A Question of Secular Faith

Aquarian Weekly 2/15/12 REALITY CHECK

A QUESTION OF SECULAR FAITH The Role of Law in Perpetual Religious Times

Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it [liberty], needs them not.

– James Madison

Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently. There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted.

– 9th Circuit Court Ruling on Prop 8

James MadisonAnd with that, the childish nonsense that continues to be an issue in a purported free society protected by law meets its latest nadir. The wholly unconstitutional pogrom on civil rights perpetuated by atavistic 16th century theocrats silly with gay-marriage bans has taken another blessed step towards oblivion. And soon, when a brave soul decides to present this madness to the Supreme Court, as has been done with the criminality of the Patriot Act and will soon visit the wholly farcical National Health Care Law, then all the crazy votes from all the crazy people will do no good.

It is hard to believe we’ve been trolling this subject for lo these fifteen or so years. Frankly, I am embarrassed every time I have to write it, as if I were carrying on an endless battle against the Flat Earth Society. But we do. And slowly but surely this will go the way of most of the embarrassing nonsense that has littered the checkered history of this republic.

But this is not what we’ve set about to cover this week, although it falls under a similar umbrella of Law vs. Religion.

There has been much furor recently over religious liberty and the aforementioned National Health Care Law vis-à-vis the Catholic Church and its bevy of universities, colleges, hospitals and care centers, wherein the federal government is mandating these institutions provide full insurance coverage to its employees, which include contraception devices.

You may rightly ask why any institution has to provide anything mandated by the government, but then you would be here for weeks pouring over the hundreds upon thousands of regulations – some of merit, many goofy – that the federal government has mandated for decades. Nevertheless, it is a fair question, and it too must have its day in court.

However, a divisive political climate and the opportunity of an election year has curiously turned a legal matter into an issue of “religious liberty”, as in why should Catholic-run institutions be forced to provide a service its dogma is patently against?

Now, mind you, we’ve fought these religious vs. the state battles before with slavery, civil rights, women’s rights, prohibition, the teaching of evolution, interracial marriage, abortion, etc. Most of these have seen religion get its ass kicked, so in a binding, legal sense, this is probably not going to go well for religion, but it appears to me that this is not a matter of religious liberty, but only that of “extensions” of the Catholic Church to run public hospitals and institutions of higher learning that cater to all members of society.

Granted, nearly 98 percent Catholics have admitted to using or having used contraception devices at one point or other, so there appears to be some foxes in the theocratic henhouse so to speak, but Catholic hospitals and universities are open for business (and these are indeed businesses and not Mother Teresa missions) to Jews, Muslims, Evangelicals, atheists, agnostics, snake-charmers, and so on. More to the point, these businesses hire American citizens of all faiths and as such must adhere to the labor laws of the land and not dogmatic tenet.

Whether the Health Care Law is an abuse of personal liberty – and this space argues it certainly is – will be a subject dissected within the parameters of constitutional law, available to believers and non-believers alike. It will not be played out in a pulpit.

There is also the question of what government grants these health institutions receive and in that case we return to our age-old argument against the taxpayer funding of art and its hindrance on artistic freedom. If you take the cash and then use it to create something deemed offense by the benefactors, then it leaves the artist very little in the way of defending his/her freedom or even full ownership of the artistic vision. In other words, freedom, and all it denotes, is sold to a bidder and that bidder gets to call the tune.

A funny aside; many of the same people who once aggressively promoted the actual repression of religious liberty, or just liberty in general, are the ones now crying foul. Remember the Islamic center a taxpaying citizen wanted to build within a ten-block radius of Ground Zero in New York City? Yeah, that one. The argument against his right to purchase a building and put whatever he damn well pleased in it (as long as it wasn’t a sex-related endeavor near a school, which is more unconstitutional nonsense) was that it was Islamic. Since Muslims killed the victims of 9/11, it was deemed insensitive by its opponents. Rights trampled over insensitivity, not rights infringed upon for the public health.

This current debate is simply not about religious liberty, despite the politically exploitive attempts to make it so by the Republican-controlled congress and three of the four remaining GOP presidential candidates, excluding Ron Paul, of course. It is that sort of mucking of the point that has kept Same-Sex Marriage from its rightful place in the civil rights arena. It is not about indefinable poetic hodgepodge surrounding “the sanctity of marriage” or voodoo gobbledygook as in “God intended”. It is the idiosyncratic denial of basic liberty guaranteed by the Bill Rights.

The framers of the United States Constitution, specifically Thomas Jefferson and his political apprentice and author of the document, James Madison put their heads together to create the secular template for this republic in 1786 with Virginia’s Act for Establishing Religious Freedom – the first of its kind in any formed government anywhere. Madison, fearing the establishment of Christian-only laws, wrote what many historians consider as important a treatise as Jefferson’s masterful Declaration of Independence; Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. Madison’s main objective in Memorial was to as much promote the absence of religion in the civic conscience as it did in keeping one religion from dictating the law of the land; be it Christian or otherwise.

This, and only this, is where the matter lies.

The government is not forcing the Catholic Church to alter its course within the parameters of its faith, as in mandating priests to promote the use of birth control or forcing condom dispensers in church restrooms, no more than it would demand equal rights to women denied the opportunity to be priests. But if the Catholic Church wishes to play in the public free market, it must play by its rules, not the other way around.

You want to bitch about religious oppression? Ask a Mormon Church how it feels about the late-19th century abolishment of its polygamy practices in two separate laws passed over the course of 20 years.

Whether the Health Care Law is an abuse of personal liberty – and this space argues it certainly is – will be a subject dissected within the parameters of constitutional law, available to believers and non-believers alike. It will not be played out in a pulpit.

Just as both Jefferson and Madison portended.

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