Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Splinter and beams III

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have
to appear in a tortilla in Mexico."

--God (from The Simpsons)

On this day in history the popular Western news outlets are reporting on: the dispute over a filibuster by Democrats on the floor of the United States Senate over President Bush's "far-right" judicial nominees; The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is considering providing support to peace-keeping and security efforts in the Darfur region of Sudan; the ongoing drama of the criminal trial of pop music start Michael Jackson.

As I am writing the sky is partly cloudy and there are ocassional rain showers. I can hear the radio announcers for our local professional baseball team, the Pirates, calling the game through an ocassioal wisp of static.

Having focused on what I perceive as a problem with a segement of the progressive side of American politics, turnabout is fairplay. One way to energize a group's members and gloss over intrapartisan differences is to find (or fabricate) a common enemy. The target now is the secularist agenda, in which it is supposed that atheists are trying to remove God in general and Christianity in particular from American government and culture. Unfortunately, there are those who see all religion (but especially Christianity) as a threat to liberty and who would like to see all forms of public spirituality abolished. However, all groups have a fringe element. Most prominent groups pushing for values such as the separation of church and state do so not only for the sake of the state but also the church. It is just as dangerous for religion as it is for government when particular beliefs are given any kind of special endorsement or preferential treatment. Two good examples are gay marriage and holiday displays on government property.

Regarding the issue of gay marriage, two fairly popular solutions have been proposed. One is to make civil unions the legal and social equivalent of marriage. Those who want to be "married" before their deity in their own tradition can do so in a separate religious ceremony. Hence by getting their religion out of government those religionists concerned about their traditons can benefit from the wise and just concept of separating church and state. Those who abhor homosexuality can deny marriage in their church and before their God to gay people for as long as they wish.

The other is to alter the law of the country to actively promote discrimination toward a group of citizens based solely on the religious values of some citizens. However, such laws are highly unlikely to hold up to judicial scrutiny because they inherently violate the spirit and letter of the Constitution. That is why in order to try to make such a radical and unAmerican move the more astute opponents of gay marriage have been trying to to gain momentum for a bill to change the Consitution itself to reintroduce the kind of inequality that was expunged when slavery was abolished.

Think about it. If those supporting the latter solution can successfully do that to legitimize making homosexuals second-class citizens, they can do it to anyone for any reason.

That is a truly chilling aspect of the gay marriage debate and a clear example of the importance of watching the impact of religion on government and vice versa. To drive the point home, even those who don't like the idea of gay marriage had better open their eyes to where all this can lead, lest someday a secular majority decides to do the same thing to those "poor backward fundies".

On the matter of religious displays, some (but not all) secular proponents have lost site of the issue. So long as all religious groups have free access to displaying their symbols during their established holidays, then it is not a catastrophe of civil justice to see a nativity seen on the lawn of your local city hall at Christmas time. Not so long as Jewish groups are free to put up a menora over hannukah or the local Buddhist sangha can put up a banner honoring the Buddha on his birthday. Despite what some (hopefully few) Christians may think, this is not a means of diminishing or diluting America's religious heritage. Despite what some atheists (hopefully few) may think, this isn't an assault on the 'establishment clause'. It is a recognition of the strength of freely practiced diversity, which includes religious diversity. In this spirit, we arrive once again at the destination promised by the Founding Fathers, E Pluribus Unum. Diversity and unity are the hallmarks and stengths of the United States. From Many, One.

What does religious liberty mean to you?

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