Why Do Right-Wing Christians Think ‘Religious Freedom’ Means Forcing Their Faith on You?

Religious freedom has turned into conservative code for imposing Christianity.

Source: Alternet

Author: Amanda Marcotte

“Religious freedom is one of the most fundamental American values, written directly into the First Amendment of the Constitution. Of course, true religious freedom requires a secular society, where government stays out of the religion game and leaves it strictly to individual conscience, a standard that runs directly against the modern conservative insistence that America is and should be a “Christian nation”. So what are people who claim to be patriots standing up for American values to do? Increasingly, the solution on the right is to redefine “religious freedom” so that it means, well, its exact opposite. “Religious freedom” has turned into conservative code for imposing the Christian faith on the non-believers.

While it seems like a leap even for the most delusional conservatives to believe that their religious freedom can only be protected by giving Christians broad power to force their faith on others, a new report from the People For the American Way shows how the narrative is constructed. The report shows that Christian conservative circles have become awash in legends of being persecuted for their faith, stories that invariably turn out to be nonsense but that “serve to bolster a larger story, that of a majority religious group in American society becoming a persecuted minority, driven underground in its own country.” This sense of persecution, in turn, gives them justification to push their actual agenda of religious repression under the guise that they’re just protecting themselves.

The most obvious and persistent example of this is the issue of creationism in the classroom. Clearly, teaching creationism in a biology classroom is a straightforward violation of the First Amendment, a direct attempt to use taxpayer money to foist a very specific religious teaching on captive students. So what the right does is reframe the issue, arguing that teaching evolutionary theory is a form of religious oppression, a direct attack on the beliefs of fundamentalists in the classroom. This is pure hooey, of course, since evolutionary theory is not a religion but a scientific reality, and teaching science as science is no more a violation of religious freedom than teaching kids to that “cat” rhymes with “hat” is an imposition of religion. But once they’ve convinced themselves that learning science in the science classroom is religious persecution, it becomes easier to convince yourself that it’s okay to “fight back” by forcing your actual religion on everyone else.

You can see this play out in the legends that PFAW details out. Do Christian conservatives want to force their religious hostility to gays onto the military? Tell a lie about how a sergeant was persecuted for simply holding that religious belief to paint yourself as the “real” victim. Want to justify forcing non-believing kids to pray to your god in school? Tell lies about how kids are being punished for having private prayers all to themselves. Want to force people in the VA hospital to sing your religious songs and worship your god? Spread a false tale claiming that people aren’t allowed private ownership of religious cards. Tell enough of these stories and people on the right can convince themselves the only way they can protect their own right to worship is to force their religious practice on everyone else.

You can see how this kind of logic swept over the Becket Fund, a legal institution that was initially set up to protect the individual right to religious freedom. As chronicled by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux at The American Prospect, the Becket Fund started off doing easily defensible work protecting people who wanted to express their religious beliefs in personal ways that are not coercive to others, such as protecting prisoners who wanted to have religious tchotchkes or workers who wanted to maintain religious hairstyles at work.

But the Becket Fund’s latest high profile case is an outright attack on religious freedom, in a case that will soon be decided by the Supreme Court. The Becket Fund is defending the Green family that owns Hobby Lobby in their desire to impose their religious beliefs about contraception on employees, by denying employees the right to use their own insurance benefits on contraception. The idea that it could ever be “religious freedom” to tell an employee that her private use of her own compensation package should be constrained by her boss’s religious beliefs should be laughable. But that’s the logic of the modern Christian right that holds that the only way to “protect” their own religious belief is to start forcing it on others.

Of course, this kind of logic inevitably starts to crumble when people who don’t share the conservative Christian religion start pushing back and arguing that their right to their own private beliefs should not be infringed by being made to pray to someone else’s god in school, being taught Bible stories in biology class, or being forced to check with the boss first before you pick up your prescription medications after hours. The solution, increasingly, is to outright argue that non-believers or people of different faiths have beliefs that are simply less worthy of basic protections for religious freedom, much less the hyper-charged “religious freedom” of imposing your faith on others, the kind of “religious freedom” conservative Christians believe they’re entitled to.

Take, for instance, Jody Hice, a Republican candidate for a U.S. House seat from Georgia. Hice has a novel solution to the problem of the religious rights of Muslims being infringed upon when they are subject to having religion imposed on them by Christians: Simply deny that Islam is a religion and therefore deny that its followers enjoy freedom of religion. “Although Islam has a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology,” he wrote in his 2012 book It’s Now Or Never. “It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protection.”

It’s a dumb statement on two levels. One, it’s plainly obvious that Islam is a religion and therefore people who believe in it are absolutely guaranteed their actual freedom to worship how they please. (Though perhaps Hice is worried that Muslims will decide to adopt the Christian conservative definition of “religious freedom” and start demanding that you can’t eat pork and you have to pray five times a day.) But even if someone doesn’t have a religion doesn’t mean that they lose their basic right to decide for themselves what to believe. Atheists do not have a religion, but it’s just as wrong to force atheists to pray to your god as it would be to do so to a Muslim.

Sadly, this argument that the Christian right to religious freedom includes the right to foist their faith on others has made the leap to the Supreme Court, with Justice Scalia arguing incoherently that the “First Amendment explicitly favors religion” in order to justify the hijacking of a school event to force religion on the non-believers in attendance. As Scott Lemieux at Lawyers Guns and Money pointed out, it’s actually the exact opposite: “it disfavors religious endorsements by the state.” But in this new topsy-turvy right-wing world, up is down, left is right, and the only way to protect religious freedom is to use government and corporate force to make everyone follow a conservative version of Christianity, whether they believe it or not.

Amanda Marcotte co-writes the blog Pandagon. She is the author of “It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.”

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-do-right-wing-christians-think-religious-freedom-means-forcing-their-faith-you?utm_source=Amanda+Marcotte%27s+Subscribers&utm_campaign=effed0801b-RSS_AUTHOR_EMAIL&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f2b9a8ae81-effed0801b-79824733

America Does Not Have a Religious Identity

The Constitution of Religious Freedom: God, Politics, and the First Amendment
by Dennis J. Goldford
Baylor University Press , 2013

Source: Religion Dispatches


What inspired you to write The Constitution of Religious Freedom?

At a practical level, I have been fascinated by the rise of Christian conservatism, and particularly the claim of what some call Christian nationalism, that America is a Christian nation, as a major factor in American politics. At a theoretical level, I have always thought that, at its broadest, politics is the process by which we negotiate our differences. In particular, liberal democracy—a political order in which majorities rule but not over everything—is an institutionalized agreement to disagree. My concern is the question: what happens, and what do we do, if there are some things about which we cannot agree to disagree? Prominent on that list is religion.

What’s the most important take-home message for readers?

The central argument of the book is that the Constitution does not protect religion—it protects religious freedom. The latter is very different from the former, and understanding the distinction enables us to understand the political meaning of the religion clauses of the Constitution. Specifically, I argue that the meaning of the religion clauses is that the locus of religious identity is the individual, not the nation; that the American political order does not have a religious identity of its own, but, rather, is a political order that allows and encourages individuals and groups of their choosing to have their own religious identity without having one of its own.

  • Is there anything you had to leave out?There is nothing I had to leave out. Baylor University Press was nothing but supportive of my scholarship. My goal was to explore what I think is problematic about the conventional discussion of the religion clauses of the Constitution: debates about “separation of church and state” or “neutrality” have come to obscure more than they reveal. The central question underlying an understanding of the political meaning of the religion clauses, as noted above, is whether the locus of religious identity is the individual or the nation. This is what the literature seems to miss.

    What are some of the biggest misconceptions about your topic?

    When I ask an audience of students or others whether America is a Christian nation, they usually reply by saying either that the Founders were themselves Christian or that the Founders intended that the nation be Christian. My argument is that the question here is not an historical one, but a theoretical one, the one noted in point 2 above.

    Did you have a specific audience in mind when writing?

    While a major purpose of the book is to make a significant contribution to an ongoing scholarly literature, I always strive to write for what I call the intelligent but uninformed reader who has no prior knowledge of the subject matter. That pushes me to be as clear, careful, and precise as possible in laying out the argument I am trying to make. We always have a reader or an audience in mind when we write, and thinking in terms of the intelligent but uninformed reader instead of the specialist forces me to avoid the hidden and uncontested assumptions that can weaken even the best scholarly work. Nevertheless, I did write The Constitution of Religious Freedom to make a scholarly argument for a scholarly audience and thus did include a substantial footnote apparatus.

    Are you hoping to just inform readers? Entertain them? Piss them off?

    As my response to the next question indicates, I am certainly trying to provoke readers, but to do so in the sense of challenging their unexamined assumptions and encouraging them either to agree with me or to push me to reformulate my argument to address significant objections to it. At the same time, I am indeed attempting to advance a meaningful, scholarly argument about what having our Constitution means to the politics of religious freedom.

    What alternative title would you give the book?

    My original title was deliberately provocative: One Nation under Whose God? Law, Politics, and Religion in America. The experienced people at Baylor University Press said, however, that this title might suggest the mistaken perception that the book was more of a sociological work than the theoretical work it actually is. Deferring to their expertise, I chose the main title, The Constitution of Religious Freedom, with the deliberate double meaning of 1) the Constitution as a charter of religious freedom, and 2) the act of constituting religious freedom, and Baylor came up with the clever subtitle, God, Politics, and the First Amendment. I was able to give my concluding chapter the title, “One Nation under Whose God?”

    How do you feel about the cover?

    I’m actually quite happy with it. Beyond being aesthetically attractive, it makes a substantive point by nesting the title, my subject matter, in the text of the Constitution.

    Is there a book out there you wish you had written? Which one? Why?

    That’s an interesting and difficult question. At the risk of giving an erroneous impression, I might say that I wrote the books I’ve written for a very selfish reason—in each case there was an issue or topic that I wanted to clarify for myself and find out what I really thought about it. In that sense, to borrow the old saying, I write to find out what I think. I enjoy the way an argument seems to take on a life of its own, such that the process of exploring one idea leads me to discover views or positions I didn’t know beforehand that I had. That said, I have always taught in teaching-intensive academic settings, and I regret never having had the chance to turn my dissertation on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit into a book and to make my definitive statement on the Hegel-Marx relationship. My scholarly interests simply changed along the way.

    What’s your next book?

    I have been interested in the constitutional claims of the Tea Party movement, whose supporters always express reverence for the Constitution and who claim to be “constitutional conservatives.” My early explorations have led me to believe that Tea Party constitutionalism, for all its reverence for the Constitution, is actually the preferred constitutional theory of the Anti-Federalist opponents of the Constitution rather than the Federalist supporters. I am still in the process of deciding how I want and need to pursue this argument.

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.religiondispatches.org/books/rd10q/7108/

Why Is There So Much God in America’s Politics?

From: AlterNet

By:Santiago Wills, Salon

N.B.: “Religion is not a majoritarian issue in the United States.”  Judge John E. Jones.

“His silence about his faith notwithstanding, Mitt Romney will become the first Mormon to win a major-party presidential nomination. That could put more attention on his religion than any candidate has faced since John Kennedy in 1960, especially as Romney tries to attract skeptical evangelical voters. Meanwhile, President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage and the ongoing social issues surrounding the war on women are bound to intensify criticism from the religious right and the crucial faction of conservative Latino voters.

But religion has profoundly influenced presidential politics since the days of George Washington. As Michael I. Meyerson argues in his new book, “Endowed by Our Creator: The Birth of Religious Freedom in America,” a scholarly account of how the framers of the Constitution viewed the role of religion in government, the current campaign has a lot in common with some of the country’s first electoral bouts. Then as now, Meyerson says, the debates were portrayed as a clash between a godless candidate who wanted a secular country and a true defender who was willing to restore the morals of a Christian nation. He says that the study of the formation of the American government can help us understand the reasons behind the growing partisan divide and help bridge the conflicting religious opinions of both political parties.

Salon spoke to Meyerson — a professor of law and a Piper & Marbury Faculty Fellow at the University of Baltimore. — about the framers of the Constitution, the upcoming elections, and religious discrimination.

Throughout your book, you highlight how some of the writings and actions of the framers of the Constitution have been taken out of their historical context to support the political agendas of both liberals and conservatives. How does the historical record compare to the way both parties portray the framers today?

The framers were generally far more nuanced, complicated and willing to be complicated than the modern political dialogue. They didn’t have to be purely on the left or on the right. Most of them were trying to make a compromise between multiple concerns and constituencies.

Compared to the late 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, how would you describe the current discussion of religion in politics?

In terms of the role of religion in government, what I’ve found is that much of the modern dialogue is trying to make the framers entirely one thing or another. You have those who want to argue for a strict separation of church and state, and those who believe that America is a Christian nation. The former go through history assuming a lot and use writings by Madison and Jefferson with a very narrow desire to say that government should not have anything to do with religion. The latter look at the large amount of religious reference and activity in the colonies and say that there is a long history of government being entwined with religion. What neither side does is take into account the validity of the history of the other side. What you end up reading are two half-histories, and generally neither political side has been willing to put the two different components together, which is what I tried to do in my book.

You write that it is essential to create an “accurate picture of what freedom of religion meant at the time of the framing” of the Constitution. Why does that matter?

Even though we are a more pluralistic society, it is important to remember that the framers of the Constitution were dealing with a diversity of their own — and with very violent conflicts between the different denominations, some of which were caused and abetted by government. So what we can learn, first of all, is how to balance competing concerns. The debates that we are having about the role of religion in government are not new; we are dealing with a centuries-old debate. The framers, and especially the vastly underrated George Washington, were very aware of the fact that religion could be a force for good and a force for evil. That was what they were trying to balance.

Unlike Madison or Jefferson, Washington was very explicit in saying that he considered divine intervention one of the main reasons we won the Revolutionary War. He saw the hand of Providence in the writing of the Constitution, but he also understood — and this was where his genius was — that if you are sectarian, if you favor any particular religion, you end up dividing, rather than uniting, the nation. So, again, what we can learn from the framers is that government is not barred from acknowledging religion, but that it must do so in an extraordinarily careful and respectful way, in which the goal is making sure that every American feels a part of the country regardless of their religious beliefs.

In your book, Washington emerges as a practical thinker who saw religious freedom as a way of avoiding conflict and promoting morality. While he was in office, he used inclusive religious language in his speeches and was careful not to support the idea that the country was founded as a Christian nation, a belief that many people from the right accept today as an unquestionable truth. Why was the first president so vehement in his refusal to say that Christianity was the nation’s religion?

Washington knew that people don’t go to war for God; they go to war for a particular God. George Washington was unique in American history because he was the first person to look after a united country. He was the head of the military during the Revolutionary War, so he was forced to work with soldiers from all the different states, including those that had different religious backgrounds than his own. He knew that if he wasn’t careful and, more importantly, if his soldiers weren’t careful, then religion was going to destroy his army. Washington had to learn as a military person and as a political person that if you discussed religion, you had to do so in a respectful way. At the same time, he was not going to ignore either his religious views or those of the population.

How have the framers’ views on religious freedom shaped America as a whole?

First of all, they made America, ironically, a more religious country. A lot of the religious movements from the 19th century have their roots in the framers’ actions, given that there was no favored governmental religion. Especially in the newer states, there existed a sentiment that people could find the religion that spoke to them most. Second, once immigrants arrived — and despite the strong anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic views of most people throughout the 19th century — there was always a strong sense that the true American understanding was that all religions were welcome. It became part of the definition of what America was. You had, then, both a space for religion to grow on its own and a welcoming of religion. Finally, the Constitution also allowed for a secular view of society and life to also flourish as government was forced to step away. In the end, there was an ironic combination of more religion and more freedom of religion at the same time.

In your book, you mention the 1800 election between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. It was framed in the Gazzette of the United States by the question: “Shall I continue in allegiance to GOD — AND A RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT; Or impiously declare for JEFFERSON — AND NO GOD!!!” There are some parallels with the current elections.

[Laughs] Yes, yes. The idea of a presidential battle being a proxy for a view of religion is very old. Indeed, there was the sense that the Adams side viewed their efforts as the only way to protect religion, and that Jefferson’s side viewed their efforts as the only way to stop an establishment of religion in a narrow sectarian government. One of my goals in the book is to show that the debates that we are having today are not a creation of our times. We can learn from the lessons of the election of 1800. One of the most radical parts of the Constitution said that no one had to take a religious oath to serve in government. It was a major step, a radical change, perhaps the most important moment in American religious history. However, that doesn’t mean that people can’t vote based on their religious beliefs. The vote of 1800 seems to suggest that the people then didn’t want to have a purely religious government. They were more comfortable with the Jefferson approach, which sought to limit the role of government, than with the Adams approach, which was far more sectarian than that of Washington and Jefferson.

Mitt Romney’s religion played a significant role in the Republican primary. Because of his faith, after winning the nomination, he’s been forced to reach out to some of the Christian groups that had previously shunned him. Do you think there’s an implicit faith test for candidates within the GOP and one for the president within the country?

First of all, I think that surely within the country there is. There are surveys that say people will vote for almost anyone over an atheist. There is a 30 or 40 percent part of the population that will not vote for someone who doesn’t believe in God, so there’s definitely a religious test for the highest office.

Within the Republican Party, I think there is also a small group that does have a sort of religious test. Sometimes the test, if you will, will be passed if the candidate abides by politics that mirror religious beliefs, and sometimes [it will be passed] by the adherence to a specific faith.

In the book I tried to avoid the ongoing debate surrounding what were Washington’s and Jefferson’s specific religious faiths. I think that most American voters get that people’s professed faith doesn’t matter, and that someone’s beliefs can be incredibly complicated. What matters is how they live their lives and their view of government. One of the points of the framing period is that there were people that were very conservative, devout and pious men, who believed in a very limited role of government — for example, my hero John Leland, the Baptist minister. On the other hand you had people that were largely irreligious, like Benjamin Franklin, who supported teaching religion because they thought it was good for the masses. In political thought, there’s a sense that people should not search for a candidate with their same religious beliefs, but rather for one whose politics support their religious beliefs and tenets.

Meanwhile, Obama’s spirituality has been questioned many times … 

Yes, he has been forced to declare his religion far more than most other presidents. While George Washington would never say in public that he was a Christian, President Obama has to do it all the time. Whether he is comfortable with it or not is irrelevant, but it’s a shame. It’s sad that we have to brand him with a religion. First of all, it implies something very hostile, given that he’s had to say that he is Christian because he’s been accused of being a Muslim, as if that were something really bad. On the other hand, the fact that he has to declare his religion implies that that is the right religion for a political leader. I don’t think he believes in doing that, but he knows that politically he has to sort of fit in with this mindset.

Taking Romney into account, what I think you end up with, ironically, are two candidates who consider themselves to be Christian, even though the Mormon faith is not considered to be Christian by some Christians, and Obama is not considered to be a Christian by some Christians. Both of them need to present their bona fide credentials in a way that I think works to divide, rather than to unite, religious faith.

And those credentials are the faith test you mentioned earlier.

Exactly. In fact, it was understood by de Tocqueville and others that the governmental oath test was removed, but the individual’s religious test could remain. It has fluctuated over time, and I think you saw it in the Republican primaries. It might be muted a little in this campaign because I think that many people are going to vote for the candidates’ politics and not for a candidate who represents their faith.

Republicans have constantly accused Obama of waging a so-called war on religion. Many Catholic groups have filed law suits against the government claiming that their religious freedom was violated by the inclusion of contraceptives in basic health care coverage for women. His recent statements regarding gay marriage have only exacerbated that view among his opponents. Do you think those complaints have any legal standing? 

Well, let’s break up the two issues. President Obama had to deal with the religious objections to gay marriage by giving his support in religious language, so that’s not a “war on religion.” Both sides can quote the Bible in support of their own beliefs. You can make a very strong religious argument, as he did, in favor of an inclusive view of society to combat those who use their faith to oppose that view.

In terms of the Catholic Church and other institutions being “forced” to provide contraception, the problem is more complicated. There are two different issues here. First, all institutions, religious or otherwise, must follow generally applicable laws. These are laws which require everyone to do something. For example, there’s a famous case in which the state of Oregon banned the use of peyote, the psychedelic drug. At the time, the drug was used recreationally and also for religious purposes by Native Americans. The Supreme Court said that the law didn’t target religion. It was universal: No one could use the law. Therefore, even though the law had the effect of crippling a religious practice, the law was considered to be constitutional because it was neutral.

However, there was a response to that case that [argued for making] exceptions so that religious groups can follow their faith. This was adopted in all sorts of cases, including conscious objectors to the draft. Since then, the government tries to accommodate minority religions, in part because majority religions are always accommodated. Only minority religions need special accommodations.

In the case of Obama and contraception, though, the administration learned from past mistakes and arranged for private insurance companies to be in charge of the distribution of contraception. Meanwhile, there are ongoing negotiations on how to be sensitive to religious needs.

The second issue has to do with those ongoing negotiations. While they are taking place, the Supreme Court is bound to rule on whether the health care act is unconstitutional. If the court rules against it, the whole issue will go away. Now, what’s incredibly sad is that a religious argument has been put in the midst of a political debate. I think that contraception is a very important and difficult issue because there are the rights of religious institutions and also the right of women to have health care. To drag this into court in the middle of the presidential campaign while the negotiations are under way smells more like politics than religion.

Their complaints aside, the Catholics don’t seem to be the religious group that the government has actually targeted. Since 9/11, Muslims have been singled out by, among others, the NYPD. Are there any similar historical precedents in America?

From what I know of the issue, what happened is similar to what was done with other minority religions in the past. Catholics were viewed as suspect because they were connected with foreign powers, be it the Pope or France. There was a suspicion of the whole group, an assumption that anyone who was Catholic couldn’t be loyal. John Kennedy had to deal with that in the 1960 presidential campaign — this presumption not of divided loyalty but of lack of loyalty to America because of your religion. I think you have the exact situation here. There’s an invidious presumption that if you believe in X religion, then you must be part of an alien culture that’s un-American. The widespread distrust of Muslims, whether in fighting where a mosque is built or regarding the monitoring of Muslim individuals, is part of this view that being a part of a minority religion make you un-American.”

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