The protection of religious freedom has also become a matter of debate. It strikes me as odd that the free exercise of religious faith is sometimes treated as a problem, something America is stuck with instead of blessed with. Perhaps religious conscience upsets the designs of those who feel that the highest wisdom and authority comes from government."
- Mitt Romney, speaking at the commencement exercises of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University
Social conservatives (aka the
Christian Right) have been vocal about Freedom of Religion within political
circles - freedom to practice the Christian religion as the One True religion
and the freedom to participate in politics. For without their involvement in
government, they think they might lose their freedom of religion. In order to
participate in politics, they argue, there must be no separation of church and
state. One article of the First Amendment must, in essence, negate the other.
Yes, it's rather confusing, but we're dealing with an entity that deals with
ill reasoning and confusion on a daily basis.
Religion Should Have The Right?
Freedom of Religion sounds like
a right. It is. So is the freedom NOT to have any particular spiritual belief.
But freedom of religion, like everything else involved in the socio-political
sphere depends upon which religion is the dominant one. If that religion is
truly tolerant of other religions, then everyone will have both freedom to
believe in any moral/spiritual code they wish and the freedom to PRACTICE that
code. The latter may be called Free Exercise.
It can be safely said,
therefore, that while the Christian Right says they are for freedom of
religion, they are, in fact, for freedom to believe and practice Christianity
only. Yes, we see the religious intolerance everywhere:
- "Ex-Homosexual" DL
Forster has stated flatly that there is no such thing as a gay Christian. His
ministry Witness Ministries, maintains a website that considers itself a
watchdog against any churches or organizations that accept gays.
- C. Peter Wagner, founder of New Apostolic Reformation movement, warns about "heathen" idols. Hence, he goes about smashing Native American artifacts and statues of Catholic saints.
- Pastor John Benefiel posits that the Statue of Liberty is an idol and some of his adherents have called for its demolition.
- Pastor Dennis Terry received a modicum of fame for his introduction of Rick Santorum: in it he vehemently bloviated that American was "Christian Nation" and not beholding to any other religion whereupon he told the "naysayers and liberals" to "Get Out!" His later non-apology and insistence that as a Christian he really loved everyone was criticized as disingenuous... at best.
The Bully Pulpit
Yes, it's ironic that the very people who focus
on freedom of religion do not believe in freedom for religion. It's
ironic that a religion based on love and tolerance has sects and denominations
that are not tolerant in the least, whether to other religions or other facets
of Christianity. Far more Christians have persecuted other Christians
than Christianity as a whole has been persecuted. The dizzying array of
"sects" "cults" and "heretics" ostracized by
organized segments of Christianity magnifies the fact that certain Christians
are incapable of freedom of religion with their own let alone other religions
like Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism or Islam.
One wonders that if certain evangelicals (read:
Dominionists) get their way, just how many Mormons and Catholics will be
persecuted, let alone Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Scientologists,
"You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense, I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist ." -- Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991
Belief vs Exercise