We are facing groups from the religious right, who support proposed candidate for federal justice Amy Coney. Ms. Coney is quoted as saying “judges should be bound by their religious faith, not the law”. They support legislators who are willing to put their concept of religious obligation above the concepts of civil law. They are attempting to become the American Taliban. I use that term advisedly. They want to rewrite laws according to their faith. They are trying to act in the interim as though those laws were already passed. They are inciting the American public to outrage that their ways are not dominant in our society.
An important history lesson: a large portion of the first settlers(immigrants) to come to what would later be known as the United States were fleeing Christian religious persecution. That’s right. They were Christian, and came from countries that were also Christian, but not the flavor of Christianity that they wanted to practice.
Against that background, the framers of the Constitution were very concerned to establish a government that set up religious liberty as one of its most important goals. While they came from a Christian background, and many ideas consistent with Christian ethics would find expression in the law, they were very clear that the laws were to be based on civil liberties. They were clear about this in many writings. Note:
- As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of government to protect all conscientious protesters thereof, and I know of no other business government has to do therewith.” Common Sense, 1776.
- “Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.” The Rights of Man, 1791-1792
- “… I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” Letter to the Danbury Baptists, January 1, 1802
- “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” ~~ Notes on the State of Virginia , 1781 – 1785
- “We have abundant reason to rejoice, that, in this land, the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition, and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened age, & in this land of equal liberty, it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining & holding the highest offices that are known in the United States.” Letter to the members of The New Church in Baltimore, January 1793
- “The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded upon the Christian Religion.” 1797, The Treaty of Tripoli, initiated by President Washington, signed by President John Adams, and approved by the Senate of the United States
- Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretense of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind. “A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” 1787-1788
The most cherished principles of the United States are its freedoms. The principle that allows for these freedoms is plurality. Our pluralistic society recognizes differences between individuals, and tries to allow for as much expression of those differences as possible. The framers made laws that are suitable for governing within the desire to support plurality. It is therefore consistent to support the rights of minorities. It is consistent to look at equal opportunity as a way of making sure that the United States delivers on our promises to those in minorities.
The United States has always said “Your religious freedom stops where it infringes on the civil rights of another person”. It is a crucial cornerstone of creating a pluralistic society where religious and other differences flourish. The United States should not be supporting the idea that civil services or commerce can be restricted to those of any minority. Wedding cakes should be sold to LGBTQ couples who want to buy one.
People (including judges, civil servants, legislative representatives) who have agreed to work for our government, have accepted the responsibility of upholding our laws. If they feel that those laws are in conflict with their personal religious or other beliefs, then they should not work for the government. This is a choice, not a right. It is not ok for a government employee to refuse to process the marriage application of LGBTQ couples because it violates their religious beliefs. Again, if that is a problem, then leave the job. Go to church, make the losing of your job a sacrifice to God appropriate to your piety, and move on.
Our government was built to allow people of all faiths and inclinations to live together. It was specifically to avoid the persecution from other Christian faiths. The United States can, of course, through the political process change any facet of our government. But it should be clearly understood that the attempts to put religion above our civil government are contrary to the basis of our Constitution and the spirit of our country.