Religious Freedom as Tyranny

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This is the crux of the matter at hand. I have rules governing the food I eat. They are my rules and I do not expect that you know them or abide by them. I do not have the right to demand that people stop making casseroles despite my hatred of them. I know people ask me to repair their computers and build their networks after eating the vile concoctions. I know others have taken the laptop I repaired and used it to look up recipes for casseroles, which, I can save you the time, is merely throw a load of that which you intended to throw into the garbage disposal, into a bowl, and cook it. I am fully aware of this, and I am also aware that no one knows my rules or has any desire to live by them. It is also important that I try to get along with humanity in general if I am to remain a part of the community. To that end I do not refuse to fix laptops even if there is a casserole in the room at the time. I merely avoid said casserole while others make, and pass, Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.

RFRA

[1] The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was put forth in 1993 by democratic Congressman Chuck Schumer along with a companion bill by democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. It passed the house in a unanimous vote and passed the senate with merely three dissenting votes, to be signed into law by then president Bill Clinton. What spawned the desire for the RFRA at the federal level was the case  [2] – Employment Division v. Smith (1990) –  where  two American Indians who worked as private drug rehab counselors ingested peyote as part of religious ceremonies conducted by the Native American Church, and were subsequently fired. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the firing, with Justice Antonin Scalia saying that using a religious exemption in conflict of a valid law “would open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.”

The ruling angered liberals and conservatives of the time and was the genesis for the RFRA which stated that [3] “governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification” and “the compelling interest test as set forth in prior Federal court rulings is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests.” The compelling interest test dated back to another Supreme Court decision, Sherbert v. Verner, from 1963. The Sherbert test said that if a person claimed a sincere religious belief, and a government action placed a substantial burden on that belief, the government needed to prove a compelling state interest, and that it pursued that action in the least burdensome way.

RFRA_USMap_largeSubsequently [4] the federal RFRA was held unconstitutional as applied to the states in the City of Boerne v. Flores decision in 1997, which ruled that the RFRA is not a proper exercise of Congress’s enforcement power. However, it continues to be applied to the federal government because Congress has broad authority to carve out exemptions from federal laws and regulations that it itself has authorized.

Since that time a number of states have passed state RFRA’s that apply to state governments and local municipalities. Many of these new RFRA’s have come after the controversial Hobby Lobby decision in which the court held that [5] closely held for-profit corporations [are] to be exempt from a law its owners religiously object to if there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest. The decision is limited to closely held corporations and does not address whether such corporations are protected by the free exercise of religion clause of the first amendment of the constitution.

Basically the Hobby Lobby decision stated that a closely held corporation (which is a company with a limited number of shareholders) could refuse to pay for a health care option it felt violated their religious beliefs. In the case of Hobby Lobby it wished to avoid paying for any birth control options then required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and also any fines compelled by this refusal to pay for these services. It was landmark in that it essentially gave private citizen rights to a corporation.

Well, in spite of my attempt to make that more human it is a lot of legal silliness often coming off as semantic games. As I see it the origin is simple. Two men were ingesting peyote as part of a religious ritual. This is an illegal act. it is also a harmless act really as no one but the two individuals could reasonably come to harm. They were fired and through a series of events SCOTUS ruled the firing acceptable. Government OK’ed the suppression of religion.

12439436_10209355378271628_3628175391819820976_nMost people in this nation with a modicum of common sense, or some sense, well, any sense at all, should recognize that this is suppression of the practice of one’s religion. From this understanding I am led to agree that maybe we needed a little clarity in the form of some type of RFRA. Some document to prevent the people and the government from overreach in regards to the expression of one’s religion or religious beliefs as long as those expressions do no harm to anyone or anything. It is a matter of reasonable versus unreasonable acts on both sides. However, humans are not real good at remaining reasonable as history demonstrates.

Of late there has been a series of laws and acts enacted by states about this nation. These fall under the guise of RFRA but have a twist on the original intent to prevent one’s religion from being interfered with. The new intent of these RFRA laws is to use one’s religion as a means of preventing the acts of others, unrelated or not, to that religion. This has left the bounds of religious freedom and turned into religious oppression.

Basically, to tell a person they cannot do something as part of their faith is very different than saying my faith prevents you from doing something. It is the real world equivalent of looking out the window of your home and watching someone walk along the sidewalk in front of your home versus that someone watching through your window from outside as you do private things in the privacy of your home. I will give you a hint. One of those is exceptionally illegal.

The goal of the states in enacting these laws is to fight back against LGBT rights, marriage equality, and what they see as an attack on their faith by an overly permissive trend in society. The flaw in their thinking is that it takes no rights from you to give equal rights to others. Their basic complaint is, we do not like LGBT people doing creepy LGBT things and we will use any means and any justification to stop them.

intoleranceCurrently North Carolina is on the hot seat for enacting such a law but they are not alone. The North Carolina’s law is more devious than many of the others. It does more than strip away legal protections for LGBT people. It also states that one must use the public restroom of the gender listed upon one’s birth certificate, which has created an outcry from both the LGBT community and the liberal community it is closely aligned with. A quieter aspect of the North Carolina law is also the way in which it handles the desire of the republican conservative christian majority to lessen the number of civil lawsuits filed in the state. Basically the law does not remove all the protections on the basis of race, sex, age, religion, or disability but instead forces any redress of issues into the federal system rather than the more easily navigated state system.

There are approximately 31 states right now with some form of RFRA with a few of those states expressing protection for LGBT people. The majority however are interested in denying marriage equality, in allowing for the right to deny service based on an excessively subject basis of religious beliefs. The original federal RFRA was struck down by the Supreme Court with Just Scalia saying, basically, that to open to the door to religion to practice any activity regardless of legality outside of that religion is to open the door to any behavior they deem. Now this law the states suggest is that very same extreme. If you can decide to service me in you store or professional life by your interpretation of your faith then you have a blank check on who to do business with and who not to. And yes!!! I know many of you right now think that makes sense. Many of you are wrong.

indianaI have covered this in previous writings on here but will sum it up again. If I open a business in a community it is supported by that community. Not just in customers but also in taxes, and LGBT people also pay taxes. It is supported in roads for customers to arrive, and fire and police to protect the existence of the business. Opening the business is, in effect, a contract with the community to act in good faith to the people of said community. To deny service to a member of the community, or anyone, is to break this social contract. If you deny a man for being gay will you not deny another for being an adulterer? Or are you not that picky? If you will not bake a cake for a wedding between two women will you bake a cake for my second marriage? My third? Will you sell me flowers or a necklace for my mistress? Do you deny access to this business to gay fireman here to save it from burning down? Gay police here to take a report for the robbery you experienced?    

See, I do not care what you worship, or who, or why. It is your private thing to do and I applaud whatever it is you choose. I expect, no, I demand the same exact thing from you. I will worship, or not, as I see fit, in my time, in my space. I will not preach to others, I will not demand my belief system be adopted by the nation. I will not demand the exclusion of others beliefs. I will picket for your beliefs, if you so desire, if anyone tries to actually remove them. The entire thing is all so very simple. Live and let live. America is not an easy place to do that in because it demands of us the ability to support those voices, those thoughts, those ideas, we may find repugnant. We must support them because to do otherwise is to fail to support your own freedoms.

I am an Atheist. I have not chosen to live my life by a bible. Nor has anyone else really. See, there are many bibles, and many Gods. Most people on the planet find one bible and one God that they can deal with. They interpret this bible in a way that makes them happy. They discard any and all other bibles, and Gods. In this respect all people are atheists. The difference between my atheism and your atheism is I chose not to believe in your bible and your God along with all the others. Up too that point we are identical. I have never once asked a person on this planet to abandon their belief, their faith, nor have I asked anyone on this planet to abandon something they are doing that conflicts with my beliefs.

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The old version of the RFRA is merely two people asking to be allowed to worship in a manner they deem acceptable. The new versions of the RFRA are demanding that other people outside of the religion, abide by the religion. This is in no way religious freedom. Religious Freedom comes in my ability to legally practice my faith, not in my ability to place my faith on others. No such right exists, nor should it.

Were I to take my food rules out and start forcing them upon others America would lose a lot of things many people deem tasty. I assure you we would agree on things like head cheese, and tripe, but we may differ on many others like casserole and soup. Then the rules get even more complicated as not all soup would be banned but most would. If the title of said soup begins with cream of that soup is not acceptable. Bottom line here is it is not right, nor is it fair, for me to make someone else abide by my rules. Especially in something like faith as it is very important and private for most people. As mentioned earlier it is live and let live that we should be abiding by, and I would support a rule, or law, saying precisely that. I will not support a law building a theocracy in this nation.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

[1] [4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_Religious_Freedom_Restoration_Acts

[2] [3] http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2014/06/what-is-rfra-and-why-do-we-care/

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burwell_v._Hobby_Lobby_Stores,_Inc.

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