Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Frederick Clarkson on Christianity in the Religious Freedom Debates: Highly Recommended

Another hot-off-the-press article I'd like to recommend to you today: Frederick Clarkson's "When the Exception Is the Rule: Christianity in the Religious Freedom Debates" at Political Research Associates' Public Eye. Fred's article is  very well-researched, and I think many readers will find it valuable for the bibliography alone. 

It also does an outstanding job of showing how, for right-wing Christians aware that they are losing the culture wars they ginned up against various targeted groups useful to the political agenda of the GOP in the final decades of the 20th century, the concept of "religious freedom" has been stood on its head. Where that concept was originally intended as a shield to protect the rights of religious minority groups and to promote a robust culture of religious pluralism, it is now being used as a theocratic sword to suppress all dissent from the dictates of the religious right — of right-wing evangelicals and right-wing Catholics, in particular — including the dissent of other Christian groups that do not support the agenda of the religious right.

Fred points to last year's case in North Carolina, General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper, in which the UCC, long a defender of gay rights, sued the state of North Carolina for discrimination, when the state passed a law prohibiting religious ministers from solemnizing same-sex marriages. As the UCC argued, the North Carolina law actually stigmatized the religious beliefs of many faith communities in North Carolina, as it imposed the views of only some faith communities in a theocratic way on the entire state and on all other faith communities. As Fred notes, the decision handed down in this case by U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr., found that

It is clear…that North Carolina laws…threatening to penalize those who would solemnize such marriages, are unconstitutional.

Fred's article will be a valuable resource as we keep an eye on the attempts of public officials and various groups in one state after another — almost all in the South, and isn't that curious? — to beat the religious freedom drum even more loudly after Obergefell, with claims that "Christians" are being discriminated against when LGBT citizens now have rights long denied to them. In my state of Arkansas, state senator Jason Rapert (who is thought to have intimidated the state Supreme Court justices into their year-long silence about the same-sex marriage case) is now at odds with our GOP governor over the issue of "religious liberty."

Governor Hutchinson thinks that "Christians" in Arkansas enjoy protections aplenty to continue discriminating against LGBT folks. Rapert thinks not, and has counseled the governor to listen to the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention — that is, the dominant faith community in Arkansas and Rapert's own church — as that religious body brandishes its "religious freedom" sword against the gays. 

Following the Obergefell ruling, Rapert tweeted that minority groups enjoy rights only when the majority chooses to accord them rights — a position wildly at odds with the U.S. Constitution that perfectly summarizes the religious-freedom agenda of right-wing evangelicals and right-wing Catholics, and which accounts for Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia's angry comments, in his Obergefell dissent, about how the views of Southerners were not represented in the Obergefell ruling.

Justice Scalia is not talking about the views of the black church leaders who have founded the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina and who staunchly defend LGBT rights. Nor does he mean the views of black church leaders like Baptist pastor (and judge) Wendell Griffen in Arkansas. Scalia is not calling for the views of people like Mississippi Judge Carlton Reeves, also an African American, to be represented at the level of the national Supreme Court. Nor is he calling for the views of the many other people of faith in the South, including members of the UCC,  Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and so forth, who support LGBT rights, to be recognized by the Supreme Court as it dealt with marriage equality.

What Justice Scalia means by his complaint that the views of Southerners were not represented in the Obergefell decision is that right-wing white evangelicals like Jason Rapert do not have as much freedom as Scalia would like to impose their minority views on the rest of the nation in the name of "religious freedom." Rapert's tweet about majority-minority rights is absolutely correct in noting that his anti-gay church-based views represent the majority opinion of Arkansans in general.

What his tweet does not recognize, however, and what Justice Scalia's whines about the lack of Southern representation on the Supreme Court fail to see, is that a majority of American Christians, including a majority of Scalia's fellow Catholics, support LGBT rights. And so what Rapert and Scalia are calling "religious freedom" is a petulant, dangerous demand that the minority views of some people of faith be imposed on the entire nation.

Just because those people of faith demand that it be so . . . . In the name of "religious freedom" . . . . 

As Fred Clarkson concludes (and he's correct about this), 

We live in theocratic times. Not in the sense that the United States has become a theocracy, but in that the uneasy theocratic coalition we refer to as the Christian Right remains one of the most powerful and dynamic religious and political movements in American history. Like any other large coalition, the interests of the main players are sometimes in conflict. But they remain bound together by a shared opposition to religious pluralism, the rights of individual conscience, and the separation of church and state. 

Obergefell has not laid to rest the attempt of the theocratic religious right, including the U.S. Catholic bishops, to impose its minority views on the nation as a whole. In some ways, the battle is only now beginning, post-Obergefell. It will be absolutely central to the 2016 elections.

The photo of Fred Clarkson is from his Twitter page.

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