The New Religious Right to Discriminate

There is an old axiom that history repeats itself. Some may dispute this claim, but it is hard to argue with what a person can witness happening right in front of them. One just has to pay attention and know history to know what the outcome of certain things will be.

After the Reconstruction period ended following the Civil War, southern states (the old Confederacy) began enacting Jim Crow laws. These laws mandated that all public facilities be segregated. They were also used in an attempt to keep African-Americans from voting and even to keep interracial marriage illegal.

School segregation was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The rest of the Jim Crow laws were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, bans on interracial marriage were not fully struck down until Loving v. Virginia (1967), when the Supreme Court ruled that they violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The same arguments that were used against interracial marriage are now being used against same-sex marriage, i.e. it’s against someone’s religious beliefs, it’s a sin in the Bible, etc.

Now, I’m not here to attack anyone’s religious beliefs as even I have my own. But we must remember that we are a secular country and that the U.S. Constitution is the law of our nation and not the Bible. No local, state, or federal law can violate the document, the individual rights that are enshrined within it, or its subsequent amendments.

This includes the Fourteenth Amendment.

Our Founding Fathers were mostly Christians, but we are not a Christian nation. That particular point was emphasized in the Treaty of Tripoli (1796), which states that the U.S. “is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Our Founding Fathers were mostly Christians, but we are not a Christian nation. We were set up to be a secular nation. We have the right to peacefully worship and practice whatever religion we choose to without government interference, but that right does not extend beyond one’s self. We do not have the right to force others to believe the same way we do.

Britain still has an official religion (the Church of England) and France was under the Catholic Church at the time of our independence. Both religion and government intermingled in these and many other European countries. Our Founding Fathers designed our government to discourage this relationship.

Today, we see the ongoing fight between religion and our secular government on the issue of same-sex marriage. In the past two years, bans on same-sex marriage have been struck down from coast to coast in federal court on the same grounds as the Loving decision.

Now, the Supreme Court has taken up the case once again and this time could make an official ruling for the entire country.

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However, though same-sex marriage could soon be legal nationwide, some are finding new ways to treat the LGBT community like second-class citizens.

Instead of being called something like Jim Crow laws, these laws are referred to as “religious freedom laws.” In much the same way that the old Jim Crow laws allowed businesses to legally refuse service to African-Americans, these new laws allow any business or institution the right to refuse service to anyone based on the operator’s religious beliefs.

The purpose of these laws is to “protect” people who work in the service industry from having to provide their services for same-sex weddings if it goes against their religious beliefs.

In February 2014, Republican Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona vetoed SB 1062, which critics argued would have legalized discrimination against the LGBT community. Brewer was pressured to reject the law by several business leaders who believed it would hurt the state’s economy.

More states are now taking up this exact same issue and some are poised to put these policies into law. Indiana Governor Mike Pence, for example, signed the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” on Thursday after it cleared both chambers of the state Legislature.

Some of these laws are written so vaguely that they could extend well beyond just same-sex marriage. The “religious freedom laws” will eventually end up in the courts and will be subsequently overturned via the Fourteenth Amendment.

If someone is a Christian, can he or she refuse service to someone in the Jewish community based solely on a difference of religion? No.

The Bible states that women are inferior to men and that women should obey men. So do Christians have the right to refuse service to a woman if she is not accompanied by a man or has a different opinion than a man? No.

Why? Because in a secular society, though a person may have the right to practice his or her religion freely, they do not have the right to force those beliefs on others. Everyone is supposed to be treated equally under the law.

Again, people have the right to their religious views. No one can force an individual to accept same-sex marriage if it goes against their religious views.

However, that right still does not extend to discriminatory actions against the LGBT community. If a person runs a business that provides a service to weddings and doesn’t want to provide that service to a same-sex wedding, there are a couple of options:

  1. They can find a new job that will take them out of that situation; or
  2. They can grow up and act like a rational adult and do the job they are paid to do.

There are times when we blur the line between religious freedom and secular government. It is imperative that we remember why this line was put in place by our Founding Fathers, and why we’ve amended the Constitution to specify that all citizens are free and equal under the law.

Using religion to discriminate is still discrimination and is still wrong. And as history has proven before, it is also unconstitutional.

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Genocide: The Modern Religious War

When one hears of genocide, most often The Holocaust comes to mind first.  Some of us are old enough though to remember such atrocities in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda in the 1990s.  The latter marked 20-years just last week.  Each time that we hear of such things we always say, “Never again.”  But each time that it happens, we tend to turn a blind eye to it as if ignoring the situation will make it better or go away.

In Rwanda, it was the Hutus and Tutsis that were trying to eradicate the each other.  In Kosovo, it was ethnic Albanians versus ethnic Serbs.  And in Bosnia, there were Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs, and Muslim Bosniaks all fighting each other. With history as hindsight, it was our first glimpse of the larger Christian vs. Muslim conflict that was playing out around the world… something we would be brought into more directly with the attacks on September 11, 2001.

With each of those instances we still stated, “Never again.”  And yet, even today we turn  a blind eye to the genocide of our world.  Now it’s happening in the Central African Republic (CAR) and has Christians (anti-balaka) and Muslims (Seleka) attempting to wipe out each other.  This conflict has been going on since December 2012 and has largely been skipped by western media outlets with the exception of a few scattered reports.

Courtesty: cia.gov

Courtesy: cia.gov

In December 2012, the mostly Muslim Seleka forces began a coup against the government which culminated in a seizure of power in March 2013.  They would remain in power for 10-months and during that time, according to Amnesty International, they “were responsible for massacres, extrajudicial executions, rape, torture, looting, and massive burning and destruction of Christian villages.”

The President of the new government, Michel Djotodia, declared the Seleka disbanded in September 2013 though most of the militias refused to disband.  But as such atrocities mounted, he resigned in January  2014 due in large part to regional pressure.  A new interim government was formed and a new interim president was elected on January 20th.  US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has flown to CAR to meet with the interim president who still has very little power or control of the situation.

With the Seleka forces now in retreat, the Christian forces (Anti-balaka) are now committing the same offenses against the Muslim communities as had been done to them.  And the Seleka forces are still committing the same attacks on Christian communities as they retreat.  It’s a slaughter running right down the religious divide of Muslim vs. Christian.

In February 2014, Amnesty International released a report that stated, “International peacekeepers have failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Muslim civilians int he western part of the Central African Republic.”  It went on to further criticize the tepid response from the international community to the situation.

My father, Soba Tibati, could hardly walk and could not run away when the anti-balaka attacked our village.  They decapitated him in front of my eyes as he sat on a straw mat under a tree outside our hut.  Twelve other members of my family were also massacred in the same attack.  The youngest was a baby girl who was just six months old.
Dairu Soba, survivor of an attack by anti-balaka fighters on January 8.
Courtesy: Amnesty International

On April 10, 2014, the United Nations passed Security Council resolution 2149 which authorized the deployment of a multidimensional United Nations peacekeeping operation (MINUSCA) with the protection of civilians as its top priority.  Other tasks include, “support for the transition process; facilitating humanitarian assistance; promotion and protection of human rights; support for justice and the rule of law; and disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation processes.”

Regardless, the world can no longer ignore and turn a blind eye to the ongoing situation in the Central African Republic.  Genocide is still genocide regardless of who is committing the atrocity.  We should never utter the words, “Never again” as we should put a stop to genocide at any moment that it arises.  Instead we should look to the motto, “Not now; not ever.

Church And State

Religious Liberty In North Carolina

Republican legislators in the state of North Carolina have recently proposed a bill that would allow the state to declare an official religion on the grounds that the First Amendment to the US Constitution doesn’t apply to the state since the states are sovereign within their own right.  In shorter form, they declare they are exempt from the Constitution and subsequent court rulings via the Tenth Amendment.  The text of the North Carolina bill is as follows: (official document)

SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; […]”  The Founding Fathers established the First Amendment so that the citizens of the new nation would be able to worship freely without government intervention and to make sure that government and religion didn’t intermingle as they did in England (i.e. The Church of England).  However, that didn’t apply to the states.  As the amendment actually states, it’s Congress that can’t make any such laws.  It doesn’t mention the states.  Originally, this was interpreted to mean that only Congress could not pass such legislation and that individual states could do as they so chose to.  In fact, when the First Amendment was ratified, several states had already established an official religion.  All of these state religions would be disestablished by 1833.

Flag_of_North_Carolina.

In Gitlow v. New York (1925), the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment had extended the reach of certain limitations on the federal government that were established in the First Amendment applied to state governments as well.  It became the legal precedent at this point that it wasn’t just Congress that couldn’t pass such laws, but the states couldn’t do so either.  However, it was Everson v. Board of Education (1947) that would transform the interpretation of the First Amendment.  In its ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was binding upon the states via the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  In the Court’s decision, Justice Hugo Black wrote the following:

“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.

So what about the Tenth Amendment as claimed by the legislators in North Carolina?  The amendment states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  It is just as it states and has been interpreted.  States are sovereign and have certain rights delegated to them so long as they do not infringe upon the rights of the federal government set forth in the Constitution and its subsequent amendments.  This also applies to the personal rights that were established by the Bill of Rights.

signingdecWhen dealing with such topics as the freedom of religion, the overused quote about the separation of church and state comes into play.  However, the Constitution does not specifically use those words.  However, it is how the First Amendment has been interpreted by the Supreme Court starting with the Everson ruling.  In the majority opinion, Justice Black used the words of Thomas Jefferson who wrote the words in reference to the First Amendment in 1802.  Jefferson, who was a Southerner and one of the biggest advocates for states’ rights, wrote in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

The state legislators in North Carolina should possibly do a review of early American history and learn why the Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, distrusted establishing official state religions.  Jefferson wrote to the Assembly of Virginia in 1779, “[That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time […]”  He would continue, “[T]hat to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on the supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own […]”  Jeffersonian Republicans were those that advocated for limited federal government and more for states’ rights, and yet here Thomas Jefferson himself is advocating that no government (federal or state) should have the right to declare an official religion, and that we should all be just as the First Amendment states… free to worship however we choose.  In looking back on how the interpretation of the First Amendment has changed through history, one must tend to lean toward the conclusion that the courts wouldn’t allow this bill in North Carolina (should it be passed) to be enforced on the grounds of the First Amendment.

SIDENOTE:
The North Carolina state constitution did prohibit anyone that didn’t believe in God from public office.  However, such bans were ruled unconstitutional in Turcaso v. Watkins (1961).

Reactionary Thought

On the 11th of September, while we here in the United States were remembering the attacks from 11-years ago, another situation erupted in two different nations half a world away.  Protests began in Egypt and in Libya.  Both had to do with the same thing… a movie made by someone here in the United States, whom we don’t know the identity as of yet, depicting the prophet Mohammad which is sacrilegious in the Muslim world.  In Cairo, Egypt, they stormed the US Embassy and took down the American flag.  In Benghazi, protesters marched outside the American consulate.  Everything seemed fine there, until a small group of armed militants took over the protest and stormed the consulate and setting fire to it.  This attack would end up killing four people… including the new American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.

As some Americans are now ready to fall back on basic stereotypes on all Muslims, another side this story developed in Libya.  The very next day, the people came out and marched again.  But this time it was a sign of solidarity with the United States… to show us that they stood with us in our grief over Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was someone they liked and admired.  After the attack on the consulate, it was the Libyan people who had carried Ambassador Stevens to the hospital in an effort to save him.  They might be upset over this so-called internet movie, but they also realized that there is a line between a civil protest and an act of terrorism.  As they took to the streets to show their support for us, they held us signs that read that the extremists didn’t speak for the people of Libya and they condemned the violence.  (slideshow)  The people of Libya realize that the United States helped to play a crucial role in their fight for freedom against an authoritarian regime, and they have not forgotten.  And we should not forget that there is a difference between the average citizen and the extremists.

My father and I have often had conversations that have centered around this part of the world.  We don’t tend to see eye-to-eye exactly, but I guess that is a generational difference.  In our discussions though, as we go back and forth between the moderates and the extremists, he usually points out that the moderates need to voice up so that they can be separated from the extremists.  I point out, after watching an open forum with faith and the Muslim community, that when the moderates do raise their voices so that they can be heard over the extremists, we are quick to place the extremist stamp on them, as well.  In this instance, however, the moderates made sure their voices were heard… to make sure that we here in the US knew that the extremists (those that carried out this horrible attack) did not speak for them and that they held our ambassador and our nation in great esteem… that they hadn’t forgotten the help that we had given them.  These were the voices that needed to be heard.  What started out as a protest against us could end up bringing us closer together.

Protests will continue throughout Muslim nations, and our embassies are on high alert.  Even now, Egyptian security forces are clashing with protesters outside the US Embassy in Cairo.  As much as we demonize the people for protesting the United States and even burning the American flag (and even voicing “death to America”), they are practicing a basic right that we tend to take for granted in our country… the right to assemble and the freedom of speech.  It does’t necessarily mean that we will like what they have to say though.  But that also doesn’t mean that they have a right to violence against anyone… including our own people.  We must make sure that we have the right to defend our people when they get in harm’s way.  But their people also need to realize that just because someone in the US makes a movie denouncing their religion, it doesn’t mean that we all do.  The person who made this film is the only person the film represents.  For those of us who are logical, rational Americans, this film comes no where close to representing who we are and what we believe.  And yes, there are those in our own country who would turn to violence if the situation was reversed, so we shouldn’t start acting all high and mighty either.

As the flames continue to burn, let us all stop for a moment and allow logical thought to sink in.  Americans do not hate Muslims.  The people of Libya have shown their true colors by denouncing the terrorism and siding with the US.  A small group of extremists should not allow us to fall back on stereotypes… nor does it give us permission to do so.  This goes for our elected leaders and for us average citizens.  Knee-jerk reactions will get us no where.  Statesmanship is an art form and not a game of chess.

The person who made this movie that sparked this fire had to know what he/she was doing and what the consequences of those actions would be.  We had seen it before  when a Dutch newspaper printed a caricature of the prophet Mohammad.  Though we practice freedom of speech, we need to also think of the ramifications of such speech in today’s technological world.  We must all learn to respect one another… and respect our right to speech and protest.  But we must not allow violence and terrorism to seep into our society.  The people of Libya are making that known to us and the world that the terrorists will not represent them or their nation, and that should be commended.  Events are still unfolding even as I write this, but I hope that with the passage of time that this fire will die away along with this “so-called” film that sparked it all.  If the creator feels the need to remain in secret, then we have no need to remember it.  What we shall do is continue the work in Libya that Ambassador Stevens had started and show that we, too, are better than just reactionary thoughts.

LINKS:
Did the US Embassy in Cairo Make An Apology? – Politifact
Libyans Denounce Acts of Terrorism (slideshow) – Yahoo
Six Things to Know About Attack (Libya) – CNN
Egypt Security Forces Clash With Protesters – Yahoo

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