Sunday, September 6, 2015

On "religious liberty": The theory and practice of religion in a Democratic society

Sounds like a great title for a book (that I am sure someone has written by now). I'll be content remarking on three authors on the subject. The first is Arizona's own Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Sandra Day O'Connor.

"Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?"
― Sandra Day O'Connor (quoted in

Those who would merge church and state should contemplate life under the Talilban or ISIS for example. Shooting a school girl for wanting a better education. Sentencing women to be raped and paraded naked in public. Destroying historical artifacts. Massacring the editorial staff of a newspaper. All these and more result from theocracies. None are condoned by any democratic society. O'Connor has it exactly right. Why would we trade our Democracy for dictatorial rule by religious zealots?

My second author, another Arizonan, former US Senator and staunch conservative Barry Goldwater agrees.

Barry Goldwater, former US Senator (R-AZ), said on Sep. 15, 1981 in a US Senate speech, available in the 2013 book A Documentary History of the United States by Richard D. Heffner:

"By maintaining the separation of church and state the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars ... Can any of us refute the wisdom of Madison and the other framers? Can anyone look at the carnage in Iran, the bloodshed in Northem Ireland, or the bombs bursting in Lebanon and yet question the dangers of injecting religious issues into the affairs of state? The religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives... We have succeeded for 205 years in keeping the affairs of state separate from the uncompromising idealism of religious groups and we mustn't stop now. To retreat from that separation would violate the principles of conservatism and the values upon which the framers built this democratic republic."

The third author is Leonard Pitts Jr. who tends to get things right about 99% of the time, writing in the Miami Herald.

[KY county clerk Kim] Davis is wrong for the same reasons Muslim cabbies in Minneapolis-St. Paul were wrong some years ago when they claimed a right not to carry passengers who had alcohol on them and Christian pharmacists were wrong when they claimed a right not to fill birth control prescriptions. You have a right to your religious conscience. You do not have a right to impose your conscience upon other people.

And if conscience impinges that heavily upon your business or your job, the solution is simple: Sell the business or quit the job. Otherwise, serve your customers and keep your conscience out of their affairs.

But Davis opted to defend infiltrating her public job with her private religion thus breaking the law and landing her in jail. Now, in defense of her actions, Republican candidates are claiming God's law to supersede the laws of our nation. One such candidate, Mike Hucksterbee, was on a talk show (GMA) this morning. Pitts describes the danger.

Taken to its logical conclusion, it is not just gay men and lesbians who are threatened by the "religious liberty" movement, but all of us. Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that most of us probably run afoul of somebody’s reading of their religion in some way or another? Who would welcome a future where you couldn’t just enter a place and expect service but, rather, must read the signs to determine if it caters to people of your sexual orientation, marital status, religion or race?

We tried something like that once. It didn’t work.

Sadly, if people like Kim Davis have their way, we may be required to try it again. They call it "religious liberty."

It looks like intolerance from here.

So, for those who would opt for a theocracy, know this. Theocracy is not compatible with Democracy. Just as Kim Davis should not seek and accept a job that requires actions at odds with her religion, proponents of theocracy should not live in a democracy.

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