Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Right's Perversion of "Religious Freedom"

Nowadays, the Republican and Christofascist view of "religious freedom" equates to the Christofascists being allowed to force their beliefs on all of society or, if that fails, then being to use claimed religious belief to ignore laws that they don't like and to discriminate against other citizens at will.   Perhaps the most ominous example of this effort to stamp out the religious freedom of others is the farcically entitled "First Amendment Protection Act" which Congressional Republicans have promised to pass and which Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Fuhrer, has promised to sign.  If this act becomes law Christofascists - including corporations and businesses run by them and even medical providers - will granted license to discriminate against LGBT citizens and those who do not subscribe to Christofascists religious belief on abortion, contraception and cohabitation.  Frighteningly, most Americans are not even paying attention. I suspect many believe the act only attacks the LGBT community and, therefore are indifferent.  The act, however, goes much further and rather than protecting the First Amendment seeks to undermine and destroy it.  Here are highlights from a piece in Salon that looks at this insidious and dangerous agenda of the GOP and Christofascists: 
Forget the “War on Christmas.” Although far less known to the general public, Religious Freedom Day, which falls on Jan. 16 — coinciding this year with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance — has become one of America’s most-contested commemorative days. In most ways that’s a good thing, because of the need to shed light on what’s at stake: the very foundations of our most cherished freedoms.
Since 1992, Religious Freedom Day publicly celebrates the enactment of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1777 and passed into law by his protégé, James Madison, in 1786. It disestablished the state power of the Anglican Church, and ensured religious freedom for all.
For Jefferson, and progressives today, the statute — which paved the way for the First Amendment — was a revolutionary break with theocratic rule, a fundamental precondition for all the freedoms we enjoy today, or are still struggling to secure.  Jefferson saw it as a crowning lifetime achievement, so important it is inscribed on his tombstone.
But for the Christian right, “religious freedom” means almost exactly the opposite: the “freedom” to impose their will on everyone else, precisely the sort of power over others that Jefferson fought so hard against.
The religious right has been organizing intensively around its Orwellian redefinition of the term since the beginning of the Obama era. It was laid out in detail in a report by Frederick Clarkson of Political Research Associates, entitled  “When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right.” I summarized that report last year:
The title highlights a key aspect of the religious right’s long-term strategy, taking the time-honored principle of religious exemption, intended to protect the individual right of conscience, and expanding it recklessly to apply to whole institutions, even for-profit businesses — as seen in the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, in a process designed to fragment the common public sphere and carve out vast segments of American life where civil rights, labor law and other core protections simply do not apply.
This strategy was kicked into high gear back in 2009 with the “Manhattan Declaration,” a widely endorsed manifesto linking “freedom of religion” specifically to “sanctity of life” and “dignity of marriage,” which religious progressives are just beginning to effectively counter-organize against.
As recently as the 1980s, Christian Right activists defended racial segregation by claiming that restrictions on their ability to discriminate violated their First Amendment right to religious freedom. …
Instead of African Americans being discriminated against by Bob Jones, the university argued it was the party being discriminated against in being prevented from executing its First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court disagreed.
“Six months after authoring the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson joined with several others in January 1777 to discuss what would later become the Virginia statute,” Clarkson said. “It was an urgent committee meeting because the success of the Revolution depended in part on the cobbling together of a coalition of stakeholders, and religious dissenters of Virginia —the Baptists, Presbyterians and Methodists — were necessary if there would be any chance of defeating what was at the time the greatest military power in the history of the world.”
If that sounds eerily familiar, there’s a good reason. As with the Democratic Party of today, the popular foundation of the American revolution came from a diverse array of socially subjugated out-groups. But they weren’t brought together through quid-pro-quo backroom deals, they were brought together with a liberationist vision.
“Attendance at an Anglican church on Sunday was compulsory,” Clarkson explained. “Failure to attend was one of the most prosecuted crimes in colonial Virginia in the years before the revolution.” Legally, members of local Anglican church vestries “were also empowered to report crimes like heresy and blasphemy to local grand juries. Violators were dealt with harshly,” But that’s not all. “Baptists were often victims of vigilante violence,” since practicing their faith made them publicly vulnerable.
“This was all in recent memory of such abuses that helped to create the political moment that made Virginia the first government in the history of the world to self-impose complete religious freedom and equality. This actually effectively disestablished the Anglican church as the state church of Virginia, curtailing its extraordinary powers and privileges. It also decreed that citizens were  free to believe as they will, and that this — and this is the key phrase in the legislation — that ‘this shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.’ Put another way, one’s religious identity was irrelevant to one’s standing as a citizen.”
The same political situation Jefferson dealt with in Virginia was replicated throughout colonial America, and persisted through the formation of the United States, bringing other leaders to embrace a similar outlook as well. Case in point: George Washington.
In part, Washington wrote: The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.
The strongest opposition to it came from those who opposed the Revolution, the Anglican establishment and their supporters, whose power and influence were greatly diminished as the new nation formed.
Though that opposition persists to this very day, it has never regained anything like the power it had previously had, prior to the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. This is the true history of religious freedom in America. It’s not a battle between the godly and the heathen, but between the tolerant and the intolerant, the inclusive and exclusive, the forward-looking and the backward-looking. But it takes an accurate look backward to see the true way forward. 

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