Saturday, January 28, 2012

Religious Liberty


Al Qaeda has filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that current airline regulations regarding what passengers can bring onto an airplane violates its constitutional right to religious liberty.

According to lawyers fir Al Qaeda, the first amendment prohibition on Congress impeding the free exercise of religion implies that it has no authority to prevent Al Qaeda operatives from hijacking American airplanes for destructive purposes. These acts constitute the religious practices of a sect that demands that its members attack and destroy infidels.

Lawyers for Al Qaeda argue, "This is our religion, and Congress is impeding our free exercise of that religion."

Okay, there is no such lawsuit.

However, there are religious organizations in this country that are trying to defend a concept of religious liberty that, if we take them seriously, would make this type of argument appear sound. These organizations say that anything that can be defined as a "religious practice" - even if it is hurtful or harmful to the interests of those who are not members of that religion - must be respected by the government. Since attacking infidels fits this definition, the logical conclusion that this religious practice must be provided with constitutional protections.

The current form of the argument is one in which Catholic bishops in Illinois claim that "religious freedom" means that the government must turn a blind eye to the organization's practice of actions hurtful and harmful to the interests of other citizens when acting as agents of government policy.

The current policy prohibits money spent on organizations that facilitate adoptions and foster care from going to organizations that discriminate against homosexual couples. Because these Catholic organizations are all about hateful bigotry against homosexuals, they have been forced to make a choice. They can continue to act as government agents and give up the practice of conducting their affairs in ways harmful to the interests of homosexual citizens, or give up the practice of acting as government agents (and the government money that comes with it).

This, they say, is a violation of their religious liberty.

( See New York Times Bishops Say Rules on Gay Parents Limit Freedom of Religion)

The fact is that their religious liberty is not being interfered with.

Nobody is going to arrest members of this sect simply because they are members if a hateful and bigoted religious sect. No attempts are being made to outlaw the sect or make membership a crime. The right to freedom of religion protects sect members from this type of action.

Nobody is going to arrest members of this sect for preaching their brand of hateful bigotry to the public. While the potential victims of their primitive superstitious hatreds may have a vested interest in shutting them up, the rights to freedom of religion and freedom of speech prohibit this. Those prohibitions are not being threatened.

Nobody is going to prohibit members of this sect from engaging in private actions that express their primitive, irrational bigotry. In their private actions, they remain free to refuse to shop at businesses that are owned by gay couples and to refuse to watch shows with gay actors or that have pro-homosexual themes. They may freely use their hateful bigotry as a criteria in determining who gets their vote and who gets the benefits of their acts of private charity.

As citizens, they have a right to vote and to have a say in determining what government policies are. They have an opportunity to support candidates and to lobby the legislative and executive branches to get a permission for their agents to act on their primitive bigoted superstitions while serving as government agents. These rights are not being threatened.

However, there is no right to act in ways hurtful or harmful to the interests of other citizens while acting as government agents. The "right to religious liberty" does not provide this right. Those other citizens have a right to demand that the government treat them with the dignity due to peaceful citizens, even if certain primitive superstitious refuse to do so.

If these types of religious practices are given constitutional protection, then why not the Al Qaeda operative who wants to fly an airplane into a building filled with infidels? Or the anti-abortion opponent who thinks it is permissible to kill a doctor that performs abortions? Is it because these acts, unlike the acts of the anti-gay bigot are harmful to the interests of others?

Interfering with a gay couple's opportunity to adopt a child may not be in the same category as shooting them or blowing them up, but it is in the same category with respect to being hurtful and harmful to their interests. As such, it is not something that deserves special protection as a religious practice - at the expense of those citizens who would be its victims. Particularly when these sect members are being paid to act in the capacity of government agents.

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