In short accessible language a problem that seems to plaque the U.S. where we should know better, but other parts of the world with similar guarantees of freedom are codified into law, ‘Religious Freedom’ Issues: A Field Guide (Part 1)
But religious freedom is neither the supreme nor the only value that secularists hold dear. Nor can it logically be the supreme or only value that a democratic state holds dear.
We, as a people, have generally understood this. I can think of few precedents in the history of the United States, or that of any other country for that matter, where religious freedom was in law and practice recognized as an absolute right.
Those Christian Conservatives who are advocating for religious freedom obscure, willfully I think, a crucial and rather well-known distinction. The right to believe anything you want to believe about God has traditionally been granted in this glorious nation of ours. The right to unilaterally act upon one’s religious beliefs, however, when these beliefs contravene public order or, more simply, the laws of the land does not and cannot exist.
Scholars who study secularism sometimes refer to this as the “belief/acts dichotomy.” What is maddening about proponents of religious freedom on the Christian Right is that they conflate rights of conscience (a hard fought and incandescent accomplishment of Western democracy) with the categorical and unilateral right of (Christian) citizens to act upon all of their religious scruples.
If you do a search for street preachers and pedestrians on the net you’ll find a few stories from different cities about Protestant fundamentalists who get up in people’s faces and start yelling about Jesus and salvation. That is generally considered assault. Other street preachers get very emotional, some on the verge of tears, others frequently in tears. Even though the yelling and angry faces are absent that kind of interference with someone’s passage down a street is still considered assault. Wait a minute, don’t we have freedom of religion. Those preachers are indeed free to worship in their hearts and minds, they are not free to use their religion as an ass ult weapon. We know that even Conservative Christians believe in some limitations on religious freedom because of the attempts at the state level to ban Sharia law. One can easily imagine the reaction if just a few Muslims across the country started yelling all Christians were going to hell unless they converted. While not a fan of Sharia law it is no different in practice than the religious laws used by Catholics or Hasidic jews to settle marital issues, property deputes between adherents or other assorted issues where church doctrine has provided guidelines. In almost all circumstances if those adherents involved in such a dispute go to civil authorities to redress their problems, criminal and civil laws prevail. One common area of dispute, one that American Catholics have ignored for decades is the Vatican decree against divorce. Obviously Catholics get divorced all the time and state and federal laws have priority over recognition of these divorces. There have also been cases where a child has parents with certain beliefs about medicine and blood transfusions. In some cases the law grants exemption from child abuse and neglect laws for religious reasons. The American Academy of Pediatrics has made the case that children in such circumstances are not being free nor are they sometimes capable of exercising their freedom to be healthy or to continue to live. They claim as in the acts/beliefs dichotomy that parents who deny their children the freedom to have modern medical care is not a religious freedom or act guaranteed by the Constitution. Ultimately what is the difference between harming one’s child by locking them in a dirty basement without adequate food and sanitation and depriving them of medical treatment for an injury. In the former the parents could claim they have a right to train and discipline their child as they see fit. In the latter case the parents wedge in justification for equally harmful behavior that of their deeply held religious dogma. People always have reasons for acting badly. In some cases those reasons( intent is a consideration in how the law is applied) can mediate judgement. Though society still generally frowns on subjecting those who do not have the mental acuity or maturity to fully protect themselves from being the victim of adults,regardless of their intent or title.
In this letter J. W. Cummings, a resident of Kansas City, Kansas, appeals to state attorney general Harold Fatzer to not desegregate public schools. According to Cummings, integration would lead to miscegenation and would be the downfall of society. He writes that “we must keep our country great by not permitting a Policing action forcing communities into a like pattern, forming a state against our will. We must have the liberty of community majority choice, to accept or reject the kind of life our children live.” He also believed that those causing this “unrest” were violating the principles of democracy and had been unduly influenced by Communist doctrine.
This kind of upside down logic is still very much with us and the rest of the world. Recognizing an injustice and acting to alleviate that injustice is considered an infringement on the freedom of the person perpetuating the injustice. In the second paragraph Cummings writes, “We pray you will maintain the wisdom of our forefathers, protecting our children from impositions upon their choice in liberty, in the true spirit of the Declaration of Independence.” See Rick Santorum, Rush Limbaugh…hell the conservative movement (The power of conservative victimhood) and most libertarians for modern examples of people whose political philosophies include perpetual outrage over the resistance to their authoritarian dreams for the U.S. Some of the most tortured logic one could ever read are some quasi-intellectual conservative/libertarians going on about positive and negative liberties – which they interpret as the freedom to keep certain people from fully participating in society because to do otherwise takes way their freedoms. That link has all the pages to the letter and some suggestions for teachers who want to use it in a lesson plan.
Of course, recounting this trio of cautionary tales is not to argue that prior public-sector experience is always a prerequisite for effective stewardship of public institutions. But it is to suggest that the dominant “run government like a business” sloganeering obscures an important truth: namely, that public administration is a professional expertise unto itself — one whose nonprofit mission, obligation to taxpayers, and responsibilities to the common good are fundamentally different from the private sector’s objectives.
Unfortunately most of us have had experience with managers, executives and business owners who were either incompetent, egomaniacs, jerks or otherwise suffered from some kind of personality disorder. We wonder how they got to their position of power over others and how they stay there. Imagine those people using their “business acumen” to govern. Not that difficult for those who lived through the Bush 43 administration. Early on I remember one conservative writer spoke of them as being like a room of A-Team corporate leaders. Our first MBA president, with plenty of help of course, drove the business or country in this case, off the cliff.
Dawn Landes – Private Little Hell
Jazzy House: Don Carlos – House of Blues