What kind of country is it when you are not allowed to express yourself as an elected official because your views are felt to be an open rebellion against God? Hint: it is not a democracy.
The correct answer would be theocracy. And that is exactly what Republicans think the United States is, or ought to be.
This was what state Representative Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) discovered Wednesday when he attempted to speak. It was not some procedural issue that prevented him but the abuse of one. It was that Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) felt,
“I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God’s law.”
Since when is God’s law relevant? We live according to a law given us not by a god but by a group of men gathered for that purpose in Philadelphia; flawed men who, against all odds, had birthed a nation according to the principle that political power derives from the people – not a king, or through a king, a god.
God isn’t in the Constitution. He doesn’t get a vote. The Constitution forbids religious tests. Metcalfe has a right to his beliefs but Sims has an equal right to his. And that’s the way the Founding Fathers wanted it. But Sims, because he is gay, cannot speak.
This is a violation of everything America stands for.
God just isn’t part of the picture when it comes to a modern liberal democracy with its principles of pluralism and tolerance. God, with his command to have no other gods before him, puts himself against the United States Constitution.
Those who choose God in that equation put themselves in open rebellion against that Constitution.
Metcalfe cared nothing for the Constitution and Sims was not attempting to speak out of turn when the Republican used a rule that allows one member to object to and silence another. Two other Democrats who tried to support Sims were also silenced.
Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus says it was just another disagreement. But it’s not just another disagreement when God’s alleged will intrudes upon the democratic process.
Now allegedly Sims got some apologies from other Republicans and it is possible Metcalf will be reprimanded, but children suffer more grievous punishment for swiping a cookie out of the cookie jar.
The good news is that Sims is moving forward with a bill that would grant marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples in the Keystone State. Passage of such a bill would no doubt wipe the sneer off Metcalf’s face and perhaps it would be the best punishment of all.
But that is not the point. The point is that this incident should never have been allowed to happen. Thomas Jefferson did not want it to happen when he wrote his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in 1777, expressing very strongly that
[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
It was not what James Madison wanted when he wrote his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, in 1785, a document in which he stated that,
[W]e hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, ‘that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.’
A fundamental truth.
Yet Metcalf used force to prevent Sims from discharging his duties in the manner seemed most appropriate to him.
This is not an isolated incident. Far from it.
To name just a few, we have seen a Florida representative barred from saying “uterus” while Republicans happily legislate the uterus on behalf of their god; and in Michigan two representatives censured for saying “vagina” while Republicans happily legislate the vagina on behalf of their god; we have seen atheists told they are not fit to hold public office for obvious god-reasons; and religious extremist Metcalf himself has, in the past, reports Right Wing Watch, voted against a resolution for a Muslim group in the state because “Muslims do not recognize Jesus Christ as God.”
Recognizing Jesus Christ as god is not a pre-requisite. The Constitution says so. You can have one god or many gods or no god at all.
As Thomas Jefferson, the man David Barton has tried to turn into an evangelical, said in his Notes on the State of Virginia (Query XVII) in 1781-2, “it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
It did not break the bigoted Metcalf’s legs that Rep. Sims has an equal right to his beliefs and an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Many liberals and progressives had in the past laughed at the idea of a theocracy – at even the threat of a theocracy. Some still do. But the threat is very real and it haunts a country enshrining the principle of separation of church and state.
The Republican Party, now long dominated by religious extremists, will not rest until all opposition is silenced in the name of their god. People who wish to continue to enjoy their rights under the Constitution ought to start taking the threat of theocracy very seriously indeed.
Image from Newsworks