Nel's New Day

July 21, 2019

Religion Eliminates Human Rights

Thanks to the Republicans’ need for “religious freedom,” your house could burn down if firefighters disagree with your “moral” or “religious” beliefs. Or paramedics could decide not to save your life. Texas legislation protects “religious liberty and moral convictions” of individuals and businesses by allowing them to follow their religious or moral conviction. SB1978 came after a vote by the San Antonio City Council to block Chick-fil-a’s restaurant at the city-owned airport because of the company’s discrimination against LGBTQ people. The Federal Aviation Administration is now investigating the company’s exclusion at U.S. airports.

The protection of Chick-fil-a comes from the Congressional Prayer Caucus’s Project Blitz guidelines of 20 policy templates from establishing “In-God-We-Trust” options for license plates to eliminating adoption opportunities for LGBTQ people and criminalizing abortion. Fundamentalist Christianity is now blocking women from reproductive rights in red states throughout the nation. States are criminalizing abortions, arrested practitioners for murder, in Alabama even the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest.

An Alabama woman whose fetus was killed in a shooting was indicted for manslaughter because the fetus didn’t survive. She didn’t fire the shot, but officials declared that she started the fight when another woman shot her. The shooter was not indicted, but the victim faced 20 years in prison until the case was dropped. Many people in Alabama still want the woman in prison because of their Christian “personhood” beliefs. 

Led by two prominent Southern Baptist congressional representatives, the Prayer Caucus playbook includes lies about LGBTQ disease, mental health, “moral instabilities,” and pedophilia as well as falsely equating support of transgender children expression with child abuse. According to their beliefs, only married heterosexual couples should be able to adopt children—sometimes only conservative Christians and not even Catholics. These people are getting their way through executive orders and laws.

Sixty “religious liberty” laws in 31 states were passed in 2017 and 2018, and the DHS Office of Civil Rights created the Conscience and Religious Freedom Unit, institutionalizing conscience and moral convictions above human rights. Homophobic and transphobic lawyer, Roger Severino, directs the office after having worked at the billion-dollar fundamentalist think tank, the Heritage Foundation and the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society in the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity. This new form of social control allows exclusion, restrictions, isolation and punishment of people who don’t follow the narrow evangelical Christian beliefs.

Part of authoritarianism requires scapegoats, and the current administration provides these with claims of threats by LGBTQ people, Latinx, blacks, and Muslims. All of these groups are classified as “sexual deviants,” “criminals,” and “terrorists” who should be eliminated, as shown by the cries of “send her back” and “America—Love it or leave it.”

The “religious freedom” laws largely evolved from the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Its purpose was to protect Indigenous religious practices, but new laws are weighted toward permission of fundamentalist Christianity to reject and discriminate against “others.” Most of the publicity has come from refusals of florists, bakers, photographers, and other “artists” to discriminate against same-gender couples who have been protected in the past by state laws. Women also face discrimination since the 1994 Hobby Lobby decision when the Supreme Court recognized for-profit businesses as having “religious beliefs” that permit them to circumvent labor laws and deny health coverage. A publicly funded adoption and foster agency in South Carolina refused a lesbian couple from fostering a child in state custody.

These 60 laws are not designed to freely practice a religion: they impose a set of fundamentalist Christian morals on the entire population of taxpayers. Behind the laws are Islamophobes in southern states who block the building of mosques to preserve a narrow view of Christian values in publicly funded institutions. Like the Stand Your Ground laws that protect only whites murdering unarmed children instead of abused women trying to protect themselves.

The “moral” view goes far beyond these laws. In New York City, Eric Garner, a black man, was killed because he was selling single cigarettes in violation of a law. While he was held down by police officers, he called out 11 times that he couldn’t breathe; he died of asphyxia. The police officers were exonerated. The DOJ refuses to bring criminal civil rights charges against the police officer who killed Garner in a chokehold. The officer has stayed on the force for the past five years since Garner’s death.

On the federal level, a civil rights office in the Department of Education has ruled against protecting transgender students. HUD now allows discrimination against LGBTQ people in homeless shelters and emergency shelters during disasters. Conservative states have long used the term “rights” to block unions and collective bargaining—as in “right to work”—and forcing taxpayers to pay for religious schools in “right to choose” charter schools.

Health care is a serious concern after HHS released the rule “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care” that allows all health care providers to refuse care for patients even if the entities receive federal funding. HHS ignored the majority of the 242,000 public comments expressing concern about wilful permission to eliminate health care. Although some people may think that moral and religious excuses might be limited to reproductive rights, health care providers can refuse care for LGBTQ people, single women, people of color—in short, anyone. The excuse is to equate religious restrictions with civil rights, despite First Amendment rights, and enforced by the commission that consolidates authority over 25 federal laws allowing religious refusals.

An early attempt to clarify religious liberty came from James Madison’s treatise “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” leading to the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and guiding both the United States Constitution and the First Amendment. Madison’s position about religion, coming from the religious persecution of Baptists when he was young, is to not favor one faith above another and leave the checks and balances to religious groups. Like early capitalism, religion should have open competition with rules to keep the largest ones from undermining new groups. The concept led to states’ eliminating their religious regulations, but persecution of unpopular religious minorities, such as Catholics and Mormons, continued. The Ku Klux Klan, including the father of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), whipped anti-Catholic belief into a frenzy in the 1920s, complete with pervasive conspiracy theories. The prejudice against Catholic beliefs was like that of attacks on Muslim sharia code of behavior. Presidential candidate Al Smith was smeared as being beholden to the Pope despite his assertion about separation of church and state.

In the 1930s, mobs switched their violence toward Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to salute the flag or be drafted. Their lawsuits, 37 of them reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, changed history when the high court ruled that the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause applied to state and local government, not just to Congress. World War II cemented the value of religious freedom in opposition to fascism and communism. Despite Dwight Eisenhower’s focus on God being placed onto money and into the pledge of allegiance, religious freedom remained as the Supreme Court restricted government’s role in favoring one religion over another. The 1965 immigration act allowing more non-European people into the U.S. brought more non-Christians. At this time, the Anglicans and Congregationalists who settled America comprise only 1.7 percent of the United States.

Although George W. Bush tried to prevent Islamophobia, evangelical Christians’ bigotry grew with Billy Graham’s Son Franklin and popular televangelist Pat Robertson. DDT helped bigots attack President Obama as a secret Muslim born in a foreign country. Conservative outlets such as Fox promoted hatred for Muslims with DDT’s mentor Brian Kilmeade of Fox and Friends saying, “All terrorists are Muslims.” With DDT at the nation’s helm, people have changed their position that attacks on minority religions are un-American. He insisted that Muslims don’t assimilate and that they are dangerously disloyal. He refused to focus on terrorists and attacked all Muslims, reinforcing the multiplication of violent attacks on American Muslims.

Gone is Madison’s belief that government should not favor one religion over another as DDT loaded his government with extremist anti-Muslim activists and gone is the model of religious freedom. DDT has demonized all religions except fundamentalist Christianity while destroying people under the guise of religious freedom. He started with the Muslim ban, that the conservatives on the Supreme Court upheld and claimed that he wanted Muslims to be forced to register so that they could be tracked down, and continued to take human rights from everyone in the name of “religious freedom.” Evangelicals rule.

January 29, 2012

Today’s Conservatives Would Reject Reagan, Founding Fathers

As the conservatives move farther and farther to the right, more and more venerated people of our history would have no chance of getting elected. Pundits like to talk about how Ronald Reagan wouldn’t be good enough for today’s conservative—although his name is tossed around to prove some points that candidates make. Even the early leaders of the United States would be considered far too liberal to make the cut, especially in their religious beliefs.

Unlike all the candidates who claimed to be chosen by the Christian God to represent the people—Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum come to mind—George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Thomas Paine thought of their faith as a private matter and lacked a “pure” enough faith to satisfy current conservatives.

George Washington, an Anglican, followed the philosophy of Deism, believing in a god that set things in motion and then stayed out of the effects. As such, this god was a “supreme architect” of the universe. Widely tolerant of other religions, Washington wrote a letter to Touro Synagogue (1790) promising the Jews that they would enjoy complete religious liberty in America and described a multi-faith society with freedom for all beliefs. “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.” Such stories about his praying in theValley Forge snow are myths created after he died.

John Adams, a Unitarian raised as a Congregationalist, refused to believe in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus. His writings show that he found parts of Christian dogma to be incomprehensible. In his diary he wrote, “Thus mystery [Trinity] is made a convenient cover for absurdity.” When President Adams signed the famous Treaty of Tripoli, it stated, “[T]he government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion….”

Thomas Jefferson once said, “I am a sect by myself, as far as I know.” He did not believe in the Trinity, the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, the resurrection, original sin, and other core Christian doctrines, once saying to Adams, “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” Admiring Jesus as a moral teacher, he edited the New Testament, eliminating the stories of miracles and divinity and leaving behind a very human Jesus, whose teachings Jefferson found “sublime.” Jefferson refused to issue proclamations calling for days of prayer and fasting, saying that such religious duties were no part of the chief executive’s job.

James Madison, nominally Anglican, was probably a Deist like Washington. The strictest church-state separationist among the founders, he opposed government-paid chaplains in Congress and in the military. He also opposed government-issued prayer proclamations, declaring them unconstitutional.

Thomas Paine, also a radical Deist, infuriated fundamentalists with “The Age of Reason” in which he  opposed institutionalized religion and all of the major tenets of Christianity, rejecting prophecies and miracles while calling on readers to embrace reason. The Bible, Paine asserted, can in no way be infallible. He called the god of the Old Testament “wicked” and the entire Bible “the pretended word of God.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously declared that religious groups should be able to choose their leaders without governmental interference. In doing so, it rejected arguments by the Obama administration that government regulations trump the free exercise of religion when denying people civil rights.

Surprisingly, no justice mentioned the obvious tension between this decision and the 2010 case Christian Legal Society v.Martinez. In the latter, justices held 5-4 that a public university could refuse to recognize a Christian organization because the group wished to practice discrimination in its members.

Which of the Republican religious leaders will win this year in their desire to impose their “Christian” beliefs on the nation? In my crystal ball, I think that Santorum won’t last  more than a month, and the Republican establishment will help Romney rise over Gingrich–despite Herman Cain’s and Sarah Palin’s endorsements of the latter.

Stay tuned this week for the Florida and Nevada primaries (1/31 and 2/4 respectively unless Nevada decides to make another change). I’ll be away from the computer for that time but be back in a week.

 

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