Thursday, January 14, 2016

More Commentary on Frederick Clarkson's New Essay about Religious Freedom: Patricia Miller and Bill Berkowitz

More valuable commentary today about Frederick Clarkson's report on religious freedom entitled "When Exemption Is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right":

At Religion Dispatches, Patricia Miller comments on the report:

With Kim Davis and representatives of the Little Sisters of the Poor both trotted out as as GOP guests at President Obama’s state of the union speech, it’s clear that "religious freedom" is here to stay as an animating issue for the Republican Party. And with Religious Freedom Day approaching this Saturday, January 16, advocates are warning of a continued expansion of "religious freedom" exemptions that threaten reproductive and LGBT rights—as well as the rights of employees of faith-based institutions. 
In a new report on the religious freedom strategy of the religious right, Frederick Clarkson of Political Research Associates warns that the Christian Right, the U.S. Catholic bishops, and a rapidly strengthening network of allied organizations are "intensifying their campaign to carve out arenas of public life where religious institutions, individuals, and even businesses may evade civil rights and labor laws in the name of religious liberty."

As Patti Miller notes, Fred Clarkson zeroes in on how the burgeoning network of organizations promoting the religious right meme of religious freedom as the special privilege to discriminate in the name of belief is working overtime right now to carve out "zones of legal exemption," "theocratic zones of control" in which laws forbidding discrimination (especially against women and LGBT people) will not apply, when people claim that their beliefs require them to discriminate. 

Also at Religion Dispatches, Bill Berkowitz interviews Fred about his essay. He asks why Fred wrote "When Exemption Is the Rule." Fred's reply:

Most everyone to the left of the religious right is behind the curve on one of the central issues of our time: religious freedom. Six years ago, most people did not see the storm clouds on the horizon as the Christian Right mounted a major effort to redefine religious freedom. 
Conservative evangelical leaders working in close—and I think underappreciated—alliance with leaders of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have reconfigured the Christian Right to wage the culture wars of the 21st century. Religious freedom is central to their strategy. I would go so far as to say that no understanding of the Christian Right is complete or even accurate without a profound grasp of their interrelated three-part formula of life, marriage, and religious freedom. 
This report describes the implications of some of the major decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the growth in the political and especially the legal capacity of the Christian Right to conceive, litigate, and win cases, and to inform politics with their vision of a more theocratic society. 
I think to take this conversation forward, we need a practical definition of religious freedom that embraces our country’s history and best intentions for religious equality going back to Jefferson and Madison, while providing a better understanding of the way the Christian Right usually uses it.  So I have offered one. 
Some may differ with my definition, but the stakes are high. We must not risk ceding one of the most significant advances in human liberation in the history of Western civilization—and certainly one of the foundational building blocks of a democratic society.

Once again: I highly recommend Fred Clarkson's new essay on religious freedom, and I agree with his observation that folks to the left of the religious right have been slow to understand what's afoot with the initiative of the U.S. Catholic bishops, right-wing white evangelicals, and Mormons to redefine religious freedom as special privilege, as exemption from non-discrimination laws that apply to everyone else. I also agree with his suggestion that if we don't wake up and combat this Orwellian attempt to turn the notion of religious freedom on its head — if we don't retrieve the authentic understanding of religious freedom that's a basic building block of our pluralistic secular democracy — we'll quickly find ourselves in very serious trouble.

The graphic: Ammon Bundy leading prayer at the federal building in Oregon, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that he and other armed insurgents have occupied. This photo by Jim Urquhart of Reuters has appeared at various articles online in the past several days, including this piece by Linda Tirado at Daily Beast.

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