Religious Bigots Gather at National Religious Freedom Conference

Baltimore's Archbishop, William Lori

I wrote yesterday about the hypocrisy of the Christian Right claiming to defend religious freedom when what they are defending is the freedom to ignore our freedom. They are convinced that because we have the courage to say no to their oppression of women and religious minorities and atheists that we are persecuting them.

As CBN reports,  ”If you get the feeling that religious liberty is under attack in America, you’re not alone.” We are told that “With concern growing, leaders from across the country gathered in Washington this week for the National Religious Freedom Conference,” day-long conference, sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center. FOX News puts it this way: that “Faith leaders vow to fight threats to religious liberties in public sphere” but what this conference actually did was give bigots of every stripe a chance to be heard.

CBN goes on to report that “One Christian leader describes what many see as the attack on the right of conscience and religious liberty in America as ‘the raping of the soul.'”

For you women out there, the words of ” Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, might be of more than passing interest: “This debate is not just about contraceptives, but about coercion. It’s not about Catholics it’s about conscience; it’s about principle, not pelvic politics.”

Pelvic politics….

As I said yesterday, it is a wonder they can keep a straight face while they whine about us standing up to their authoritarian and un-Constitutional tactics. What is actually going on is a raping of the Constitution.

“Some say it’s the culmination of a decades-long process designed to eliminate religious people who don’t subscribe to a liberal world view.”

“You see the pattern: marginalizing religious groups,” Kyle Duncan of The Becket Fund noted.

Says the Catholic News Agency: “These attacks include attempts to require individuals to perform health care procedures that violate their beliefs, censure of policy arguments that incorporate religious beliefs, and efforts to weaken religious groups’ ability to choose their own leaders.”

And that’s the thing, you see: the problem is not the “liberal worldview” but as Gerd Lüdemann argues, “It was because of a rigid intolerance rooted in theological assumptions that the various writings of the New Testament willy-nilly produced many of the dogmatic and ideological problems that plague contemporary Christian churches.” He says that while churches “claim to make an important contribution to democracy” the trouble question arises “of whether the intolerance of Bible and creed can be harmonized with life in the necessarily pluralistic modern state.”[1]

Watch the Video on CBN:

Of course these people refuse to see what Lüdemann sees: it is not their embrace of intolerance that is at fault but the precepts of the modern liberal democracy as laid down in the U.S. Constitution. They are, to use a metaphor, unleashed dogs in what could be a very nice living room, but they refuse to be anything other than dogs and they use “holy writ” as an excuse for their execrable behavior, even university professors.

“I think it’s happening because all the different religious communities realize that a threat to one is a threat to all,” Princeton University professor Robert George said.

George says Christians and other believers are facing animosity from secularists for standing for their religious beliefs in the public square.

He calls it an “abuse” to apply anti-discrimination laws to biblical views on sexual morality and traditional marriage.

“That’s an odd thing since the very people who now condemn so many evangelical Christians and faithful Catholics for speaking publicly about their faith and acting publicly on their faith in the public square, would be the first to praise Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders who were people of faith, who acting on their religiously inspired convictions went out into the public square and advocated for justice and the common good,” George said.

So what’s the solution?  Faith leaders say “fight back.”

Their goal is to organize religious freedom caucuses in all 50 state legislatures and help state and federal lawmakers draft legislation that protects the right of conscience.  Reports the jubilant Catholic News Agency:

“The caucuses will be ‘a focal point for those who are working on religious freedom in the states to direct and generate their efforts,’ said Brian Walsh, executive director of the American Religious Freedom Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.”

“Rights of conscience” is a euphemism for “right to persecute” as is clear from the legislation so far seen so take this to mean that religious persecution is coming to your state, if it is not already there. It has certainly already made an appearance in the hallowed halls of Congress.

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives attacked the Department of Health and Human Services new guidelines that require insurance companies to cover contraceptive services free of charge. Committee Chairman Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) claimed the new rules do not protect religious groups who object to contraception. He claimed the government is taking, “coercive actions to force people to abandon their religious principles.” As part of the Republican War on Women, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) introduced a bill, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011, to allow providers to throw women under the bus on religious grounds.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s the spirit of American liberty. The Right to persecute is certainly not one embraced by Thomas Jefferson or James Madison, who men who worked closely together in the cause for genuine religious liberty.

But they’re quite serious about this as you can see; the movement to pass conscience laws is widespread and pernicious and like any ill-thought out piece of legislation these will have consequences unforeseen by their drafters. Take, for example, a new piece of legislation in North Dakota.

Measure 3, the “North Dakota Religious Freedom Amendment” – actually an anti-women’s reproductive rights amendment – would alter the North Dakota Constitution by adding a new section to Article I which states: “Government may not burden a person’s or religious organization’s religious liberty. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be burdened unless the government proves it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A burden includes indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.”

Measure 3 will appear on the June 12, 2012 ballot in North Dakota. It is supported by the North Dakota Family Alliance. Not only will Measure 3 impinge on women’s reproductive rights, but it could be used as an excuse to say, abuse your wife or children, as pointed out by North Dakotans Against Measure Three, and calls it a “wife beater’s dream come true.” In other words, you can do pretty much any damn thing you please and leave it to the government to prove you didn’t do it because of a “sincerely held religious belief.”

The obvious problem for Americans is that if this level of intolerance and bigotry can be legislated into law, then we no longer have the liberal democracy established by the Constitution but a theocracy imposed 200 years after the fact by religious extremists of all denominations.

Lüdemann writes,

“But how soon the Good News developed into Threatening News – that is, if the offer of salvation was turned down! Church leaders soon equated right believe with obedience. They projected onto the screen of heaven a social fabric based on subordination and increasingly shaped by a culture of suppression. The canonical status of the New Testament writings – henceforth an eternal norm for the church – has radically blurred the vision of its followers, inhibiting their ability to recognize that all these texts emerged from controversies whose marks they still show.”

The result as seen by Lüdemann, I would argue, is in evidence at the National Religious Freedom Conference:

Indeed, Christian intolerance seems to be an inherent, even necessary ingredient of the Christian religion…clearly it would be misleading to think that freedom in general and freedom of religion specifically are the consequences of the Christian message. Indeed, the religious tradition that claims as its founder the Prince of Peace has through the centuries shown an inability to endure other religious viewpoints. And this is as true today as ever, despite the protestations of church leaders who would like to have it appear otherwise in order to retain their welcome within the institutions of power that comprise the secular state.

“In reality,” Lüdemann concludes, “neither Christian theology nor the church can champion freedom of religion without betraying a considerable degrees of hypocrisy. For tolerance requires an unconditional acknowledgement of the freedom and dignity of human beings without recourse to God. Yet the jealous Yahweh of the Bible who demands unconditional obedience can never approve of such liberal affirmation.”

Lüdemann points out that the church took advantage of Rome’s “laissez-faire politics in religious matters” and that acquiescence is no antidote.[2] I would argue here that they have done the same in America and as this conference shows, they are far from finished taking advantage of our liberal tolerance to push their intolerant agenda.


[1] Gerd Lüdemann, Intolerance and the Gospel: Selected Texts from the New Testament (Prometheus Books, 2007), 8.

[2] Lüdemann (2007), 257-259. Emphasis added.

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