So-Called Religious Liberty Bills Pervert our First Amendment

If you have been observing the debate regarding the so-called “religious liberty” bills popping up in state after state – Kansas, Arizona, Georgia, and elsewhere, you will be aware that these bills have nothing to do with religious liberty and everything to do with oppression of minorities.

These bills are designed to give conservative Christians the right to essentially establish their religion as a state religion. In other words, even though their religion is not officially the state religion, they can effectively function as though it is by denying goods and services (just for starters) to those they do not approve of. But they are a slippery slope, and Janet Brewer was right to say that SB 1062 “could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine” and that it “could result in unintended and negative consequences.”

Let’s face it: these religious liberty bills are designed to generate negative consequences. That’s why they are written in the first place. According to the U.S. Constitution, we are all equal before the law. These religious liberty bills are intended to undermine those Constitutional protections in the guise of religious freedom. As Adalia Woodbury wrote here last night, “S.B. 1062 is a slippery slope of hate, badly disguised as ‘religious freedom’ of the Taliban variety.”

It has become a core principle of the Religious Right that the First Amendment, which bans the establishment of religion, actually establishes Christianity as the state religion. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association has made this claim and an Arizona Tea Party group has repeated it on their website. The Williams Tea Party of Coconino County says:

The First Amendment was meant only to protect the Christian faith. When the founders spoke of religion, they meant the Christian religion. They did not have to keep saying the Christian religion because everyone knew that is what they were talking about.

This claim is easily tested, but let’s look first at a related and equally absurd claim, this one by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX).

Rep. Gohmert wants us to believe that the recently vetoed Arizona SB 1062 was not only constitutional, but that it would uphold constitutional principles. Gohmert told Janet Mefferd yesterday that,

These are religious beliefs and how have we gotten so far afield from the Constitution that we say, well if you’re not willing to embrace the liberal beliefs that we have then your religious beliefs are not protected. It doesn’t say that in the First Amendment, it avoids the establishment of a religion. Well some are establishing the religion of secularism and everybody else’s religion has just got to basically go to blazes.

For Gohmert, secularism is religion, but by its very definition, secularism is NOT religion. It cannot be. Certainly there is argument today over the meaning of “religion” as a definition just as there is over any definition, but what matters is how those who wrote the Constitution defined religion.

Let us appeal to the Dictionary of the English Language, by Samuel Johnson (1768, 3rd edition):

Religion. 1. Virtue, as founded upon reverence of God, and expectation of future rewards and punishments. 2. A system of divine faith and worship as opposite to others.

This definition is repeated in the 1792 edition. The Constitution, of course, dates from 1787.

Interestingly, this definition does not say that by religion what is meant is Christianity, which refutes the Coconino Tea Party group. This Tea Party group might also wish to consider the actions of President James Madison, who, in vetoing a bill establishing a church in the District of Columbia, wrote that the bill “exceeds the rightful authority to which governments are limited by the essential distinction between civil and religious functions, and violates in particular the article of the Constitution of the United States which declares that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment.'”

For the sake of thoroughness, let us look at the definition of “secular” in the same dictionary:

Secular. 1. Not spiritual; relating to affairs of the present world; not holy; worldly. 2. [In the church of Rome.] Not bound by monastic rules.

In that dictionary, to “secularize” something is to “make [it] worldly.”

Secularism then it not religion, but the absence of religion. It is the absence from the Constitution of religious law. The Constitution is a secular document. It is not, and has never been, a religious document. All the claims in the world that the Constitution is founded on biblical principles will not change that, because there is not a biblical principle to be found in the Constitution. David Barton can look all day and all night for a year and he will not find one.

In any case, even if secularism were religion – and it clearly was not to the framers of the Constitution – it is difficult to see how passing laws that force everybody to obey Christian rules and suffer punishment if they do not, protects religious freedom, let alone promotes Arizona State Senator Al Melvin’s “maximum religious freedom.”

21 Replies to “So-Called Religious Liberty Bills Pervert our First Amendment”

  1. Freedom of conscience means that no one has to support a rapist, or porn0grapher, or a sexual molester, or a swinger, or a person with a homosexual problem, etc., when they are being “themselves” – that is, when they want to push their deformed sexuality agenda and coerce me to push it too.

    This is what this bill would have protected – and which is what the 1st Amendment is written to protect. But liberals have thrown the 1st Amendment
    in the trash. When we have freedom of conscience, we have the choice not to provide services to destructive or immoral people of any kind. This is why the concept of sexual orientation discrimination is a fraud.

    Liberals also wrongly claim that Jesus commands people to push perverted sexuality agendas in society directly or indirectly, because some sexuality pig demands that they do. This is where you separate the true Christians from the chaff. True Christians do not put themselves at the service of evil or immorality.

  2. In my humble opinion, people like Fischer, Gohmert and Melvin have no business making policy or commenting on policy if they can’t even grasp the most basic definitions of words they are using to make or comment on policy. If immigrants seeking citizenship have to pass a test based on American history laws and civil rights, why can’t we have a test for anyone running for office that tests their basic understanding of the Constitution (including being able to define important words in the document)?

  3. I would appreciate it if someone can explain to me what is truly occurring here:
    Do the people who promulgated this bill truly believe that they as Christians are being persecuted, or is it all smoke and mirrors to further their agenda?
    Because if they truly believe the things that they are saying, then they are way out of conformance with the mainline thinking on how we should treat each other as human beings, which to me indicates a failure in their moral teachings and a lack of empathy.
    And if they don’t actually believe the things that they are saying, but are saying them to gain political advantage, then that makes them even more hypocritical than if they did actually believe their own crap, and barring some type of polar reversal of their cultural outlook, there is no reasoning with them.
    Like many, I’m sure, I was raised as a christian, but became apostate as an adult because I had the opportunity to see how religions operate. God and religion are not mutually inclusive.

  4. Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) which not only wrote this bill and had it sponsored through one of their AZ Legislator sock puppets and feverishly lobbied for it, had this to say in response to the veto. “Opponents were desperate to distort this bill rather than debate the merits. Essentially, they succeeded in getting a veto of a bill that does not even exist,”

    For more on CAP, see the website which states: “This session, CAP is also pushing bills to strengthen anti-assisted suicide laws, expanded tax exemptions for churches, and the ability for the state to inspect abortion clinics without a warrant.”

    By the way, Cathi Herrod receives over a million dollars in salary annually from CAP. The 4 main AZ Republican Legislators in CAP’s pocket are: Sen. Steve Yarbrough, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, Sen. Al Melvin, and Rep. John Kanavagh.

  5. Religious Freedom to these morons means “the freedom of the religious and religion to remove or hinder YOUR Freedom.

  6. I’ve heard some crazy things in my life but that screed of yours has got to be the most convoluted, ignorant and fact free compositions that I’ve ever read. You have mastered the tossing of word salads like Scarah Palin the half term Gov. Go peddle your mental excrement elsewhere.

  7. What puzzles me is if one is in business to make money why would one refuse business? As far as I know gay people’s money is green. Why would you deny the purpose of your enterprise? These people are dumb and getting dumber.

  8. I dunno, Lou’s argument was actually cohesive, albeit flimsy. The above is an example of religion-as-sociopathy, I think.

  9. Why just practice the part of your faith, which you claim is against LGBT’s?

    Why not decry divorced people, or adulterers, or the greedy, or you get my meaning.

  10. If we look for a pattern, this fits into the assault on our Constitution, on the American way of life, on the basic tenets upon which this country was founded. Which makes this movement ludicrous, and ultimately unnecessary. Unless, of course, you are trying to manipulate the American people to look the other way or get distracted in regressive politics while other, more sinister, machinations occur.

  11. Oh, and furthermore in the future when you are attempting to make a point in fact try using facts and don’t use fictional characters to back you up or try to make a point.

  12. Brigita, Lous comment had the “cohesiveness” of wet dollar store toilet paper. And religion IS sociopathy because the deeply religious are sociopathic in their behavior in all things.

  13. I hate to take a side on either end of this debate. The constitution defines all people equal: Gays, straight, black, white, Christian, Muslim, Arabic, south, north.. and so on. We all want our basic equal rights so I see both sides. There will always be an agenda from everyone because we all share different beliefs: not inclusive of religion. This is why our constitution is so broad, to cover all beliefs. It’s not the fault of the constitution though, it’s the fault of people themselves not wanting to understand or be tolerant of others’ beliefs.

  14. Alessandra,

    Jesus had dinner and conversation with tax men and prostitutes which in his time, was the lowest of the low. That doesn’t mean he “approved” of their professions, but that they were as much a part of his society as a high priest. What are your personal beliefs and what are your social responsibilities are two different things. Private and public…. get it? If you wish to claim to be a christian, then be christ-like.

    The Constitution says that we are equal under the law. If you don’t believe that a muslim, a hindu, a wiccan, or an atheist is an equal before the law, then you are choosing to disregard our founding document and you – you are NOT an American.

  15. This law could easily have led to a lot of unnecessary mischief even if you take the gay part out of the equation. Things would have taken a very different path the day riled Protestants were ushered out of diners by Catholic owners for not being TRUE Christians, and Protestants and Catholics showed Mormons the door when they had both declared Mormonism a cult.
    Discrimination is an ugly thing, especially when it happens in a nation whose greatest strength is diversity and tolerance.

  16. Neil, I have tried to make that point on several occasions. Conservative politicians are all about ‘freedom’ when it comes to being able to do business as they wish, including being able to discriminate against people in terms of employment, patronage, & health-care coverage. They don’t want to have to pay certain taxes or abide by certain health & safety laws because those will ‘reduce profits’. They even go so far as to claim that increasing the minimum wage will cause job losses when documented history shows that more people will be employed, & consumerism will expand when more people have $ to spend.
    But when it comes to the freedom that OTHERS have, that’s where they draw the line. When it comes to Live and LET LIVE, they balk.
    They say, if you don’t like the conditions where you work, find another job. I say, if you don’t like the rules of doing business, find a different line of work. Simple. But they can’t take what they dish out.

  17. In the case of the Arizona SB1062, it was authored by the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP), an extremist fundamental Christian tax exempt social welfare PAC which is well connected with AZ legislators. They work hand in hand with ALEC and have had 123 of their sponsored bills codified into law. For many of us Arizonans, CAP is a lobbying organization and in violation of their IRS tax exempt status. See more on this on

  18. If a theocracy is what some Christians want, I have no objection, but I do have a problem–location. Those who share your view of Christianity should follow Jim Jones’ example– leave the U.S. and establish your own theocracy elsewhere. There you can write laws in accordance with your beliefs, but here NOT in the U.S.

    When will you all be leaving?

    The U.S. will be a better place when we don’t have individuals who are intent upon transforming it into the newest Saudi Arabia or Iran.

    Freedom of religion in the U.S. also includes freedom from religion–something that some Christians don’t seem to, or want, to understand.

    I’ve never read anywhere in the Bible where Jesus told anyone to force Christianity onto anyone else. Christianity has always been a religion based on free will. This means that one accepts Christianity voluntarily–not at the point of a gun or via laws. When Christianity has been imposed using these methods in the past, the results have been disastrous.

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