Daily Archives: June 27, 2015

Liberty & Those who Oppose It: the Aftermath of Obergfell v. Hodges

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I rejoiced yesterday when majority of the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality throughout the country. I believe that this was an important continuation in or understanding of ever expanding liberty found in the Declaration of Independence that Abraham Lincoln said in 1854 was the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.” 

Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Samuel Kercheval in 1816 that we should take to heart when we look at changes in laws that religious traditionalists oppose so vehemently:

“I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” 

When Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the case of Obergfell v. Hodges he made a comment that echoed the words of Thomas Jefferson when he wrote:

Changes, such as the decline of arranged marriages and the abandonment of the law of coverture, have worked deep transformations in the structure of marriage, affecting aspects of marriage once viewed as essential. These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution. Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.

In the aftermath of Obergfell v. Hodges these people are scrambling to carve out exemptions to the law in order to ensure that the prejudices ingrained in their “sincerely held religious belief” can remain. Of course for churches that is not an issue, churches can grant or deny the sacraments or ordinances of their faith to anyone they chose to and this they routinely do. If you desire to get married in a church you must follow the rules for that church, and the clergy of that church are free to deny sacraments, including marriage to anyone. If you are not a Roman Catholic in good standing you are not permitted to receive the Eucharist, you may not be married in the church, and other churches including many Baptists and other “free” churches have similar prohibitions that no court has dared to overturn. This even includes rules that discriminate against women who cannot be ordained clergy. So when I hear pastors screaming that somehow they will be prosecuted or jailed for refusing to marry gays I have to throw the bullshit flag.

Now this may not apply to the “ministers” who set up their own so called marriage chapels where unconnected to any church they operate as for profit businesses. Sometimes courts do find in favor of litigants in civil proceedings when such businesses use their prejudice to deny services to people, especially gays.

While I am a historian and should know better, I am amazed to see many American Christians doing all they can in the name of protecting their Religious Liberty to deny rights to those that they disapprove. I shouldn’t be surprised, Thomas Jefferson wrote of what happens when preachers and priests lead political movements. Jefferson so rightly noted:

“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.”

James Madison, who crafted the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment wrote:

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

Currently this is the case with the Republican Party, a party that I remind you that I belonged for over three decades, beginning with my work for the Ford campaign as a high school student. I left the GOP in 2008 after years of disillusionment, and lies when I returned from Iraq.

Barry Goldwater, a conservative if there ever was one, a man that would be driven out of today’s GOP spoke on the Senate floor in the early 1980s at the beginning of the Reagan Revolution and the commandeering of the party by politically minded preachers like Jerry Falwell, James Robertson, Dr. D. James Kennedy, James Dobson and of course our local Tidewater Taliban Mullah, Pat Robertson. Goldwater so wisely noted:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

Well, now the preachers have control of that party. Every declared candidate for the GOP presidential nomination kowtows to these religious leaders and nearly every one of them has come out to announce their opposition to the Supreme Court ruling.

Some are suggesting that thousands of preachers run for office in the GOP in order to foist their agenda on the rest of the population. Right now Conservative Christians for all intents and purposes run many state legislatures. In the ones that they have controlled for the past number of years they have been enacting all sorts of discriminatory laws against those they find offensive, and have attempted to shackle the study of science, history, and roll back voting rights for minorities.

This is particularly true of the conservative Christian, antipathy towards Gays, Lesbians and others in the LGBT community. In the past number of weeks I have seen proposed legislation in several states that would allow people to discriminate against anyone simply based on a sincerely held religious belief.

Other laws passed within the six moths at the state level in Arkansas and West Virginia to nullify any city or county ordinances banning discrimination against gays. In other words, religious zealots in control of state houses are imposing heir beliefs on cities, towns and counties that are more progressive in regard to the treatment of gays.

The irony is that the people who complain about Federal laws which trump state law are doing the same thing that they object to in order to ensure that citizens of their states are treated less than equal.

The target of these laws are gays and the LGBT community, but anyone with half a brain knows that once they are on the books they provide ample room for religious zealots of any kind to discriminate and even persecute those that they despise.

They may start with the gays, but be assured, those who pass these laws will extend them to apply to anyone to whom they believe harms or interferes with their sincerely held religious beliefs. Jefferson also noted “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”

It is something that our founders wisely chose to avoid, not wanting this nation to become like the European nations whose state churches had denied rights, persecuted and killed those that they deemed heretical. While the proponents of these new laws to “protect” religious liberty claim that they are done with no intent to discriminate, there is only one reason to enact them, that to give legal protection to people who want to discriminate. Is this not what is happening throughout the Middle East as Islamic fundamentalists of various sects impose similar laws on Christians as well as others including Moslems of rival sects?

Now just imagine for one moment living in such a society, a society where someone who was not of the right race, or belief did not enjoy the same freedoms of other citizens. Imagine a society where those that started with laws to supposedly defend their religious liberty, or rights then supported other more far reaching laws, laws which deprived those that they demonized and refused to serve of citizenship, freedom of association, freedom of movement, and robbed them of their homes and businesses, banished them to ghettos and eventually exterminated them. While the Nazis primarily went after the Jews, they also went after the gays.

Of course the Nazis did this in the years leading up to World War Two in their actions against loyal German Jews who simply wanted to fit in, and well we Americans, let’s not even go there… but the let’s go there. We have the extermination and the ghettoization of our Native American population, we have the African slave trade and the institution of slavery, we have the human trafficking and exploitation of Chinese workers in the 1800s, the Jim Crow Laws, and yes the incarceration of Japanese Americans in what we called “internment camps” in World War Two.

Now for one minute tell me that those that propose such barbarous laws now to be used against the gays, simply because Christians want to have a law that allows them to discriminate against those they hate and condemn to hell are that much different than those Christians, be they American or German who justified their actions with law based on their deeply and sincerely held religious beliefs? I think not. In fact the whole proposition that we enact such laws flies in the face of the wars that these same people want to send in the ground troops to fight Islamic State over. Heck, the Islamic State is actually acting out the fantasies of the most extreme American Christian anti-gay preachers. They are killing gays, throwing them off the roofs of tall buildings. Sadly, many American Christians so consumed by the hate and paranoia being preached in their churches and by right-wing political groups which pose, as Christian ministries don’t see that their actions are simply a different breed of the same animal. Right now, the difference is just a matter of degree.

I think that is why Thomas Jefferson wrote this very pertinent warning to us who might want to return to the barbarous ways of our ancestors:

“I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” 

I personally do not want to live under the laws of our barbarous ancestors, and I will fight for the rights of those who are being targeted, primarily the LGBT community, but anyone else, by the lawmakers and supporters of such laws.

That my friends is why I rejoice in the Supreme Court ruling in Obergfell v. Hodges. It is a step to moving forward in liberty and progress and away from barbarism.

So have a great and thoughtful Saturday,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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