Category Archives: Religious Liberty

Pastoral versus Ideological Church and State

Speaking of religion, as we did yesterday, I’ve been mulling over a column by E.J. Dionne that I read a couple of weeks ago, because I think it has application to what I will (somewhat grandiosely) call the human condition.

Dionne is a Catholic, and he was examining the differences between the approach to that religion of two other Catholics–the Pope, and Steve Bannon.

Bannon believes that “the Judeo-Christian West is in a crisis.” He calls for a return of “the church militant” who will “fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity,” which threatens to “completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.”

Persecuted? Puh-leese

Imagine you and three friends rent a house together. You all pay your shares of the rent, maintenance, utilities and food costs. One of your roommates is vegan, and insists that no food can be purchased or brought into the house that does not meet strict vegan requirements.

If you protest, saying that you are happy to keep your preferred foods separate, but that as an equal contributor to the household, you have a right to eat in accordance with your own dietary preferences, he whines that you are persecuting him.

Most of us would say that the roommate is being an unreasonable bully. Yet his argument is no different from that of the “Christians” who demand laws that privilege their beliefs while ignoring the rights of those whose beliefs differ.

Hemant Mehta over at The Friendly Atheist has a perfect example.

The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) has a simple rule when it comes to reciting Christian prayers over the loudspeakers before football games: Don’t do it. It’s a fair policy considering it echoes what the U.S. Supreme Court said more than 16 years ago.

Last year, two Christian schools made it to the championship game, which would be played in a government-owned arena, the Citrus Bowl. The coach of one of the teams asked to say a prayer over the arena’s loudspeaker. Because the Citrus Bowl is a public facility, the FHSAA refused, and a Christian “defense” group sued. As Mehta noted,

The state didn’t do anything wrong. They didn’t block kids from praying. They merely said a public loudspeaker in a public facility couldn’t be used to broadcast prayer during a state event. This isn’t hard to understand unless you work for a Christian legal group, and your paycheck requires you to scream “Persecution!!!” three times a day…

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits government from endorsing or sponsoring religion. The Free Exercise Clause prohibits government from interfering with private religious expression. As Mehta quite accurately explained,

This game was overseen and managed by the state, even if Christian schools were involved, and that meant following state law. Both teams were obviously allowed to pray before the game, and after the game, and during halftime, and silently whenever the hell they want. They could pull a Tebow during the game if they wanted to. And because they were private schools, the coaches could legally join in.

The lawsuit argued that just giving the schools this expansive right to pray wasn’t enough:

By denying access to the loudspeaker,” the suit states, “the FHSAA denied the students, parents and fans in attendance the right to participate in the players’ prayer or to otherwise come together in prayer as one Christian community.”

Evidently, prayer only counts when it’s Christian, and done publicly and loudly.

A couple of quotes from representatives of Freedom From Religion are worth sharing:

Their right to their own religious prayer practice ends where the rights of non-adherents begin, especially as it involves students. To think that the government should be required to concede to this demand is arrogance of highest order. Would they sit still for Muslim or Hindu prayers over the loudspeakers should such a group field a championship football team? Would they want the government to effectively endorse those religions through such largess?

Cambridge Christian is within its rights to force prayers on students and parents over its own loudspeakers, but not at a state-sanctioned high school championship. We hope the court will see that this is not a matter of censorship, but the appropriate use of a public facility for a secular sporting event and not a religious revival.

The libertarian principle that underlies our Constitution gives each of us the right to “do our own thing,” so long as we do not thereby harm the person or property of others, and so long as we are willing to give an equal right to others.

Forbidding government from privileging certain religious beliefs over others is not censorship, and demanding respect for the “equal right” of all citizens (or roommates) is not “persecution.”

It’s time for religious bullies to get over themselves.

Telling It Like It Is

Today, unfathomable as it is, Donald Trump will become President of the United States. How could this happen?

Granted, Trump lost the popular vote overwhelmingly, but despite being manifestly unfit for the office, he mustered enough support from millions of Americans to win the Electoral College. The Chattering Classes have offered a number of explanations, almost all of them centering on Democratic failures: the “liberal elites” were unable to “connect” with middle America; Clinton paid too little attention to Michigan, or to the economic distress of rural voters; Democrats didn’t show enough respect for the values of small-town America. Etc.

Trump’s voters often said that what attracted them was that “he tells it like it is.” At risk of being very politically incorrect, let me tell you what I think they heard. Let me tell it like I think it is.

Post-election analyses showed that most Trump voters were not poor. As Myriam  Renaud recently reminded us, however, there’s a difference between “psychic” and fiscal poverty, and she shared a trenchant Eric Hoffer observation.

[Hoffer] found that the intensity of the discontent found among the new poor is not necessarily tied to economic hardship. Indeed, individuals born into misery do not usually revolt against the status quo—their lot is bearable because it is familiar and predictable. Discontent, the emotion Trump tapped into so adeptly, is more likely to afflict people who have experienced prosperity. When their comfortable life is diminished in some way, the result is intolerable. According to Hoffer, it is usually “those whose poverty is relatively recent, the ‘new poor,’ who throb with the ferment of frustration. The memory of better things is as fire in their veins.”

Economic uncertainty, not deprivation, and the loss of white male privilege explain a lot more than fiscal distress. Trump won because he gave people who were experiencing a perceived loss of status or privilege someone to blame for that loss.

It is impossible to argue that a vote for Trump was a vote for his “policy agenda.” He didn’t have one, unless, of course, you think that building a wall to keep Mexicans out, ejecting Muslims (or in the alternative, creating a registry), demeaning women, threatening (brown) immigrants, cozying up to the KKK and the neo-Nazis, and insisting that our first black President was illegitimate are “policies.”

In the wake of the election, Trump has backed off other campaign promises, but his overt racism and misogyny have continued. As an article in the American Prospect put it,

President-elect Donald Trump wasted no time in establishing a hideous double standard of racist privilege in the White House. His appointment of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and his picks of Jeff Sessions for attorney general and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as national security adviser have been praised without qualification by Klansmen, neo-Nazis, the alt-right, and other white supremacist groups.

While “nice” liberals offer economic explanations of the election and counsel “kinder, gentler” attitudes toward Trump voters (who were predominantly, albeit certainly not exclusively, less-educated white rural males), scholars who have analyzed the data have reached different conclusions. There is an emerging consensus among those political scientists that although economic dissatisfaction was part of the story, racism and sexism were much more important.

As an article in the Washington Post explained,

Donald Trump repeatedly went where prior Republican presidential candidates were unwilling to go: making explicit appeals to racial resentment, religious intolerance, and white identity. ..racial attitudes were stronger predictors of whites’ preferences for Trump or Clinton than they were in hypothetical matchups between Clinton and Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio..

Other research confirms, as FiveThirtyEight reported, that prejudice was one of the “distinguishing attitudes” of Trump voters in the 2016 primaries.

The Economist tested Clinton’s “deplorables” percentage:

At first glance, Mrs Clinton’s 50% estimate looks impressively accurate: 58% of respondents who said they backed Mr Trump resided in the poll’s highest quartile for combined racial-resentment scores. And at a lower threshold of offensiveness—merely distasteful rather than outright deplorable, say—91% of Mr Trump’s voters scored above the national average.

What about the argument that Trump voters “overlooked” Trump’s narcissism, sexism and racism because they thought he would be more effective at job creation? Salon reported on the results of an American National Election (NES) study probing that possibility.

Eighty-four percent of whites who believe it is “extremely likely” that whites can’t find a job because employers are hiring people of color instead support Trump, compared with 23 percent of those who think it is “not at all” likely. Among white Democrats, 58 percent who believe people of color are taking jobs support Trump over Clinton, compared with less than 1 percent of those who believe it is not at all likely. Eighty-one percent of white women who think it is “extremely likely” people of color are taking jobs supported Trump, compared with 26 percent who don’t think that.

I have colleagues who privately admit that the evidence points to the importance of racial resentment and the appeal of White Nationalism in motivating Trump voters, but who shrink from making that claim publicly.

The problem is, if we refuse to face facts–if we refuse to acknowledge the deep wells of tribalism, racism and sexism that persist despite America’s constitutional and legal commitments to equality–we will never eradicate it. We will never have honest conversations about the fears and resentments to which people like Trump so skillfully appeaI. (That actually may be the only real skill Trump has.)

When Trump promised to “make America great again,” his voters heard “I’ll make America White again.”

I understand that it isn’t pretty. I understand that confronting it is uncomfortable. But ignoring the elephant in the room is no longer an option.

There are numerous “resistance” movements springing up in the wake of the election. They are all important, some critically so. But nothing is more important than resisting Trump’s efforts to take politics back to an “us versus them” power struggle, where “us” means white Protestant straight males and “them” is everyone else.

How We Should Respond

News outlets are reporting that the incoming Trump Administration is seriously considering establishment of a “registry” for Muslims. Politico recently quoted Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who says the effort is being modeled after the highly controversial National Security Entry-Exit Registration System implemented after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

When challenged about the constitutionality of such a measure, Trump supporters point to the “precedent” of World War II Japanese internment camps. Although that precedent has never been formally overruled, it is widely considered to have been a shameful departure from American principles, attributable to the stress of war.

Ordinarily, I would dismiss such stories, assuming that more responsible people would recognize the unAmerican nature and probable unconstitutionality of such a proposal; given the abysmal bona fides of those Trump has around him, however, I cannot simply assume that this effort will be still-born.

So here is what I propose:

If a Trump Administration attempts to require registration of Muslims, I intend to register, and I will encourage all of my friends and family to register as well.

One of the few positive stories that emerged during the Holocaust was the reported reaction of the Danes when, under Nazi occupation, Danish Jews were ordered to wear armbands with the infamous yellow Star of David. As the story goes, the Danish King and his subjects also donned the armbands, in a demonstration of the equality and solidarity of all Danish citizens.

Snopes tells us that the story is apocryphal, although the Danes did engage in heroic measures to save Danish Jews.

Although this legend may not be true in its specifics, it was certainly true enough in spirit. The rescue of several thousand Danish Jews was accomplished through the efforts of “thousands of policemen, government officials, physicians, and persons of all walks of life.” The efforts to save Danish Jews may not have had the flair of the “yellow star” legend, and they may not have required quite so many citizens to visibly oppose an occupying army, but those who were rescued undoubtedly preferred substance to style.

Sometimes, a morality tale can be more powerful than accurate history.

An actual effort to make Muslims register would be challenged immediately, and I have to believe it would be quickly enjoined, but the mere fact of the attempt would have a chilling effect on everyone’s religious liberties.

As a practical matter, if thousands of non-Muslim Americans publicize our intention to add our names to any registry–and if we announce that intention immediately in response to any trial balloon or actual proposal to create such a registry– we may be able to abort this insulting and demeaning and thoroughly unAmerican effort.

I hope these reports are wrong, but given the rhetoric of the campaign, Trump’s embrace of the “alt-right” (aka Nazis, White Supremacists and the KKK), and the nature of his inner circle, prudence suggests  that we prepare for the worst.

 

Words FAIL

A while back, Juanita Jean posted a news item that goes a long way toward explaining why it has become so difficult to recognize and distinguish between satirical internet sites and those reporting legitimate news.

In fact, she began the post by reciting the steps she’d taken to ensure that this bizarre proclamation was real.

It seems that the oil industry isn’t doing too well in Oklahoma because it doesn’t grow on trees, and since Republicans can’t possibly raise taxes on oil gazillionaires so they pay their fair share, the Governor decided to issue a proclamation in Jesus’ name.

Hold on.  I’m gonna let you read the whole damn thing because I believe, yes, I believe, in the power of crazy on a platter.

Whereas, Oklahoma is blessed with an abundance of oil and natural gas, allowing the state to be a prosperous producer of these valuable resources; and

Whereas Christians acknowledge such natural resources are created by God; and

Whereas the oil and gas industry continues to produce countless opportunities for wealth generation for Oklahoma families; and

Whereas Oklahoma recognizes the incredible economic, community and faith-based impacts demonstrated across the state by oil and natural gas companies; and

Whereas Christians are invited to thank God for the blessing created by the oil and natural gas industry and to seek His wisdom and ask for protection;

Now, therefore, I, Mary Fallin, Governor, do hereby proclaim October 13, 2016, as “Oilfield Prayer Day” in the state of Oklahoma.

As Juanita Jean herownself commented,

Oilfield Prayer Day.  Honey, I have no idea why it wasn’t called “Jesus Give Us Some Magic Money and Pollute Our Air At the Same Time.”  Or even, “Jesus Gives Us Gas The Natural Way.”

What amazes me is that the citizens of Oklahoma elected this person! (Or perhaps, given the language of the proclamation, it might be more accurate to say that the “Christians” of Oklahoma elected her.) I have been preoccupied of late with an effort to understand why voters cast their ballots for people demonstrably unequipped–by reason of ignorance or temperament or ideology– for the positions they seek. I have added Oklahoma to my “perhaps democracy is overrated” list…

I don’t know which is worse: the fact that the Governor evidently thinks her official prayer is needed to alert (a presumably all-knowing) God to Oklahoma’s fiscal problems and persuade Him (Her?)(It?) to improve the business prospects of the fossil fuel industry, or the fact that she is rather obviously unacquainted with the First Amendment of a Constitution that she took a solemn oath to uphold.

Come to think of it, wouldn’t the Christian God take a negative view of failing to uphold a solemn oath?

I truly occupy a different reality from Governor Fallin. (And for that, I give thanks to the Flying Spaghetti Monster….)