After the November, 2004, elections Garrison Keillor joked bitterly that Christians shouldn’t be allowed to vote; they’re citizens of another kingdom anyway. Keillor was joking, mostly. But, I find this deeply offensive on many levels. To bracket off religion from rights as though these are separate, non-intersecting domains is absurd and dangerous:
1. The free exercise of religion, even in the public square, is a Constitutionally guaranteed civil right.
2. The concept of minority human rights in the U.S. is founded on a commitment to the worth of the individual grounded in a religious view of humanity, bearers of the image of God. What happens if this religiously-informed view is disqualified, too? What alternative has been offered? In Connecticut, we’ve only seen an appeal to the DSM IV and to the empathetic feelings of the legislators. I doubt that these are durable guarantors of freedom.
3. This is an intolerable double standard. It’s the source of the ideas and propositions of the religious that disqualifies them; but who scrutinizes the source of the ideas of their opponents? When have we heard any one of these legislators articulate their philosophy or document the grounds for it. How do we know that they didn’t get their ideas from extremely offensive sources?
4. Many of the great civil rights workers were very religious people and used religious language to inspire others. William Wilberforce, for example, labored for 50 years in British parliament to get the slave trade outlawed. It was his evangelical faith that drove him. As my previous post tried to illustrate, the end of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech turns into a Howard Dean-like list of states if we take the religion out of it.
This disenfranchisement of religion is gaining ground. Take that death penalty case in Colorado that’s so much in the news. The death sentence was thrown out because some jurors consulted a Bible during deliberation. Suppose that instead of reading from the Bible, one of the jurors had the relevant passages memorized and recited them in the midst of their discussion of the case (not too farfetched a supposition). How is this different?
Suppose instead a juror read, or recited, from Thus Spake Zarathustra. What do you suppose would happen? Nothing.