The GOP’s Wacky One-Way Religious Freedom (We Got it, You Don’t)

Republican ideas about religious freedom are just bizarre – how is insisting everyone live according to your particular religious beliefs, how is forcing everyone to allow you to lead prayers to your particular god at school board meetings and so forth, promote religious freedom?

If I am forced to live according to your religious tenets, where are my religious freedoms? If I am not allowed contraception because your religion is opposed to it, where are my religious freedoms?  What if as a woman you want an abortion and you are told, “no, that’s against my religion”? If I have to listen to you lead a prayer to your god while I am forced to sit in silence, where are my religious freedoms?

Rob Boston of Americans United noted this discrepancy as it relates to the Catholic Church:

But to the bishops, “religious liberty” has a very specific meaning. The church hierarchy tends to use the term when seeking to have church dogma written into law for all Americans to follow or when they’re demanding exemptions from general laws that apply to all groups.

Yeah…that’s not really religious liberty. It’s only religious liberty if we all have the same religious liberties. Otherwise its special rights.

Republicans don’t seem to see the irony. They simply keep insisting that their religious freedoms are being infringed because they can’t do whatever they want while we…sit on our hands.

Take Michigan Rep. Tim Walberg, two-term Republican, who, says CBN, “believes prayer is a part of America’s DNA, pointing to the founding fathers who sought divine guidance as he does. In May 2012, he introduced H.Res.662 which expresses support for school board prayer. The measure quickly found 33 co-sponsors.

Rob Boston writes,

As a practical matter, resolutions like this have little meaning. Congress can pass a resolution stating that the Earth is flat, but that doesn’t make it so. But these legislative gestures are still annoying because increasingly they are vehicles to assail our fundamental freedoms and score political points.

This particular resolution, which drones on for four pages, cites a 1983 Supreme Court ruling dealing with prayers before state legislatures. It says this ruling, Marsh v. Chambers, permits ceremonial prayers before government meetings and calls them “a tolerable acknowledgement of beliefs widely held among the people of the Nation.”

That’s nice Walberg believes that his kind of prayer is part of America’s DNA. He is entitled to believe that. He is not, according to the First Amendment, allowed to legislate that. And he loves to legislate his beliefs. He is a cosponsor of H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. He is also a cosponsor of H.R. 358, the Protect Life Act.

In fact, he cares so much about his rights of conscience and so little for yours, that he co-sponsored the infamous “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011” (H.R. 1179).

Completely distorting the religious landscape of the Founding elite, Walberg claims, “It was like second nature that all of a sudden it was stopped and said, ‘Let’s go to prayer.'”

Except that they didn’t. They didn’t even go to prayer when it was suggested, while grinding out the U.S. Constitution on sweltering days when tempers were flaring.

Walberg is, unsurprisingly, a former pastor. He apparently thinks he is a pastor still and he is determined that the rest of us pray along with him, by God. As CBN reports,

One way he’s trying to do that is with a House resolution supporting school boards that start their meetings with prayer, a practice that’s brought lawsuits to some school boards and other local bodies in recent years. “If you want to pray at a town hall meeting or a school board meeting or in the halls of Congress, that ought to be acceptable in the United States.”

Unless, of course, you’re not Christian. Look what they’ve done to President Obama because his Christianity is not like their own. Look at the abuse being heaped on their own Republican candidate for president, Mitty Romney, for daring to be a Mormon who has some different ideas about Jesus. Look what they’ve done to Keith Ellison, who is not a Christian at all but a Muslim. Look at the outrage over inviting a Hindu priest to give a prayer at the opening of a House session.

Then you should not be allowed to pray at all. It’s amazing how rapidly arguments for religious freedom evaporate when another God is mentioned – or no god.

Rob Boston of Americans United points out that “It creates a precedent, or at least the appearance, that that particular religious perspective has a special relationship with the government, and the government really shouldn’t be taking a stand like that.” And they shouldn’t. The First Amendment says so. The First Amendment bans state-sponsored religion.

Imagine a Wiccan or a Muslim or some member of another religious minority standing up to lead a prayer at a town hall meeting or a school board meeting. Imagine the abuse that person would endure for daring to have beliefs that are at odds with Rep. Walberg’s.

Walberg claims that his resolution wouldn’t infringe on anyone’s religious freedom, that it only acknowledges “the role and power of prayer” but he, as a private citizen enjoying his First Amendment rights, can acknowledge the role and power of prayer any time he wants to – the government should not.

He claims “We’re not pushing on other people and saying you have to do this, but it’s promoted freedom in this country and the world, and we want to continue it.”

But he is insisting we have to do this or that. He is insisting that we sit through recitation of sectarian prayers, that we put his god’s official seal on the actions of whatever committee is about to meet, that his god and no other’s god is guiding the hands and hearts of those about to engage in a decision making process for all.

This is a clear and obvious violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. There are tax-free places Walberg can go to pray if he wants. They are called churches.

Would Rep. Walberg be as happy if the group leading the prayer was of a denomination not his own? Christian history for its twenty centuries of existence has been a patchwork of warring denominations, often leading to violence and death between them and replete with denunciations of heresy (false belief). We continue to see it today. We witnessed a presidential candidate accuse mainline protestants of serving Satan because they did not share his particular belief set.

And how is the Muslim to feel, the Wiccan to feel, a Heathen to feel or any other member of a religious minority to feel, when forced to listen to a room full of religious bigots use the sanction of their offices to attack the beliefs of other religions? Infamously, Christians in the Pagan Roman Empire would disrupt Pagan worship by hissing. Wouldn’t that be fun to endure again if you dared express your own non-Christian religious beliefs? I know what kind of stares even wearing a Thor’s hammer instead of a cross can engender. Imagine saying it out loud.

Conservative Christians get very testy when they see you don’t agree with them. Your insistence on your right to your own beliefs is interpreted by them as an attack on theirs.

The one thing Republicans – conservative Catholics and Protestants both – aren’t lying about is that our religious freedom is under assault. They’re just wrong about whose religious freedom is under assault. Yours. As an individual.

One’s religious freedom is not less important than that of another’s, or of the many.

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