOLLOWERS THAT DEMOCRACY, LIBERTY AND JUSTICE HAVE NOT FAILED, our candidates and our policies will not have a chance in hell of getting any of their votes. We must learn to be more persuasive, and to do that, we must read and hear much better.

    Our message must be that democracy, liberty and justice have been successful. We need that message to be repeated a trillion times with a trillion examples. And our argument must be brought up every time the small-minded at picnics and coffee shops and water coolers and blogs and digital message places complain that government and cooperation and teamwork cannot do anything right. We must develop an armory of examples of American successes, and they must flow from our lips as fluently as hate flows from theirs. Those of you who write books should publish thousand-page tomes and eight-page Bibles describing democratic successes, liberty’s successes and justice’s successes.

  15. A Major Victory for Worker’s and Unions.

    Giving ‘Hope to Workers Across the Nation,’ Missouri Votes to Repeal GOP Attack on Unions

    “Tonight Missouri proved the power of the labor movement. Democrats who vote with the bosses better pay attention.”

    According to the Associated Press, 67 percent voted to repeal the right to work measure, which the GOP-controlled state legislature passed and then-Republican Gov. Eric Greitens signed into law last year.

    Missouri voters on Tuesday rejected a “right to work” law that would have hampered union organizing in the state, the Associated Press has projected.

    The result deals a setback to state Republicans who have long sought to make Missouri a right-to-work state, while handing a victory to labor groups whose power has been diluted by the Supreme Court and GOP-dominated state legislatures. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/08/08/missouri-voters-defeat-gop-backed-right-work-law-victory-unions-associated-press-projects/?utm_term=.67da5355da20

  16. Larry,

    “UNTIL WE CAN CONVINCE THEIR FOLLOWERS THAT DEMOCRACY, LIBERTY AND JUSTICE HAVE NOT FAILED, our candidates and our policies will not have a chance in hell of getting any of their votes. We must learn to be more persuasive, and to do that, we must read and hear much better.”

    Agreed. In addition we have to convince their followers that NAZISM has failed in the past. It didn’t fail because it allowed for the murder of Jews. It failed for many reasons. That wasn’t one of them. Leaving an examination of Nazism to the Holocaust, is a good way for something OUTRAGEOUS to occur here. We must learn the whole truth (especially the mistakes made, particularly, by the Catholic church as well as the Jewish leadership) in order to effectively deal with it here in the U.S. All of this has been covered up from day one. This has to stop NOW!

  17. “Liberty means we each have the right to “do our own thing” so long as we do not thereby harm the person or property of someone else, and so long as we are willing to accord an equal right to (all) others.”

    That really seems pretty straightforward to me. Prefixing “Liberty” with “religious” doesn’t make it any more complex either.

    Jeff Sessions is free to act on his Faith so long as he does not thereby harm the person or property of someone else, and so long as he is willing to accord an equal right to others.

    It’s liberty under the law that he is in charge of enforcing, not compromising.

    On the other hand nobody else in the Agent Orange cabinet is qualified to do their job, why should we expect different from him?

  18. I have long held that we do not have the religion of Jesus but rather one about him, concocted by medieval monks who had nothing else to do in their prayer cells amidst papal approval of their Holy Roman Empire’s emperors. When (I hope) Trump leaves, I can only hope Pastor Pence will not attempt to remove the right of non-Christians to participate in government.

    Even if we did not have a Paine or a Jefferson or a Constitution or other governing manifesto to guide us in governing, it must be obvious that secular governing is the way to go. Thus if we are to bring religious approval into governmental decision making, what’s next? Shall only Christians vote on sewer and library funding? Taxes? Wars? Shall we decide (as in the famous blue eyed-brown eyed experiment) that only those with blue eyes may vote? That only whites may vote? That only Baptists may vote? Are citizenship and the rights, privileges and immunities accorded thereto a matter of belief or color or the color of eyes? I hope not, though currently (with the aid of Citizens United and under the cover of some evangelical Christians) Big Money, aided by blarney such as trickledown economics, Russian electronics and Republican
    politicians, are deciding who votes.

    If Christians (or any religious grouping) feel they should be directly involved in government, then it should be a mutual enterprise, i.e., government should go into churches, temples and mosques and tell the preachers, priests, rabbis and ayatollahs what to preach and their flock what to believe. If such were to occur, perhaps such flocks would become First Amendment aficionados in the sense the Founders intended.

  19. ML,

    Ditto. Agnostic, though, is a kind of soft-peddle for non-believers. On the other hand, the word HYPOCRITE should always be in caps when referring to Sessions and the other phony true believers who NEVER walk the walk of whatever sect they say they adhere to.

  20. God gave human beings a brain and free will to make our own decisions about religion. Unfortunately, Jeff Sessions doesn’t agree.

  21. Pete,

    “Liberty means we each have the right to “do our own thing” so long as we do not thereby harm the person or property of someone else, and so long as we are willing to accord an equal right to (all) others.”

    In my view, this so-called definition is incomplete: I would write it like this (CAPS ARE MY ADDITION):

    Liberty means we each have the right to “do our own thing” so long as we do not thereby harm the person or property OR FUTURE of someone else OR OF THE NATION AS A WHOLE, and so long as we are willing to accord an equal right to (all) others.

  22. Larry,

    I like your addition. However, it can be very difficult, in some cases impossible, to perceive the future of someone else or of the nation as a whole.

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