Guest Post: Religious Belief & Legal Protection

Thanks to Patricia O’Sullivan for sharing this timely post with us today!
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What makes religious beliefs worthier of legal protection than secular beliefs?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
On Tuesday, November 27, 2013, the Supreme Court heard arguments on behalf of forty for-profit companies whose owners object to including birth control in their health care coverage benefit for employees. Their argument is that the ACA birth control mandate violates their freedom of religion.
“This legal challenge has always remained about one thing and one thing only: the right of our family businesses to live out our sincere and deeply held religious convictions as guaranteed by the law and the Constitution,” said David Green, founder and CEO of the Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby crafts chain, which won its lower court challenge. “Business owners should not have to choose between violating their faith and violating the law.”
(citation for italicized passage) http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/nov/26/supreme-court-decide-obamacare-birth-control-manda/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS#ixzz2lr9pwSJp

Rather than argue the specifics of these cases, I’d like to pose some questions:
Why are ‘sincere and deeply held religious convictions’ guaranteed by the law and the Constitution as David Green argues? What is it about his religious convictions that require legal protection over the sincere and deeply-held secular convictions of advocates of women’s health? I argued in a previous post (http://www.patricia-osullivan.com/2013/11/religious-freedom-and-birth-control.html) that giving protected status to religious values sets them above the deeply-held values of non-believers.

Thirty percent of Americans under the age of 30 are not religiously affiliated. This does not mean, however, that they have no strong moral convictions. When these young people begin to own corporations, how will their moral views be protected against those of their employees? Will an atheist vegan employer be accorded the same legal status for her views as a Catholic CEO or a Mormon business owner? Awarding religious beliefs legal protected status creates a situation in which institutional religions have legal leverage over the religiously unaffiliated.
What makes religious beliefs worthier of legal protection than secular beliefs?
Why does a Catholic employer have the right to meddle in his employees’ health care coverage when a vegan employer does not have that same right? Why is it illegal for a white supremacist to taunt his non-white classmates while it is legal for a Christian to threaten her homosexual classmates with an eternity in hell?

I’m looking forward to your comments.
Patricia

Patricia O’Sullivan teaches religion and ethics at the University of Mississippi and writes historical and contemporary novels featuring religious and ethical conflict. For more posts like this, visit http://www.patricia-osullivan.com/p/on-religion.html. For information about Patricia’s novels, visit http://www.patricia-osullivan.com/p/patricia-osullivan-author.html

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73 responses to “Guest Post: Religious Belief & Legal Protection

  1. This is my interpretation of these matters: Essentially, protection for religious expression was one of the first recognized civil liberties incorporated into US federal law (from the very start of the US) and as such, it has been unfairly privileged above all other civil liberties. It was a response to centuries of religious strife in Europe and given the oppression and bloodshed of those times, was accorded a high degree of importance in the framing of the constitution. Because of this history, religious expression has been given a place of privilege over many other forms of expression and the civil liberties entailed by those forms of expression. Thus, for example, one individual’s religious expression is quite often seen to take priority over an LGBT+ person’s romantic/sexual/gender expression in both culture and law.

    The other answer, a much shorter one, is that religious people and religious institutions hold an immense amount of economic, social, and political power and consequently, they are able to bend the law to their will.

    Is there an ethical justification for all of this? As I see it, no. Your right to religious expression ends where it impinges upon the civil liberties and well being of others. As a trans woman, I should have no more right to fire or refuse to hire a person because of their religion, as that religious person has to fire or refuse to hire me because of my trans status.

    And given that religion has a lot of wealth at its command, it has control of huge numbers of public accommodations and businesses. Privileging religious expression above all other protected forms of expression is a recipe for disaster. It essentially provides a trump card for any bigot who wishes to make the target of their prejudices miserable. Want to treat your hated target as human refuse? All you need to do is claim that your religion tells you to do this. How does one protect widely hated segments of the populace from discrimination and institutional violence if there is a readily available exemption from being held accountable for such prejudicial treatment?

    • timberwraith: you make an excellent point about how the history and money behind the legal protection of religious beliefs over non-religious beliefs. And I think your illustration is spot on. Why do we allow some people to hide their bigotry behind the cloak of religion? If an atheist tried to fire a religious person, that would be a clear violation of the religious person’s rights. But if a religious person tried to fire an atheist, he could make a case in the U.S. for doing so on the grounds that the atheist did not support the mission of the institution or corporation.

  2. I keep thinking that this case is entirely bogus.

    There is nothing in the law that requires the Hobby Lobby owners to use contraception. There is nothing in the law that requires any employee to use contraception. The owners are not being asked to subsidize the use of contraception. Insurance companies know that birth control costs less than maternity care, so if there is a subsidy, then it is the birth control users who are subsidizing coverage of live births. Hobby Lobby could be making the same argument to claim that they should not be required to pay salaries, because their employees could use their salaries to purchase birth control.

    I keep wondering whether this case is really about a deeply held racist conviction, that a black man should not be president.

    • Neil, I wish it were bogus, but given how the SCOTUS has become a tool of political parties rather than serving justice, Hobby Lobby has a strong chance of winning. There is a deep hypocrisy among those who slut shame women who are sexually active and wish to prevent pregnancy while at the same time bemoaning the number of out-of-wedlock births in the U.S.

  3. “I keep wondering whether this case is really about a deeply held racist conviction, that a black man should not be president.”

    I have wondered this all along, not just in this particular case, but in the manner in which people behave towards this president. Remember when the Dixie Chicks shunned President Bush? They were practically run out of the music industry. But now it seems that nothing is off limits. I have seen people on FB (people on my friends list) who wish horrible things on this president and his family. This attitude is frightening and why is it okay now?

    I hope that Hobby Lobby gets shot down for what they are fighting. I don’t see how this infringes on their beliefs. How many of their employees use birth control? I am guessing there are a LOT of them and they could benefit from having coverage for it. As the original entry mentions, Hobby Lobby is a for profit company, they are not a church, so why should they be treated any different than the rest of corporate America? I can imagine the higher ups in that company are pretty well off but many of their employees probably would welcome having their birth control covered. To some, $20 a month (or whatever birth control costs now) is a lot of money.

    • Gina, you raise the question as to whether or not some forms of morality are gender-biased (so many men against birth control when they don’t bear the risk of pregnancy) and class-biased (how easy it is for a wealthy person to argue that women should buy their own contraception or welcome an unintended pregnancy as a ‘blessing’).

  4. Such religious tolerance ( and it generally only goes one way) is usually only afforded in a secular society. If a god’s law is considered higher than secular law go and live in a theocracy.

    • I love this point, Arkenaten! Secular society protects religious freedom. And I would not argue that corporations with religious owners should leave the country (are there any Christian theocracies still left?). However, my understanding of the Free Exercise clause and the Free Expression clause is that you can believe what you want and worship how you want. You may not impose those beliefs or rituals on others. The law has even stepped in to prevent fundamentalist Mormons from practicing polygamy, to prevent practitioners of Voodoo from slaying chickens during services, and preventing people who believe in faith healing from allowing their children to die for lack of medical care.

  5. I’m originally from Oklahoma City, and am deeply embarrassed and saddened by Hobby Lobby and generally everything the religious conservatives are doing in Oklahoma to infringe on women’s rights. Religion is indeed being accorded rights over and above other rights in this country, starting with the tax breaks that churches get. And look what’s happened in Washington as a result of the religion-driven ultra-conservatives. I don’t know when or where it’s going to stop, but I worry that it is undermining our entire system of government.

    • What is interesting about ultra-conservatives is that they rose to power following the civil rights era of the 60s-70s. For them, the moral declension of the nation is tied to equal rights for women, people of color, homosexuals, and immigrants. Their fear is not based in Christian doctrine even though they often dress it up to appear so.

  6. Just sharing information which seems to address some of the points raised above, this is from an article in the Wall Street Journal today:

    “The Justices agreed to hear two cases challenging the ObamaCare rule that almost all U.S. organizations must cover contraception, including abortifacients and sterilization procedures, and thus trampling long-standing conscience protections. Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius are among the 84 lawsuits that have led to splits in the lower courts… The penalty for not offering birth control is $100 per worker per day… For the Hobby Lobby and its 13,000 employees, that’s nearly $475 million a year. The Green family that owns the arts-and-crafts store chain tries to run the business in compliance with biblical principles. The Hobby Lobby health plan includes 16 of the 20 mandated items (such as the pill) but not drugs that end pregnancies (RU-486).”

    So, the topic at hand is simply whether corporations are due the same constitutional protections as individuals. Should faith-based corporations be forced to provide abortion coverage (as an add-on to their existing health coverage), in violation of the owner’s “free exercise” convictions? Per the WSJ:

    In the current cases these distinctions between corporate forms are meaningless. The Constitution’s free-exercise clause does not evaporate when someone forms a faith-based for-profit corporation. Can the government compel a Jewish deli not to be kosher? The radical implication of the White House argument is that the Constitution doesn’t apply to commercial activity.

    • Steven, thanks for offering more information about the case. However, here is a direct quote from David Green, CEO of Hobby Lobby:

      A new government health care mandate says that our family business must provide what I believe are abortion-causing drugs as part of our health insurance. Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions. Which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill. We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs.
      http://www.snopes.com/politics/medical/hobbylobby.asp#m8pfeUldwCZbSxTT.99

      The anti-abortion argument against emergency birth control (Plan B) is false. Plan B works like a super dose of the daily pill. It has been proven to NOT terminate a pregnancy in progress. It does NOT expel or create a hostile environment for an already fertilized egg. Catholic hospitals routinely offered emergency contraception to rape victims back in the 80s. My mother was a nurse at one. They understood that it takes days for an egg to fertilize after sperm are released into the vagina. That gives women a window in which to stop a potential pregnancy, but not one that is already in progress.

      The science did not change. Religious conservatives have falsely linked emergency contraception to abortion because many of them feel that ‘loose’ women should be punished with pregnancy to teach them a lesson. The pregnancy-as-punishment narrative is, in my mind, about as far from pro-life as it gets.

      • Hi Patti,

        You quoted David Green’s stated concern. I’ll repeat it here, for convenience:

        “A new government health care mandate says that our family business must provide what I believe are abortion-causing drugs as part of our health insurance. Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions. Which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill. We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs.”

        It’s utterly clear what his concern is. There is no reasonable basis for speculating beyond what he’s articulated. He is simply concerned that RU-486 (and three other items, perhaps IUD?) might end a life after the moment of conception. If he’s inaccurate about the basis for that concern, that’s a different issue. Concerning your final point, I have no idea how you got the “pregnancy-as-punishment” notion. Christians are simply concerned about terminating innocent life in the womb. That is the sole concern.

        • Steven, I don’t agree that David Green’s science denial is a different issue. It is at the heart of this issue we are discussing: legal protection of religion beliefs. It is not a matter of “if” David Green is inaccurate in believing emergency contraception causes abortion. He IS inaccurate. It is difficult enough for me to accept that his religious beliefs should take precedence over those who care deeply about women’s autonomy and health. But now you are suggesting that his beliefs should take precedence even if they are inaccurate. It is completely illogical to give legal protection to belief that has been scientifically disproven, especially when this false belief so profoundly affects half of the population. If David Green wants to believe, despite the evidence, that emergency contraception causes abortions, he has that right. I do not agree that he has the right to promote scientific falsehoods or use them to deny his employees contraception coverage.

          As for the pregnancy-as-punishment comment, you’re questioning me about it and then replying to it as if you are some kind of expert on how Christians think and speak. Perhaps you and Christians you know are “simply concerned about terminating innocent life in the womb” but many Christians are not. I don’t presume to be an expert on what Christians believe and think as there are over 2 billion of them in the world. However, in my experience, I hear this kind of talk frequently from Christians.

          • Patti, it’s my understanding that your post is about Constitutional protection issues, concerning those with religious beliefs vs those with secular beliefs. The general context is this First Amendment clause:

            Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

            Specifically, you referred to the Supreme Court case this week, regarding corporation owners who object to including abortifacient birth control in their health care coverage benefit for employees. You stated: “Their argument is that the ACA birth control mandate violates their freedom of religion.” So, that is the issue which is before the Supreme Court, does the Constitutional “free exercise thereof” protection apply to corporations as it does for individuals. I doubt they will be discussing medical details regarding RU-486, IUD, etc. That said, I guess we’ll all find out what the Supreme Court justices decide next year!

            Regarding your “pregnancy-as-punishment” notion, I’ve never heard anyone ever say that. 36 years ago I turned from atheism to being utterly convinced that Jesus is the truth. In all of this time and with an immense amount of exposure to Christians and study of the New Testament, that notion is completely foreign to my experience. It’s unfortunate if you’ve encountered that in your experience. Jesus didn’t teach that — he modeled understanding and grace and patience and forgiveness.

            Take care,
            Steven

            • Steven, I know you’re pressed for time (see below), so I won’t go into any multi-point “expositions.” Just type “pregancy as punishment” into google and you’ll find plenty of talk about the concept. Probably not in the WSJ, but them’s the breaks.

    • Steven, I’d like you to unpack your arguments a little and define some terms and how you’re applying them, please.

      1. “Faith-based-for-profit corporation.” Exactly what is this? Does this mean a church as well as a place like Hobby Lobby? Does the business have to sell religiously themed items? I must admit that I don’t shop at HL, but a quick perusal of their web page shows that they sell some crosses and such items, but they also sell lots of non-religious items. What about a place like Chik-Fil-A (where I no longer eat)? They famously do not open on Sundays because it’s considered the “Lord’s Day,” but their trade–chicken sandwiches (which are absolutely dreadful for one’s health)–has nothing to do with religion. Are they faith-based, too?

      1b. Or is a corporation only a faith-based and for-profit when the corporation’s owners are religious? What if a faith-based corporation were to be sold to a non-religious person? Would it cease to be faith-based? If so, upon what does a corporation’s personhood (thanks, Citizens United) really stand? And who “owns” a corporation? The founding family? The stockholders? The entity with 51% of of stock shares? Or is the case being argued here really a matter for the CEO or Board?

      2. “Provide abortion coverage.” What do you mean by “provide”? As far as I understand how insurance works, the insurance company provides coverage, not the purchasing agent. Isn’t this a guilt by association argument? (Though I don’t think of abortion as something about which one must feel guilty, unless one is using it as a primary means of birth control, which can be ultimately dangerous to a woman’s health and a waste of time, money, and resources.) If I purchase an item from a company that engages in shady labor practices–overseas exploitation of child labor, for example, in sweat shops–does that mean that I am guilty of child exploitation? Or do we blithely fall back on tired arguments like, “Well, it’s legal, if not altogether ethical or moral.” Well then, birth control and abortion are legal, too. Or maybe one is not guilty, but a contributing factor, in which case one can try to change the law or one’s personal choices. But can a business forbid its employees from shopping at businesses the exploit child labor? I mean, they are using money earned on the job, right?

      3. Kosher and Jewish. Yes, I really mean that these terms require comment. Kosher means that the food was prepared according to a list of rules that were believed (or once believed) to have been revealed by God. Other more historically based research believes they were written down as a way of promoting habits of eating that avoided dangerous conditions–ritual cleansing, for example, in order to purify kitchens where food is prepared–and ethics–thus the promotion of quick, “humane” ways to kill animals for consumption. Now, belief has much less to do with these practices than one might think: if one follows the rules, no matter what one believes, the result is kosher. Many Jews call themselves atheists: they do not believe in a god, but they follow many of their ancestors’ rituals or practices because it is part of their cultural heritage. So to your question: can the government force a Jewish deli to no longer keep kosher? That’s like considering forcing O’Mahony’s pub to no longer be Irish.

      4. Radical. This term gets applied far too often and has therefore come to mean, “anything I disagree with.” What is so radical in the government’s policy? If the entire first world has universal health coverage for its citizens and the vast majority of those include birth control and abortion, what is so radical? Or perhaps the term we should be using is “reactionary”: the USA, once a world leader in free thought (or so it was believed, at least) has become a reactionary nation hampered by superstition, pseudo-science, and jingoism all under the guise of a tortured interpretation of the first amendment.

      Thomas Jefferson believed the Constitution should be rewritten every nineteen years because “the dead should not rule the living,” as he famously wrote to James Madison. The US Constitution is the oldest, un-updated governing document in a world democracy.

      It’s the 21st century. Time to forget about software patches (amendments) and bring out Constitution 2.0. At that point, we could address some of the very important issues that Patti raises in this post.

      • @deosullivan3, I did not make any arguments nor offer my own viewpoint. I simply quoted the WSJ article, which seems to address some of Patti’s points. Feel free to send your four-point exposition to the author here: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304465604579222144210397238

        • Yours is an intellectually dishonest strategy. “Oh, I’m not saying this. All I’m saying is someone out there says it.”

          Besides, you have quotes around part of your entry, and not around the other parts.

          Either get into the game, or sit on the bench. Standing on the sideline gets you penalized, as every football fan knows.

          • @deosullivan3, I feel that any sincere contribution of content/ideas/links here is good and should be appreciated. That’s what I attempted to do, to share an outside reference which seemed to be relevant and helpful. So, when you replied with a lengthy exposition and requested, “Steven, I’d like you to unpack your arguments a little and define some terms and how you’re applying them.”, I honestly replied to you. I am not able to speak on behalf of the WSJ author. His perspective is not “my arguments” and I don’t necessarily agree with the writer. You are correct that I neglected to include quotes around the last passage which I quoted form the article, though I did precede it by saying “Per the WSJ: …” Regarding your “Either get into the game, or sit on the bench.”, I appreciate your interest in hearing my perspective. Some folks have the time to contribute here often and at length, some only have time for occasional posts. I’m in the latter group. However, I’d be much more inclined to reply if you had expressed the courtesy of saying, “Thanks for the WSJ post. So, what is your perspective on this issue?” That would have been a nice approach. Your “intellectually dishonest” jab was unwarranted, insensitive and unconstructive. Please try the other approach next time. :-)

            • In other words, you don’t have time to give your perspective, but you do have time to explain why you didn’t have time or why you felt disinclined to do so.

              Makes perfect sense. *facepalm*

              • 1) My posts and replies are always sincere and intellectually honest. 2) I provided you the courtesy of an honest reply, explaining my reason for contributing the WSJ article and my reasons for not answering your questions on behalf of others. 3) As stated above, those who contribute here should be appreciated for whatever time/effort is made to add to these discussions. 4) Insults and pointless criticism are not helpful.

                So…let’s get on a more constructive track. If you’d like to hear my perspective in the future, I’ll do my best to provide you my thoughts.

                • Steven, we are all here to exchange perspectives. I don’t understand why you seem to circumspect in sharing yours. Here’s what I observe. (Another multi-point post! LOL)

                  (1) You quote the WSJ with little to no comment. I teach my university students that if you quote something and fail to interpret it, someone will unfailingly interpret it differently and ascribe its intentions to you for having brought it up in the first place.

                  (2) After having read all of your replies to Patti, I’ve noticed a pattern where you focus on the marginal issues or you throw out a comment or issue but fail to follow up. Patti’s reply about science denial is spot on, and you kind of nibble around the edges rather than engage full on. In order to appear like you’re doing so, you take up time and space to requote and rehash previous quotes and arguments. We can read what’s been posted above. Just don’t you just get to the point?

                  (3) And then you take up a great deal of time and space bemoaning how people have misinterpreted your posts or intentions. Your comment about your willingness to respond directly *in the future*. Frankly, I think you’d best start with clearing up past posts. And since you like direct questions, here are some that you might consider answering:

                  a. Why did you find the WSJ article “helpful” (your term)?

                  b. The middle paragraph of that first post is also without quotes. It begins, “So the topic at hand….” Those words are not found in the WSJ article, and so I assume that they are yours. Please note that two of my criticisms–”faith-based corporations” and “provide abortion coverage”–are used in that paragraph, so I would invite you to respond to my criticism of the use of those terms.

                  c. Patti’s comment about science denial stands. If time permits, please respond to her very important point about promoting scientific falsehoods to deny his employees contraception coverage. If you have time for no other reply, please reply to this one.

                  d. Again, knowing that you’re pressed for time, I’ve taken the liberty of finding some sites that discuss “pregancy as punishment.”

                  http://www.policymic.com/articles/54279/why-the-anti-choice-movement-sees-pregnancy-as-women-s-punishment

                  http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/27555592?uid=3738016&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21103025371487

                  http://atheism.about.com/od/religiousright/ig/Christian-Propaganda-Posters/Pregnancy-Punishment-Sex.htm

                  Not sure if you can get the second article for free if you don’t have a JSTOR subscription. Most university libraries do subscribe, but it’s a more academic analysis of the question. There are many other sites out there. In any case, I’m not asking for specific comment here, although you might like to comment on the concept.

                  So there you go. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

  7. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Very wise words. I only wish the members of Congress remembered them while getting themselves busy inserting the words “under god” into the Pledge of Allegiance in clear violation of the United States Constitution.

  8. Despite my writing that I did not want to debate the Hobby Lobby case I did. But when Steven introduced abortion into the thread, I realized that the ‘strong religious conviction against abortion’ is just what I’m struggling against. Why should any person’s religious conviction against abortion be given greater legal status than another person’s conviction for the full autonomy of women? Why is my secular belief about women’s autonomy less worthy of legal protection than a religious person’s religious belief against abortion? Why speak of religious convictions as if they are self-evidently superior to non-religious ones. This is why the abortion argument so often wins in cases like this. What I’d like feedback on is this:

    Are religious convictions naturally superior to non-religious convictions and, if so, how? What is the nature of religious convictions that makes them superior to non-religious ones?

  9. What this all comes to isthe fact that religious tolerance and OTOH the expecte reverence is only one-way street. Xians are in no way form or fashion tolerant but very vocal in demanding respect for their beliefs. To me that smacks utter case of hypocrisy.

    The more I’ve lived and learned the less respect I have for faiths, religions and people of faith. The best of them still garner a lot but many utterly little and then these hobbylobbyist- type people nothing at all.

  10. @Patti OSullivan Thank you for a wonderfully thought-provoking post about an important matter.

    Part of what irritates me about this topic is that it has been cut loose of its historical moorings. In much the same way the Second Amendment has been distorted from its original meaning, so too has this portion of the First Amendment. Not that I am a strict literalist of the US Constitution, but sometimes we really need to look at the original intent.

    The religions parts of the First Amendment were drafter as they were in face of the then recent history. The king of England was the “defender of the faith” and England had an official religion. Many atrocities and wars were fought on English soil over religion, especially the catholic-protestant struggles. Between Henry VIII taking away all catholic properties and monies while Mary I (aka Bloody Mary) was executing anyone who spoke against (or wasn’t) catholic, the history of religion in England was one of suppression and tyranny. Furthermore, the Puritans ran away from England to escape religious persecution so they could set up their own form of religious persecution. The founders of this country were fully aware of this history and the troubles when the state also played a role in religion.

    James Madison (and Thomas Jefferson who heavily influenced the Bill of Rights) framed the First Amendment to try an excise this trouble from the United States. The drafters were no friends of organized religion, and Jefferson himself was expressly disturbed by and distasteful of christianity (as were many of the “founding fathers”). The drafters were concerned that the varying Christian factions would be at one another’s throats if some protection was not put into place. Hence, they wanted to ensure government would not be able to incite religious tyranny or war. Thus, we have “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion….” This is to say that no one religion will reign supreme over any other in the eyes of the government.

    The “free exercise” clause was included to make certain people could worship as they pleased with few exceptions (even back then human sacrifice was considered a no-no as a form of religious expression). The government was prohibited from telling people how they had to worship. This harkened back to the days of Mary I and her persecution of catholics. The Bill of Rights drafters did not want their government to be the arbiter of what was considered appropriate (ne: legal) religious practice and what was not. They knew it could tie up the courts for forever and day, so they took the best and most expedient route of simply denying the government any say in what constituted religious practice or worship.

    Things went along more or less fine until the publication of The Origin of Species when conservative religious extremists came to the conclusion that Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution was trying to destroy god. In the United States, this took on the form of what could and could not be taught in schools. The Scopes Monkey Trial was the result of that. Then John Kennedy got elected president in 1960 and people honestly believed the pope was going to call the shots in the White House. This is when protestants really began to take exception to the president on religious grounds. During the 20th century, religious groups got the twisted notion that the First Amendment was the perfect to use against any law, regulation, or rule they thought was trying to tell them how to worship. They began to twist the intent of the First Amendment to make it about personal protections, which was quite the opposite of the purpose. Remember, it was designed to stop government from creating or enforcing a religion. The history of the religions part of the First Amendment in the 20th century is all about recasting it. Over time, justices on the Supreme Court began to accept this interpretation.

    The Hobby Lobby case coming before the Supreme Court is a continuation of the distortion of the First Amendment. It is an effort to make the Constitution even more personal, and that is a mistake. The Constitution is not really about the relationship between the government and the people, but rather the limits and scope of the power of the national government. In the end, Hobby Lobby is trying to take an indirect route to get the government to become an arbiter of religious functions in the US. This case could set a nasty precedent that will linger long into the future.

    • Derrick, your great historical overview reminds me of businesses that argued they do not want to serve Blacks and that the Federal government should not be able to tell them how to run their businesses. Now we have the same argument playing out with business owners that don’t want to serve homosexuals or give equal benefit coverage to female employees. Most people I know are on board with not allowing business owners to be racist no matter what their personal convictions are. However, there seems to be dispute over whether or not business owners can discriminate against customers and employees for religious reasons. Why is the religious bigot deferred to while the non-religious bigot is not?.

      • The reason for the deference is that religion is one of the few, if not only, non-biological classes mentioned in the Constitution. As a result, it tends to confer a special status on it (religion). In some regards it is protected under the Constitution, but to say religion is completely free from government oversight is a stretch. The role of the First Amendment is to stop government from anointing one religion over another. As I said in my post, religions are pushing the boundaries by trying to accrue even more special status by making the First Amendment the fulcrum upon which they balance their belief government cannot intrude on any of their practices. They think their belief trumps civil law. They are wrong. Look at polygamy and child marriage laws. Under their interpretation, if a human sacrifice is consider essential to a religion, then why should government stop them by classifying that particular practice as murder?

        I have to reiterate one specific point: They think their belief trumps civil law!

  11. Over twenty years ago, the SCOTUS’s most conservative justice argued that religious convictions do not supersede the law. He stated that the First Amendment is not an exemption to the law.

    “We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate….The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities…Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary [of the law] because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself….” Justice Antonin Scalia, 1990

    http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/empdiv.html

    • Hrmmmm… I have no doubt that Scalia will flip flop here shamelessly. He may offer some kind of explanation like, “different cases…times are different…because freedom.”

      Only problem: the law is supposed to apply to all people equally, Scalia is an “originalist,” meaning that the constitution does not change over time [and here I disagree--but it's a matter of consistency, not legal philosophy here], and like Orwell wrote in Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

  12. Great discussion here.

    My apologies to Patti for the formatting. I was out-of-town and tried to post this on my iPhone.

    Every point I wanted to make was already addressed. (That’s what happens when you are late to the party.) Just a few quick comments.

    I find Scalia’s comment ironic in light of his recent ruling about Texas’ new abortion laws. In his last interview, he seems to be growing even more religious and righteous, and I just wonder how well he can separate his job from his personal views. http://nymag.com/news/features/antonin-scalia-2013-10/index3.html

    It just seems so damn simple, as Patti has been arguing and as Timberwraith wrote here: “Your right to religious expression ends where it impinges upon the civil liberties and well being of others.” You can make choices for yourself and your minor children according to your conscience and religious views, but you cannot make choices for others, protected or otherwise.

    I agree with Neil Rickert, too. This has nothing to do with the exercise of religious belief but with a bunch of conservatives trying to give “Obamacare” and his “socialized healthcare” the finger. I think it comes down to race, too, and the fact that many conservatives don’t like a black man having such power. If these companies were that concerned about their money being used to support the reproductive rights of women….sorry, I mean, the rights of fertilized eggs, then why aren’t these companies complaining about the tax dollars funneled to Planned Parenthood? Why are they, as someone already mentioned, buying products from companies that exploit children? More importantly, why are they just working to provide basic needs (including healthcare) for children who are already here?

    It’s just one big pile of hypocrisy.

    As for Steven’s comment about Jesus: “…he modeled understanding and grace and patience and forgiveness.” Then isn’t it rather odd that Jesus’ followers do nothing of the sort, that they level judgment and play god? Isn’t that a sin?

    And deosullivan–good point. The constitution, along with the bible, the qur’an and the tanekh, should be rewritten and updated every few years.

    • Deborah, I read the full interview you linked your last post to, and this bit caught my eye:

      Jennifer Senior: In Lawrence v. Texas, you said Americans were within their rights in “protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive.”

      Scalia: I would write that again. But that’s not saying that I personally think it’s destructive. Americans have a right to feel that way. They have a democratic right to do that, and if it is to change, it should change democratically, and not at the ukase of a Supreme Court.

      Scalia’s remarks in the Lawrence v. Texas case illustrate the point of my original post. Why is it that Americans are within their rights to protect themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive when the belief is justified (no matter how loosely) with religious doctrine, but they are not allowed to do the same when those beliefs are not justified by religious doctrine?

      I find science denial, misogyny, homophobia, and misoptochos (hatred of the poor) immoral and destructive and yet, my convictions don’t have legal protection under the law. Perhaps Scalia’s conflation of religious conviction with morality is the problem here. Despite a seemingly endless supply of evidence to the contrary, we as a nation still cling to the idea that religion, particularly Christianity, is the source of morality. I’m not saying that religion cannot be a source of morality, but it certainly is not the only source and it is not a particularly reliable source for that matter.

      I’m no fan of Justice Scalia, but I do agree with his argument back in 1990 that allowing individuals exemptions from the law because of their religious convictions creates a situation in which each citizen becomes a law unto himself. A ruling for Hobby Lobby opens the door to all kinds of religious exemptions that could undo many of the human rights gains women, children, and homosexuals have made in the last generation.

      • @Patti You are preaching to the choir.

        The idea that religion is the underpinnings of morality seems to be sewn into the fabric of our society. We were just arguing about this in the previous post. This is a misunderstanding we’ll need to work to change: “Perhaps Scalia’s conflation of religious conviction with morality is the problem here. Despite a seemingly endless supply of evidence to the contrary, we as a nation still cling to the idea that religion, particularly Christianity, is the source of morality.”

        I know this is off topic, but I find it ironic that in a Christian nation our newest prejudice is against the poor. All those lazy “Obamacare” recipients. Blah, blah, blah. Sure. Some people take advantage of the system, but it’s in no way limited to the poor. Why aren’t folks angry towards the banks, politicians, the coal industry (for fouling our air) and CEO’s who walk away with millions while destroying the future of the workers?

    • “As for Steven’s comment about Jesus: “…he modeled understanding and grace and patience and forgiveness.” Then isn’t it rather odd that Jesus’ followers do nothing of the sort, that they level judgment and play god? Isn’t that a sin?”

      Deborah, do you not see that you just judged ALL of Jesus’ followers?? Surely you grasp the error of making such generalizations, it’s intrinsically problematic. And you know that your accusation is not true, since you yourself have reported (in prior posts) of Christians you know who are diligent about practicing understanding and grace — towards you and others. Just to share my perspective, for 36+ years I’ve personally known many many Christians (observed under a variety of circumstances, sometimes very difficult), who are very focused on truly FOLLOWING Jesus, intensely committed to growing in relationship with him and following his example.

      Before I became a Christian, I did the same thing you frequently do in your posts — judge Christians. As God eventually wooed my heart, He also communicated to me to not worry about nor judge others, that I should just focus on my own “imperfect human” shortcomings.

      And as you know, Jesus stated that the second most important thing is to love our neighbor (our “imperfect human” earthly co-habitants) as our self. In my view, this means seeking to have understanding of others, especially if they have a different point of view. It means being gracious and patient towards others. And I feel it means that we should look for the things we have in common with those who may be different than us, rather than build walls or act unfriendly. For the record, I value hearing the various perspectives posted here on your blog. And I appreciate your hard work to maintain this site.

      Lastly, to answer your question, this is what Jesus said about judging: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” It is smart for ALL of us to heed this.

      • Steven, when you get a moment, I’d still like to read your answers to my questions. Thanks!

      • @Steven Maybe you should address deosullivan first. I’d like to hear your answer, too.

        I don’t buy this, “Before I became a Christian, I did the same thing you frequently do in your posts — judge Christians. As God eventually wooed my heart, He also communicated to me to not worry about nor judge others, that I should just focus on my own “imperfect human” shortcomings.”

        If you weren’t judging, if were ONLY focusing on your own shortcomings, you wouldn’t be here, having this debate with Patti and Deo. Even in telling us ALL to live by your god and your Jesus, you still continue to judge. “Listen to my Jesus,” you tell everyone, “he knows best.” You throw out this veiled threat that your superhero will take us “bad guys” to hell. (Yes, I know you didn’t state that specifically, but we all know the implications.)

        You are not being real. And people hear that in your comments.

        Now back to your conversation with deo….I will excuse myself from this conversation as it is really Patti’s.

        • Hi Deborah,

          Discussing and evaluating ideas together here is not “judging”, does not equate with judging the behavior of other people, the latter being what Jesus was referring to. I think it’s good to have objective and even-handed talks about important issues. Even if we don’t always agree, it’s valuable to talk and hear other thoughtful points of view. With that thought in mind, I think we need to be careful about what we say here. Words matter. It’s not helpful to cavalierly make sweeping judgments about an entire group (“Jesus’ followers do nothing of the sort”). So one question remains, will you own up to your inaccurate generalization and retract it?

          Steven

          • Steven, you made a sweeping generalization about Christians in one of your posts. You wrote, “Christians are simply concerned about terminating innocent life in the womb. That is the sole concern.” When I called you on it, you replied, “In all of this time and with an immense amount of exposure to Christians and study of the New Testament, that notion is completely foreign to my experience.”

            You did not retract your statement. You simply qualified it by stating that your “immense” experience had not exposed you to Christians who believe pregnancy is a punishment for sexual activity.

            You are taking a tone of moral high ground with Deborah, and yet you too “cavalierly make sweeping judgments about an entire group” without owning up to your inaccurate generalization.

            I have every confidence that if you are willing to admit that not all Christians are as good-hearted and fair-minded as you have said they are, Deborah will be more inclined to retract her statement that Christians are judgmental.

            Of course, we are still all waiting for you to actually address the original topic of the blog post. Your contributions to the discussion total 8, and while they seem sincere, they are off-topic. Convince the atheists that religious convictions deserve superior legal status to non-religious convictions. Give us your best argument. I can only speak for myself here, but I’m open to hearing what you have to say.

            • Hi Patti,

              I really appreciate you reaching out, expressing your opinion in such a gracious manner. I’ll do my best to respond. It seems that you have brought up two separate issues. First, you say that I made a “judgement” when I spoke positively about Christian’s intent (“simply concerned about terminating innocent life in the womb”). I think that a judgmental statement is universally construed to be a NEGATIVE comment. Here are some common definitions I found online:

              1) The attitude of judging someone even though you have no idea what they are going through or why they make certain choices.
              2) Inclined to make judgments, especially moral or personal ones.
              3) A way of making ones self feel better by putting down others. Usually caused by closed mindedness, and a lack of manners.

              So, my positive comment was not judgmental. But concerning your second issue, I concur with you that I made a “sweeping generalization” when I said “Christians are simply concerned about terminating innocent life in the womb.” I should have said “MOST Christians are simply concerned….”. You are right, it’s a mistake to make either positive or negative generalizations, as there are always exceptions.

              I appreciate the sincere attitude in which you expressed this: “Perhaps you and Christians you know are “simply concerned about terminating innocent life in the womb” but many Christians are not. I don’t presume to be an expert on what Christians believe and think as there are over 2 billion of them in the world. However, in my experience, I hear this kind of talk frequently from Christians.”

              That’s a honest statement, without any absolute terms such as “all” or “none.” The flip side, in my 36 year experience with Christians, I’ve not heard the “pregnancy-as-punishment” notion. But I indeed accepted your personal experience when I said, “It’s unfortunate if you’ve encountered that in your experience.” All I can say is, the “pregnancy-as-punishment” attitude is totally wrong and it’s unfortunate that there are some individuals saying such things. They certainly are not following the example of Jesus, who is very gracious and understanding.

              In conclusion, let’s all try to avoid judgmental statements and sweeping generalizations.

              • @Steven, How do you know that Jesus is “gracious and understanding?” For those of us who don’t believe that the bible was divinely inspired, who believe that is was written by men just like you and ….(not me, being a woman), can you give examples of how we would know this? I ask earnestly because I’d like to know how you arrive at these conclusions. Also, by using the present tense (Jesus “is” gracious…), it implies that Jesus is alive, active and present.

            • Patti/Steven, I didn’t really think Steven was looking for a retraction but merely an opportunity to show that he is without reproach. He has asked me to retract statements before–and he knows that I have. He also notes that I have written in past posts that not all Christians are like this. Of course, not all Christians/Muslims/Atheists are exactly the same. Out of this entire discussion, that one line is a snag? I just feel as if I got in the way of a good discussion, and I was hoping that Steven would respond to deo.

              • Deborah, you became part of this discussion when you said, “As for Steven’s comment about Jesus:…he modeled understanding and grace and patience and forgiveness.” Then isn’t it rather odd that Jesus’ followers do nothing of the sort, that they level judgment and play god?” So, you judged ALL of Jesus’ followers by saying that none have understanding, grace, patience or forgiveness. I responded to this, calling it out as inaccurate and very problematic.

                Patti wrote, “Deborah will be more inclined to retract her statement that Christians are judgmental.” Yes, you offered a retraction previously — for the very same thing, a judgmental comment about ALL Christians. Why does it keep happening? In conclusion, let’s all try to avoid judgmental statements and cavalier generalizations.

                • Actually, Steven, my previous comments were not deemed ‘judgmental’ but rather they were deemed offensive to you, by you alone (on behalf of your god/religion). This is an opinion blog, and a lot of comments are made that may offend others (believers and nonbelievers), even if that is not the intention. (And I give people the benefit of the doubt when I say I do not believe any INTEND to offend.)

                  I should not have indulged you because you now seem to feel that it is your place to stand in judgment. But you focus on the trivial while ignoring the meatier, more difficult questions. I think this is what is so frustrating about the religious debate. Some folks think that belief in god puts them on some sort of moral pedestal, and they wield emotion rather than logic as weapons.

                  I will take your refusal to address the original, more important discussion as an indication that you have nothing more to offer.

                  • Deborah, the only reason this persists is because you still haven’t acknowledged the judgmental (and offensive) statement, “Then isn’t it rather odd that Jesus’ followers do nothing of the sort”, regarding understanding, grace, patience or forgiveness. Your statement is not trivial.

                    No, I am not without reproach. I made this clear with my admission within the constructive dialogue with Patti today. We all have stuff to work on, we’re all human. Which is why I said, “LET’S ALL try to avoid judgmental statements and cavalier generalizations.” This is not a “religious debate”, it’s simply about having good communication within our person-to-person relationship here. This IS logical. Moving forward, are you in agreement with my “LET’S ALL” proposal?

                    I have not refused to address the original meatier topic. I’ll get to it…

  13. In this day and age it’s kind of like arguing for sepaprate drinking fountains. Nothing to add other than a great topic. Nice job, Patti.

  14. This just in: The SCOTUS just struck down Liberty University’s challenge to the ACA. Theirs was a broad case, including a challenge to the mandate that individuals purchase insurance, but it also included a challenge to the birth control mandate.

    According to the SCOTUS blog post (http://www.scotusblog.com/2013/12/challenge-to-aca-employer-mandate-fails/) “The University’s petition also contended that the individual mandate violated the religious freedom of the school and of its employees, under the Constitution’s First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

    I’m not sure how a health insurance mandate violates Christian doctrine. How is it contrary to Christian doctrine to provide health insurance to your employees? Liberty already offers a health care plan for employees through Anthem, so they cannot be opposed to medical insurance on principle.

  15. Those of you who are Christian and reading this thread, I invite you to comment on the original topic. This is perhaps what you would refer to as a Holy Spirit moment – your chance to reach out to atheists who do not understand why religious beliefs (yours and those of people of other faiths) should be given a superior legal status in the U.S. Not engaging on the topic is hiding your light under a bushel.

    I would suggest your arguments be logical and evidence-based. As a general rule, Atheists don’t view the Bible or any sacred scripture (the Qu’ran, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Pali Canon, the Vedas, etc.) as evidence. Tossing out scriptural quotes like confetti won’t serve your cause.

    This is an important issue that we’ll see played out in the courts more and more as the younger generation (30% of whom are not religiously affiliated but hold strong convictions about the environment, gay rights, women’s rights, and economic fairness) grows up. If no Constitutional justification for preferencing religious conviction over non-religious conviction can be made, religious convictions will no longer enjoy their current, privileged status.

    • Well, I’m not a Christian, but in order to help Patti get this discussion back on track, I’d like to offer the following.

      The first response to the post seemed to make the excellent point that the Constitution framed freedom of religious expression as a civil right in the late 18th-century. After all, it is in the first ten amendments known as “The Bill of Rights.” At a time when refusing to participate in state-sanctioned religious organizations, specifically the Church of England in the case of America’s break with England, this was a truly radical idea. We weren’t the first, though: the Diet at Torda was signed in 1568, for example, which promoted tolerance for divergent religious views in Europe at a time when the Wars of Religious were raging.

      Interestingly, the first amendment (and other amendments, I suppose) were originally applied only to the federal government. Massachusetts, for example, was officially Congregationalist until 1830. But in 1947, in the case of Everson vs. The Board of Education in 1947, the Supreme Court cleared up that confusion. Justice Hugo Black wrote:

      “The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.’” 330 U.S. 1, 15-16. Up to that point, the first amendment only applied specifically to the federal government.

      It’s interesting to note that Justice Black cites Jefferson as an authority in his decision. Religious conservatives like to point out that the expression, “wall of separation between Church and State,” is not in the Constitution. Well, neither are the words “Christ” or “Christian.” And if Christians want to reply that God mean Christ to Americans in the late 18th century, watch out. As Patti points out, this country is on a road towards secularism, like it or not. When Christianity is no longer professed by the majority of Americans, that argument can be turned around very easily.

      We also commonly hear that if you help one religion, you have to help them all. Well, not according to Justice Black. Here’s the key sentence: “Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another.”

      Put another way, freedom of religion means freedom from religion.

    • Following Patti’s lead and DeoSullivan3′s excellent contribution, I would like to add a small tidbit.

      My mother was an elementary school teacher for 41 years. In that time, she saw a constant ebb and flow of people wishing to institute religious prayer in school. Because it was in elementary school, she had to be cautious not to offend parents by confusing the child. Her solution was quite clever. When asked by a child if they could have prayer in school, my mom would reply: “Well, perhaps. I would like to start the day with a lovely Hindu prayer about greeting the sun. Ask your parents what they think.”

      The issue would routinely disappear overnight.

      Thus, I would like the theists to settle between themselves which religion should be the one favored when determining civil law based on theology. I hear sharia law is becoming quite popular in many parts of the world. Since there are more mohammedans that christians, maybe sharai would be the best template to follow.

      Any theists have any thoughts regarding this suggestion?

    • Hi Patti,

      As you know, I am a Christian. Following your request, I’ll share a few thoughts, my individual perspective. I appreciate that we live in a pluralistic democracy. I value this clause in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” I like Hugo Black’s statements here: “Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance.”

      We the people directly control who represents us in the Executive Branch and in the Legislative Branch. We each have the opportunity (responsibility) to vote our conscience and to support the candidates and propositions we prefer. The majority rules, so long as it’s in line with the Constitution, as overseen by the Supreme Court.

      Deosullivan3 stated, “Put another way, freedom of religion means freedom from religion.” I think that only conveys half the picture. Again, the First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion OR prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” (Emphasis added). Both parts are important, provide balance.

      Patti, you say that religious convictions currently enjoy a privileged status. Yet, your article does not express the premise for this notion. As has been noted in this blog preciously, many Americans have concerns that the opposite is true. There is an increasing hostility toward Christian beliefs that many perceive to be an attack on religious freedom. This is actually exemplified within Deosullivan3′s comment, “freedom of religion means freedom from religion.” That definition smacks of potentially denying the free exercise of religion.

      In conclusion, I feel that maintaining the balance as provided by the First Amendment is key.

      Steven

      • Depends upon what is meant by “free exercise,” Stephen.

        The freedom to move my arm forward stops just in front of another person’s nose, and your freedom to exercise religion stops at the point where it infringes upon my freedom to not practice religion.

        I still await your answers to my earlier questions.

        • Deosullivan3, I agree with your second sentence here. I would simply add a second half to your definition: “freedom of religion means freedom from religion AND the free exercise of religion.” I think Hugo Black communicated this balanced view.

      • Steven, Are you saying that “many Americans have concerns” that religion does NOT “currently enjoy a privileged status?” I want to make sure I read that correctly.

        As majority holder in the religious realm in the US, Christianity is in no way in danger of becoming extinct or losing any rights. What is fair and just and protected by the Constitution is that the those folks who are making rules for all of us do not allow their “religious convictions” to encroach upon the rest of the nation. I think this blog post did “express the premise for this notion.” It was very clear about that.

        Perhaps the “increasing hostility” Christians feel is simply secularists pushing back and asserting their rights. There is no other way to make change.

        • Deborah, my first paragraph directly responds to Patti’s original query: “What makes religious beliefs worthier of legal protection than secular beliefs?” I stated that I am in agreement with the First Amendment and with Hugo Black’s statements. Thus, I don’t think religious beliefs should be given a superior or inferior legal status in the U.S. I feel that maintaining the balance as provided by the First Amendment is key. The rights of those who want freedom from religion AND the rights of those who desire free exercise of religion should be protected.

          As with many issues, there are two sides to this topic. Both sides have real concerns that their First Amendment rights are at risk. I think I understand your concerns, based upon your prior posts. Patti’s post references the case which was brought before the Supreme Court on November 27, 2013. This case won’t be decided until next year, so we don’t know yet how the justices will side. So, how does this undecided case express the legal or judicial premise that religious convictions currently enjoy a privileged status in the US? I don’t think it expresses any premise yet, not until it’s decided. Again, I already understand your concern, I get it. No need to rehash, unless you want to.

          The concern on the other side is partly due to statements like “freedom of religion means freedom from religion”, which seems to advocate denying the free exercise of religion among those who desire that. And your own comments cause concern, such as the notion that we should “keep religion in the churches.” The First Amendment right to free exercise of religion is applicable to Americans in public settings as well as private.

          In conclusion, I hope that the mutual attitude here is to express AND to listen, seeking to understand of each others point of view. Regarding the First Amendment, I think that we can find a good BALANCE that provides reasonable protection for both sides.

          • @Steven. I agree. Well-stated: “I think that we can find a good BALANCE that provides reasonable protection for both sides.”

          • Not so fast, my religious friend.

            Where do you get this statement?

            “The First Amendment right to free exercise of religion is applicable to Americans in public settings as well as private.”

            I don’t see any justification in the Constitution or Hugo Black’s statements for erasing the line between the public and private spheres in regard to the practice of religion. Neither do many American who object to religious symbols being placed on public buildings and, to come back to an earlier idea, churches certainly do want a separation in that they want tax exemptions. But they want it both ways: no taxes levied upon them, yet the right to exercise religious observances in public.

            In your effort to provide more context, I fear that you’ve muddied the waters.

            • deosullivan3, I’m referring to individual expression — the freedom to believe and express personal religious views in a public area (“…the free exercise thereof.” Individual freedom of speech/expression).

              • And …? What does that have to do with what you’ve been saying up until now, with what Hugo Black says, and what is implicated in Patti’s post, i.e., the translation of those ideas into public policy?

                Stop nibbling around the edges!

                • I directly responded to Patti’s query: “What makes religious beliefs worthier of legal protection than secular beliefs?” I stated that I am in agreement with the First Amendment and with Hugo Black’s statements. Thus, I don’t think religious beliefs should be given a superior or inferior legal status in the U.S. The rights of those who want freedom from religion AND the rights of those who desire free exercise of religion should be protected.

                  So, why do you frequently “help Patti get this discussion back on track”? I think Patti is very capable to respond to or question our posts here. :-)

                  • I help her as I help anyone who posts here when others get the discussion off track by, for instance, asking about one’s motivations for posting rather than keeping to the content of the posts.

                    If you think your response was direct, then I shudder to think what you consider to be tangential or circumspect. You are clearly unable or unwilling to connect your rather bland comment about individual expression to the pressing matters at hand that concern how notions of individual expression dovetail or clash with public policy.

                    To put it baldly: how would you guarantee an individual’s right to express his or her religious beliefs in public without infringing upon the rights of others who express different or no religious beliefs?

                    • 1) My posts tonight have been totally on-track and direct. 2) Along with my posts and explicit answers to questions here, in closing I asked you a small question. The smiley face was obviously to help indicate that light hearted humor was the intention. No need for you to wig out over it. :-) 3) Frankly, Patti’s posts and interaction here is constructive, whereas yours is frequently combative. Her approach is much more conducive to the free expression of ideas here. 4) Do you have (as it appears) a problem with the second half of this sentence? “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” 5) It’s the job of the Supreme Court Justices to interpret and apply the Constitution for us in our day. 6) It’s 1:35 AM here in California. This is as much as I can offer you tonight Deosullivan3.

                    • 1) Contradiction is not an argument. My claiming that you’ve skirted the central issue and you replying, “No, I haven’t,” says nothing.
                      2) Your small question and smiley can be taken as a condescending attitude towards me and/or Patti. You’re implying that I believe women in general and Patti in particular needs to be defended by men. I don’t, and jokes often mask hostility.
                      3) I am a trained university academic used to debate and lively intellectual argument. Sorry if you’re not, but I’m not changing who I am to spare people’s feelings. I haven’t used foul language and I won’t, but I call a spade a spade and there you have it.
                      4) I have no objection at all to the sentence, but I do object to its application by xtian policy makers to justify the cutting off of food stamps (see Bill O’Reilly’s latest talk about Jesus and social safety nets), contraception and abortion, and prayer in school. All of these examples are extremely ironic because Jesus preaches helping the poor, says nothing about contraception and birth control, and advocates for praying in private.
                      5) See (1). You’re skirting the issue again.
                      6) Good night.

                    • 1) We simply don’t agree. No worries.

                      2) I don’t think Patti needs your help. Actually, she is a better communicator than you.

                      3) Yes, we’ve all heard your “I am a trained university academic” boast numerous times. Well, this is not your classroom and we are not your pupils. “Feelings” are not at stake here. But you would be well served to consider: Respectful and constructive dialogue is much more conducive to the free expression of ideas here, way more effective. And by the way, this is Deborah’s forum, not your personal battleground. She and I don’t always agree, but she knows the value of noting our in-common viewpoints when she sees it.

                      4) I’m glad to hear that you agree with the full sentence, including “free exercise.” “I think that the Supreme Court will find a good balance that provides reasonable protection for both sides.”

                      5) See (1)

                    • 1) No, we don’t agree, but it’s still worrying.
                      2) Yes, Patti is, in fact, a better communicator than me, so why did you imply differently earlier. Oh yeah! I was a “joke.”
                      3) My university training is not a boast. It’s a fact. Do you feel threatened? I’m happy to point out commonalities–see #2!–but I won’t sweep anything under the rug nor will I “smooth things over” on this or any other discussion board. I’ll let Debbie speak for herself.
                      4) I agree with the sentence in the Constitution–look! a point-in-common!–but not with your sentence that contains several undefined terms.
                      5) Puhleeze. Derivative jokes are not funny. In the future, I’d invite you to be more creative.
                      6) [omitted from your most recent list] Have a great day!

                      PS Still lots of unanswered questions from previous posts. See Debbie’s comments about “meatier” items and your promise to address those “meatier” topics. Please note for the record, however, that I am vegetarian.

  16. Derrick, I like your mom. Here are the latest statistics on religion in the U.S.

    Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/159548/identify-christian.aspx
    Protestant: 51.9%
    Catholic: 23.3%
    Mormon: 2.1%
    Jewish: 1.7%
    Muslim: 0.6%
    No religion: 15.6%

    Pew Religious Landscape Survey http://religions.pewforum.org/reports
    Protestant: 51.3%
    Catholic: 23.9%
    Mormon: 1.7%
    Jewish: 1.7%
    No religion: 16.1%

    UC Berkley
    Conservative Protestant: 33%
    Catholic: 25%
    Jewish: 1.5%
    No religion: 20%

    Worldwide there are still more Christians than Muslims (30% to 20%). The fastest growing group is those with no religious affiliation. As I wrote in an earlier post, 30% of Americans between the ages of 18-30 do not identify with any religion.

    • Good info, Patti.

      The “no religion” category should be broken down since many of those under that group still believe in god but just don’t identify with religion. I’d be curious to see how many actually don’t believe in god.

  17. Perfect illustration of what happens when you legally protect public displays of religious speech/worship.

    http://www.addictinginfo.org/2013/12/06/oklahoma-satanic-temple-piece/

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