Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Freedom of Religion

As I am wont to share, I am a committed atheist -- an evangelical atheist, as it were -- and am, merely by coincidence, a staunch absolutist on the Bill of Rights.  Don't come to me looking to abridge the right of the people peaceably to assemble!


SO I naturally enjoy the developed jurisprudence prohibiting state-sponsored or supported expressions of religious beliefs, as I object to them as violative of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  I can't fathom asking boys and girls to stand up in public school and pledge that they support one nation "under God." 
And for believers, I can't fathom letting anyone stand in the way of a family asking their children to make that pledge at home, or on the sidewalk in front of their house.  But I've always laughed at the argument that such language isn't intended to give the state's imprimatur to religion or a belief in God -- "it's just an acknowledgement of our heritage and fundamental learning of our Western culture" they say.  Except that it is extraordinarily IMPORTANT to them for the state to include that language -- because the state's imprimatur is exactly what they want.  As I see it, the importance of including it determines the importance of excluding it, if ya follow.

Well, with all of that, you can probably guess that I disagree with ol' Rick Santorum, and his recent discussions of religion in American public life.  Particularly the place of religion in public life, and in government.

But Stanley Fish has a nice article today in the New York Times explaining that Santorum isn't a nutjob on the fringes of American law or an understanding of "the American way of life under the Constitution." [he may be a nutjob for other reasons, mind you. . .]  My view of life and how things should be is just one view in the tug of war that usually -- and RIGHTLY -- provides our answers to the tough questions of our fundamental beliefs and rights.  If this shit were easy, we'd never be talking about it.

As Stanley explains, in places the law has long acknowledged that a basic religious belief is built into our institutions.  While I disagree that an absolute secular approach to government is in itself an establishment of a secular "religion" (which some judges and scholars have argued), even that argument doesn't sound bogus and bullshit to me -- just wrong.


I think that everyone should be free to voice their religious beliefs, loudly, but should do so without the support of the government.  And that distancing those beliefs from the government -- as outside or above the government -- is the way to go.
Anyway, I wrote this to recommend that you read Fish's article, since the issue is a recurrent one.

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I don't have good analogies to explain why I don't think a secular approach is nevertheless neutral on religion -- I think it's self-explanatory.  The absence of something in government is not an ENDORSEMENT of that absence.  It's just adopted as the easiest way to ensure adherance to the Establishment Clause and the Exercise Clause.  My closest analogy would require imagining a scientist who believes in God, and believes that Jesus is His Son.  That scientist enters the laboratory with his faith impelling him to be rigorous and attentive and committed to doing a good job.  That faith impels him to want to apply the results of his scientific work in accordance with the teachings of his church.  But while in the lab, he rigidly adheres to the scietific method,with no thought of faith but with meticulous control to achieve the best result.  I think that government can say "believe what you will about what we're to achieve, and how we're to achieve it.  But we, the government, intend to explain it and enact it in a way that is recognizable to all without trying to work it in to some folks' beliefs, or explain why it doesn't match the beliefs of others."

And I think that is a good thing, for all, and is consistent what was intended by the Framers. Built on Virginia's Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, the Constitution was a contract by everybody to leave religion outside the doors of the government -- it is just too important and too big a hot button to allow it to be openly involved.

But Fish explains that others don't see it that way, and it's always good for me to look at the views of others as I consider my own.

1 comment:

Mister Parker said...

I'm just saying this, that fifty years ago John Kennedy had to bend over backwards to prove his policies weren't controlled by the Catholic church, and now politicians have to bend over backwards to prove that they are.

Me, I don't see this as progress, but others disagree ...