Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Today I am posting just a brief thought that really struck me the past week as I have been reading, writing, and doing some more research on the Holocaust.
There has been a lot of talk about religious liberty over the past few years, mostly coming from the Christian Right. I am all for the freedom of all people to have religious liberty. My life has been dedicated to that proposition, including protecting the religious and civil rights of people who may despise me, and what I believe in.
I was watching the television miniseries Nuremberg and when I watched the opening statement of Justice Robert Jackson portrayed by Alec Baldwin I went back to read the transcript of the actual opening statement rendered by Justice Jackson. One of the things that Jackson said in that opening statement dealt with the Nazi understanding of “religious liberty.” That concept is little different from that of the Christian Right. Jackson stated:
“The forecast of religious persecution was clothed in the language of religious liberty, for the Nazi program stated, “We demand liberty for all religious denominations in the State.” But, it continues with the limitation, “so far as they are not a danger to it and do not militate against the morality and moral sense of the German race.”
Note how similar that is to statements of leading members of the Christian Right over the past twenty to thirty years, statements which have grown in intensity and radicalism over the past few years. The statements of many supposedly Christian political, media, and religious leaders, about curtailing or limiting the religious or rights of those who are not Christians, be they Moslems, progressive or liberal Christians, Reform Jews, agnostics, atheists, homosexuals are chilling. Those statements by these leaders, which are so numerous and include statements by current presidential candidates, are so numerous and explicit that they defy any semblance of Christian civilization.
Sadly, the most vocal and popular leaders of Christian Right have equated their morality as that of all Americans and the United States and as such have openly stated their desire to crush the civil and religious rights of others. As such they have legislated “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” at the Federal, and even more restrictive measures at the State and Local levels, acts, which permit people in public office as well as others to deny service to those whose beliefs, or lifestyles that they oppose, simply based on their “sincerely held” religious beliefs.
Those who legislate these actions honestly believe that those they oppose are a danger to them, their faith and to the nation. They believe this as much as those who followed Hitler believed about the correctness of curtailing the religious and civil liberty of the people, the Jews, the Socialists, homosexuals and others that they opposed. It is not that all of them are evil, or for that matter even bad people; it is just that they have chosen to believe the fear mongering lies and distortions of their political and religious leaders.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s a prominent German pastor, a war hero from the First World War believed the lies of the Nazis, and supported Hitler in his rise to power. That pastor was Martin Niemoller. However, unlike most German church leaders Niemoller soon recognized his error when Hitler took power. Niemoller had feared the “liberals” of his day, the Social Democrats who had been a major force in the early days of the Weimar Republic. After Hitler took power, Niemoller recognized his mistake and wrote, “I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”
In the hands of tyrants there is no such thing as religious liberty, especially those that argue the most stridently that they are defending their religious freedom. Those today, mostly leaders of the highly politicized Christian Right are making a terrible mistake. When there is no liberty for those who do not agree with religious conservatives, there is no liberty for anyone. Thomas Jefferson put it well, “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.”