Riff Raff: Comets and Cash and Guthrie and conscience

by Michael Tilley (mtilley@talkbusiness.net) 556 views 

Halley’s Comet came around in 1986 and is estimated to make another Earthly pass in 2061. There is a 50% chance Arkansas officials will have by then made progress on making available that medical marijuana. Or maybe we just turn this process over to a few folks with rural addresses in Newton County.

• It was a gift received this week from Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. She wrote an editorial praising recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that favored Christian bakers not wanting to bake cakes for gays, and found against a California law that required Christian crisis pregnancy centers to provide information on abortions.

In her essay, “Religious conscience must be protected,” the AG asked: “Why should anyone be forced by a state to make a proclamation that is in opposition of their faith?”

Amen, sister. Preach it! Why, indeed.

But the altar call for anything approaching a church-state separation argument went ironically awry following the end of this fundamentally sound statement in her opening paragraph: “Americans should not be forced to participate in activities that violate their religious beliefs against their conscience.”

Except Americans have for years been “forced to participate in activities that violate their religious beliefs against their conscience.” It was clear what Rutledge wants protected is the Judeo-Christian religion to any intolerance of that religion being made neutral in the eyes of the law.

But let’s take the AG at her word that no one should be forced to go against their faith. (And nevermind the argument that her premise rejects any notion that some have no faith except that of a reverence to closely guarding civil liberties within the rule of law.) Does this mean AG Rutledge will call for an end to “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance? With a growing number of Americans professing to be agnostic, atheist or followers of a non-western religion, reciting the pledge is certainly a state-sanctioned proclamation in opposition to their beliefs.

Or does AG Rutledge intend on changing the national anthem to a religion-free – there is more to the song than just the first stanza – number? (Not that it matters, but my vote for a new anthem would be split between Cash’s “Man in Black,” Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” the Eagles’ “Take It Easy,” and Norah Jones’ “American Anthem.” Queen, the Stones, Zeppelin, and Prince have qualifying songs, but they’re from Minnesota and other foreign countries.)

Maybe the AG is ready to lead a national campaign to remove “In God We Trust” from our currency. No matter your faith or lack thereof, your coins and cash favor a cosmic deity courtesy of millions of government proclamations produced daily.

Is our liberty-lovin’ AG ready to protect religious conscience by removing the hundreds of thousands of references to the western God and his Ten Commandments from courthouses and capitols around the country? Will she seek to prevent local, state and federal elected bodies from opening their proceedings with prayer? Probably not, even though she believes, as we noted earlier, “Americans should not be forced to participate in activities that violate their religious beliefs against their conscience.”

She won’t do any of those things because she is part of a long line of hypocrites who claim to hold sacred, as noted in her editorial, the “founding principles to ensure liberty for all Americans.” It’s religious conscience if you don’t want to bake a cake, but religious persecution if someone seeks to remove a picture of Jesus from public school classrooms. It wasn’t many years ago when religious conscience allowed a business to not serve blacks, with religious persecution coming in the form of the Civil Rights Act.

In referring to the Supreme Court rulings, she dialed up the irony to 11 with this gem: “Each of these cases is about liberty of conscience – the inability of the government to dictate how citizens think and feel without punishment for believing something different than others believe.”

This criticism of the AG’s editorial is not about rejecting religion; rather, it’s a reminder of how well-meaning people and ill-mannered governments frequently hijack something so individually important and private as a relationship with a deity.

This criticism is about protecting freedom. Religion of all forms has been used – and continues to be used – to justify the oppression and murder of an unfathomable number of people throughout recorded history. We’ve used religion to justify wars, monarchical rule, the shackling of science, slavery, lynching, subjugation of women, destroying libraries, genital mutilation, and a long list of other abhorrent realities that, unfortunately, are always just a generation or two from bubbling back to erase “liberty for all Americans.”

It is not religious persecution when a society begins to amend and correct the decades-long (if not centuries-long) promotion of a preferred religion. The government today that leans toward western religion may tomorrow lean toward eastern religion. Picture the majority-approved star and crescent in every public school room; persecution or conscience?

Eliminating government preference for a religion should be preferred by the faithful because it is the best way to secure “the inability of the government to dictate how citizens think and feel without punishment for believing something different than others believe.”

Thanks, AG Rutledge, for the gift of your editorial; for reminding us during this Independence Day week that we should be ever vigilant in our assessment of those elected to uphold the rule of law.

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