Is Equal Protection In Danger of Replacement by Christianity?
[I]t does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. – Thomas Jefferson
When the government puts its imprimatur on a particular religion it conveys a message of exclusion to all those who do not adhere to the favored beliefs. A government cannot be premised on the belief that all persons are created equal when it asserts that God prefers some. ― Harry A. Blackmun Supreme Court Justice (1970-1994)
While conservatives rail at the specter of Islamic Sharia law being imposed in the United States, many people overlook, or worse, praise American goose-stepping to a fundamentalist Christianist theocracy similar to Sharia in intolerance.
Several recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, all 5-4, prove the point. In May of this year, in a case called Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Court held that the town council of Greece, New York, did not violate the Constitution by opening its meetings for 11 years with prayers that stressed Christianity.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, stated:
“The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition, and does not coerce participation by non adherents.”
“[P]rayer that comports with our tradition” is another way of saying Christian prayer.
Coercion is not a concern for Justice Clarence Thomas, who said, in a concurring opinion, that “The majority properly concludes that [o]ffense… does not equate to coercion, since “[a]dults often encounter speech they find disagreeable[,] and an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views in a legislative forum.”
That being the case, I would like to see what Justice Thomas would say if a lawsuit challenging the use of a conspicuously Muslim prayer at a legislative meeting ever reached the Supreme Court. Of course, the chances of a conspicuously Muslim prayer being used in a legislative meeting in the United States is so remote as to make my winning the LOTTO jackpot seem to be a sure thing.
Thomas went on to say: “I would simply add, in light of the foregoing history of the Establishment Clause, that ‘[p]eer pressure, unpleasant as it may be, is not coercion’ either.” Evidently, he was never bullied in school, or he forgot what it was like.
Of course, people who would prefer not to participate may participate against their will for fear of arousing the ire of decision-makers concerning their issue. I think they would disagree with Thomas, who apparently feels that pressure rising to the level of coercion means literal arm-twisting.
In June’s Hobby Lobby decision, the court ruled that a “closely held” corporation could impose the religious views of its owners on its employees. Hobby Lobby, which is a secular business, had insisted that it should be entitled to a religious exemption meant for churches, against providing contraception as part of its health insurance. Again, I would wonder what the reaction would be from the bench if the moral views of non-Christian corporate owners were at stake. A satirical article, originating from The Moonmont Chronicle and now making its way across the Internet, “reports” that the Supreme Court, on the strength of the Hobby Lobby precedent, has ruled that JC Penney may sacrifice virgin employees to appease Cthulu. (Paganism and human sacrifice aside, one can almost imagine a favorable ruling for honor killings, given how anti-woman the conservatives on the court are.)
Those of us who fervently disagree that the artificial persons known as corporations should have rights that equal or trump those of flesh and blood individuals may take solace in the possibility that Hobby Lobby will be the first in a series of decisions that eventually will destroy corporate hegemony. A corporation serves a veil for the individuals who form it, protecting them from personal liability for corporate actions. The Hobby Lobby decision “pierces” the corporate veil, by allowing the owners to impose their personal religious views on their secular employees. In what other circumstances might the veil be pierced to reach the conduct of the individuals behind it?
Did Hobby Lobby’s lawyers first counsel the owners that paying for birth control was a corporate decision, which legally stood apart from their personal beliefs? Where were the law clerks at the Supreme Court, who could have reminded their bosses of the most basic tenets of corporate law? Are these “justices” so eager to enlarge the rights of corporations and believers in certain types of Christianity™ that they don’t recognize the ramifications of what they are doing?
What is even more disturbing than the outrageous assault on women’s rights in the name of religious freedom is the fact that the Supreme Court is taking the lead in destroying the social cohesion of our diverse population by favoring the beliefs of one particular group. Making a certain brand of religion the law of the land for everyone only will tear the country apart because people who are not party to those beliefs will not stand for a theocracy. It will take much coercion of the kind Clarence Thomas recognizes to hold that regime in place.
Thomas argues that our constitution only “probably” forbids the Federal Government from establishing a national religion, and would allow individual states to establish Christianity as a state religion. It’s bad enough that he does not subscribe to the principle that the 14th Amendment extending Federal constitutional protections to the state level, but he claims the First Amendment only “probably” forbids Congress in this instance? “What part of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” does Thomas not understand? He needs to be impeached and tossed off the court yesterday!
This twisted view that freedom of religion means the freedom to force your religion on non-adherents in a secular context is not limited to the Supreme Court. US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that Christian business people should be allowed to legally discriminate against LGBT customers if they believe the Bible tells them to do so.
Cruz must want to go back using the bible to endorse slavery. Unfortunately, he’s not alone.
We have to make compromises when people’s rights conflict. Just because not everyone is marching to their drummer doesn’t mean that Christians are being persecuted. They are free to attend their (tax exempt) churches. They are free to believe and worship as they choose. They are free to indoctrin–uh, educate, children in their own schools. They are free to refuse to solemnize same sex marriages if they are clergy in a sect that does not approve of such marriages. They are free to speak out against abortion and no member of government can force them to have one. Their compromise is to accept diversity. The Supreme Court majority, and other officials who are steadily moving this country toward theocracy, are traitors to their oaths of office by claiming that the religious freedom of a few trumps the civil rights of the many in the secular sphere.
I believe the Senate Judiciary Committee overstepped constitutional bounds when on April 24, 2013, in a hearing on an immigration reform bill, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and a witness, Dr. David Fleming, who is pastor of the Christian Forest Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, parsed bible passages during a colloquy on whether or not the bible allows a modern state to have a lawful system of immigration. I wonder if a committee member would have been ruled out of order for bringing in as witness a professor of ancient religions or Hellenic pagan clergy to parse passages of The Odyssey for the customs of hospitality and other clues as to how to treat strangers. After all, if Congress is going to consider the Bronze Age writings of another culture in forming 21st century American legislation, it should consider Ancient Greece, considered the birthplace of Western Democracy.
Religion intrudes on our Presidential elections. In 2008 and 2012, both Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, a Mormon, were accused of not being Christians. Evidently, many people have forgotten that Article VI cl.3 of the constitution specifies that: “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Under that language, even an atheist can be President.
Those of us who are non-believers, non-Christians or tolerant Christians who believe in the separation of church and state, Equal Protection of the Law, and who oppose the hijacking of Christianity by these extremists, must become visible. They must let their voices be heard in objection to this incursion into secular governance by the American Taliban.
Let me start. I’m a Pagan. I’m a natural-born American citizen. I have the same civil rights as an American Christian. Their religion will never be MY law.
Kellia Ramares-Watson is an independent journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @endofmoney and email her at theendofmoney[at]gmail.com