More Religious Bullying—Around Sex, Of Course

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The “First Amendment Defense Act”—who could quarrel with that?

I do. Maybe you do, too.

HR2802 prohibits the federal government from acting against anyone who “believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief” that gays shouldn’t marry or that sex belongs only in heterosexual marriage.

Under this law, the feds couldn’t withhold tax exemptions, contracts, or loans from people or corporations defying federal laws prohibiting discrimination against GLBT people. The bill would protect a business denying time off for a gay employee to care for a sick spouse. It would protect a private school refusing a child just because her parents are gay.

Along with “conscience clauses,” this bill elevates “religious belief” into a convenient exemption from the laws the rest of us must follow.

Here is the First Amendment’s entire guarantee of religious freedom:  
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The Founders’ intent is clear and simple: to prevent the government:

  1. from “establishing”—sponsoring or requiring a religion, and
  2. from “prohibiting the free exercise”—confiscating books, banning churches, criminalizing blasphemy or heresy.

In America, we can believe what we want (unlike in Saudi Arabia). We can pray (or not) as we wish (unlike in Iran). We can urge our kids to make the private y choices we prefer about how to live their lives (unlike in China).

In America, the government may not regulate what to worship or how to worship. It must regulate how all people are treated, and the basic rights all people can expect. As that standard changes over time, everyone is expected to adjust as a condition of citizenship. Women now vote—you don’t get to prevent them. Black people now move into your neighborhood—you can’t exclude them with neighborhood covenants. Handicapped people get to use your restaurant—you don’t get to say you can’t afford an accessible bathroom.

Over the years, our civilization’s ideas about health, child-rearing, women, and civil rights have evolved. But traditional religious ideas in these areas are lagging behind (by definition—their followers want to live by 2,000-year-old rules).  This sets up a conflict between their religious ideas and their country’s political ideas.  For politics to accommodate those religious ideas, we’d have to go backwards, abandoning social, cultural, and technological progress.

Religious people apparently want to have it both ways—they want the modern advantages of cars, telephones, medicine, and the Designated Hitter, but they want to cherry pick which of civilization’s advances they can’t abide.

And most of them somehow concern sex. Respecting their Iron Age religion’s obsessions with sex would strip us of many of our most cherished freedoms—many of which we have fought for, and achieved, in our own lifetime.

And so last week Paul and Teresa Wieland sued the government in federal court. They claim that the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate tramples on their family’s religious rights even if they don’t use of it. They want a law that doesn’t affect them dismantled because it offends them.

And because they’re afraid that the law more easily enables two of their daughters, who are not minors, to get contraceptive information or products. They lament a world in which their efforts “to nurture, educate, and raise” their daughters “according to Catholic principles” is threatened. They don’t trust their own parenting—so they want America to roll back its laws to the way human needs were understood a millennium or two ago.

So are there any limits to the assertion of religious privilege?

The historic preference given to religious belief over philosophical, artistic, astrological, or psychotic belief is an anomaly we must bear. But empowering people to drag all of us back to the 1950s, 1850s, or the 50s in order to protect their bizarre vision of life’s requirements is a tragic mistake that increasingly undermines our democracy.

With Americans like these, who needs other countries’ religious fanatics?



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