This is a very old blog post from my long defunct blog. I still think some of the thoughts are current.
One of the abuses evident in Connecticut during these recent debates on gay marriage has been the disenfranchsement of religion: the de facto disqualification of religiously-informed opinion. Many Connecticut legislators heaped ridicule on the arguments made by religious people, not because of the content of their arguments, but because they were made by religious people.
As I’ve written before, the supreme irony was legislators’ use of Jefferson’s famous Letter to the Danbury Baptists, where he interpreted the Federal Constitution to mean there is a “wall of separation between church and state.”
The Connecticut state legislature had passed laws essentially establishing Congregationalism as the state church. Congregational churches were supported by a state tax. Citizens who wished to divert their contribution to other churches, as did the Danbury Baptists, had to file for exceptions. These were difficult to obtain in some communities.
The Baptists complained that the Connecticut legislature effectively treated religious freedom as a grant of the state. The free exercise of religion was simply a concession. They appealed to Jefferson to affirm religious freedom as an inalienable right, recognized, not bestowed, by the state and, therefore, inviolable. Jefferson’s statement was meant to keep the state from curtailing religious freedom. The wall was meant to keep the state from trampling on the rights of Baptists. The wall protects Baptists from the state (not the other way around.)
The Baptists were free to practice their religion. There were no restrictions on attending their churches, no restrictions on their worship practices, no restrictions on their beliefs. Their grievance was about access to state resources (in this case, tax money), and the preferential treatment by the state of one religious body over another.
Connecticut’s disregard for Baptists, and Catholics, and other conservative religious groups, has not changed, nor has the Connecticut legislature’s view of the free exercise of religion as a mere “tolerant” concession of the state. When they repeated the Courant’s propaganda differentiating civil rights and religion, “This is a civil rights issue not a religious issue,” they basically asserted that homosexual sodomy is a right, religion is something else, outside the domain of rights entirely.
Perhaps those Connecticut legislators who spoke so disparagingly of religion and the value of religious opinion, and who asserted their right to impose an alternate, irreligious view of morality on Connecticut’s citizens ought to take another look at history. They are on the wrong side, yet again.