Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Rant on Religious Freedom, and then Shooting Things

The legislature of my dear home state of Missouri is preparing to consider a bill that specifies "that voluntary prayer in public schools and religious displays on public property are not a coalition of church and state, but rather the justified recognition of the positive role that Christianity has played in this great nation of ours, the United States of America" (full text here, link courtesy of maudnewton).

This makes me want to head out to Jefferson City and stage a sit-in on the Capitol floor. Partly because it's yet another example of Christians acting like self-pitying, self-centered, self-righteous martyrs rather than the giving, serving, thoughtful human beings we are called to be. Partly because this legislator's history is wrong: Most of "our forefathers" were Deists at best, not Christians as this bill implies (Thomas Jefferson, for instance, created his own "Life and Sayings of Jesus of Nazareth" that omitted any references to Jesus's divinity or miracles). Partly because Missouri seems determined to make itself look just as dumb as our neighbor to the west, a fate we had thus far avoided.

But mostly because the American idea in its purest form is like the scientific method: a doctrine that stands outside all doctrine; the preservation of a shared ideal above any possible influence. In science this ideal is observed truth; in the United States it is freedom, both of and from anything you can name, with respect always for the freedoms and rights of others. This bill, with its smug references to "we the majority," poisons true religious freedom twice over: first by implying Christianity has always been the nation's real religion anyway, then by allowing specifically Christian religious displays to honor that "positive role." It is a direct violation of "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," and completely redundant with the second half of that clause: "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." It is unnecessary, it is offensive, and frankly it is stupid.

The founding fathers perhaps never imagined a United States in which Hinduism and Islam and Judaism and Druidism and Bahai'ism and Scientology and atheism and goodness knows what else would flourish alongside the multiple branches and shades of Christianity, but they built a system that protects the rights of all Americans who practice those religions, or no religion at all. This bill purports to be acting in their name, but it dishonors them, and dishonors America as well.


After that, this made me feel better: Dick Cheney's Quail Hunting School (sound, but otherwise SFW; thanks, Uncle John, for the link).


  1. "Partly because Missouri seems determined to make itself look just as dumb as our neighbor to the west, a fate we had thus far avoided."

    Hey! Ah, well. My husband has a friend in Texas who leaves long laughing messages on our answering machine whenever the KS school board is in the national press.

  2. As someone with a deep respect for religion, though not religious myself, it pains me to hear of the situation you described. My wife is a strong Christian, and part of her faith requires her to spread “the good word” as she knows it. Unfortunately, politicians keep making her job more difficult. I’ve seen so many people leave the church because they felt uncomfortable worshiping with people similar to those you mentioned. And isn’t it funny that these issues (gay marriage, abortion, etc…) only surface near an election? Yet once the “religious” politicians win, the subject is dropped for another couple years. If truly faithful people would only realize how they’re being manipulated, things might change. Until then, it’s good to hear from people like you. Now, if you’d only publish my children’s books, then I’d be truly happy!!!

    - Jay

  3. Among all the other things wrong with this, I love how "religious freedom" is automatically and exclusively associated with Christianity. As if there weren't anyone of any other religious background who might want to pray on school property or put a religious display there, should such a law go into effect.

  4. To respond to the last post --
    it doesn't matter the what the religious faith is -- Christianity or otherwise -- no one should use a public space that is funded by the government for *any* form of religious expression or display. Religious freedom is not only freedom to worship as you choose, but also freedom *from* those who wish to co-opt the power and authority of government to promote their own religious agenda.

  5. Oh, man, say it ain't so. Well, don't bother, I know how these folks are. But it makes the rest of us look like a bunch of loons.

    And I'm sitting right on the Mo/Kan line (river), so I get it from both sides. A couple of months ago I was driving my truck down the road, listening to that country station out of Topeka, and the DJ's start up about intelligent design. "They really ought to teach it in schools!" "Yeah, it's good stuff!" I just about drove off the road.

    I still listen to them because they'll play "Convoy." But I switch over to a different station when these guys come on the air.

    Oh, where is Harry Truman when you need him.