Thursday, September 6, 2007

Religious Freedom And The Seperation Of Church And State - How Freaking Hard Is It To Understand?

Last weeks post regarding a religious freedom/separation of church and state issued raised a little bit of discussion. The Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment are so simple that it blows the mind how people can't quite seem it get it. The Church and the State are two separate entities and neither should dabble in the other's business. The state must refrain from promoting or endorsing a certain sects beliefs, but, at the same time, it also must avoid being hostile towards a sect or belief system. Additionally, each citizen has the right to exercise their religious beliefs free from most interference of the state, save those of reasonable time, place and manner restrictions that are viewpoint neutral, with some limited exceptions.

What kind of things constitute a reasonable time, place or manner restriction? Imagine a street preacher walking down the sidewalk of a residential area knocking on doors to try and share his faith with homeowners. If he does this in the middle of the afternoon, he is fine (provided he respects "No Trespassing" and "No Soliciting" signs), and the state cannot restrict this activity. Now, suppose he decided that 2:00 AM is an appropriate time to do this. Can the state restrict that? Yes, because that is a valid time based restriction. He is not being restricted for the content of his speech, rather, he is being restricted because of the time he chose to do it. Suppose he decides that the best place to share his faith is in the middle of an intersection. Can the state restrict that? Yes, it can, because its not the content of the speech being restricted, but the place is, as the state has a valid interest in keeping traffic moving and keeping this guy from causing an accident. Should he then decide that, in the same residential area, he will start preaching via bullhorn. Can the state restrict that? Again, they can, because the interests of the residents in peace and quiet in their homes is a valid reason for the state to restrict the use of bullhorns.

Now, to be valid, these time, place and manner restrictions need to be, in almost all cases, viewpoint neutral. Basically, if the state is going to tell the Christian preacher that he can't walk down the sidewalk peaching via bullhorn, it has to also apply the same restriction to anyone else who walks down the same street talking about anything through a bullhorn.

In my last blog on this issue I discussed how a schools reaction to a student's religious comments in a graduation speech, in my view, crossed the line of a reasonable restriction. Below, I will detail four other incidents that I think also illustrate important points, and, in three of the cases, demonstrates how some people can't get what is a very simple concept. The forth issue is more of a commentary on how followers of one particular religion need to learn to how to respect others.

Item One: Christian School Expels Lesbians - Parents Sue.

In late 2005 a Lutheran school in Riverside County, CA expelled two students it suspected of being lesbians. A news report on this case can be found here. The parents sued, claiming that the protections in CA law that prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals apply to the school. This case popped back up on the radar because some Christian legal groups got involved and started filing briefs in the case.

Without going into too much detail on the specifics (if you want to know them, read the links), it seems to me that this is a very basic case when you apply Constitutional principles. Was the school acting within their rights when they expelled students they believed violated their religious codes on homosexuality? Yes. Can CA require a religious institution to act in a manner contrary to its religious beliefs? No. The only possible exception is the government can require schools to agree to adhere to certain regulations in exchange for accepting government money. If this school made no such agreement with CA, it can do whatever it wants in this regard, and the state cannot interfere. But, isn't it wrong to expel kids for being gay? Yes, it is. Society's recourse is to not send your kids there until the school stops perpetrating spiritual violence against LGBT people.

Item Two: University bans Christian Group, calls foot washing "hazing".

A lawsuit has been filed in federal court against Savannah State University for suspending and then expelling a Christian student group for "harrassment" and "hazing." Per the lawsuit, the harassment charge stems from some students and groups disapproving of the organizations message (part of which was vocal opposition to the Greek system) and the hazing charge comes from the groups practice of washing the feet of new members, in a reenactment of Christ washing the feet of His Disciples in the Book of John.

Again, for more details, read the link. The issues here are simple. A state institution cannot discipline a group over the religious content of their speech, no matter who likes it an who doesn't. Additionally, the label of "hazing" being applied to an innocuous religious ceremony is absurd. People have the right to believe what they want, and to express their religious beliefs on campus without fear of being disciplined because they dared to offend someone. In America, we have the freedom of religion, but we do not have the freedom to not be offended.

Item Three: Orange County, FL, settles federal lawsuit filed against it for prohibiting a woman from passing out religious fliers in a public park.

Orange County, FL was forced to back down after trying to prohibit a woman from passing out religious fliers in a public park without government permission. The original story can be found here. Florida is werid. In one part of the state a mayor is launching an all out holy crusade against gay people, in another part the local government seems to have an issue with religious literature being passed out, and in another part, an anti-gay legislator is offering blow jobs to other men in public restrooms, for money. What an interesting place.

The issue here is that the state cannot restrict someone from passing out religious fliers in a public park, and it cannot require people to get government permission before sharing their faith and beliefs. Again, to me, this seems obvious, but maybe things are just more convoluted in Florida. Either way, lots of tax dollars just got wasted because people don't want to play by simple rules.

Item Four: Fundamentalist Christians need to learn to respect other beliefs as well.

Last month I wrote a blog chastising fundamentalists for ignoring everyone else's rights to freedom of religion. One of the items I mentioned was the non-sectarian prayer given by a Hindu before the U.S. Senate, and the fundamentalists opposition to it.

I mentioned that piece in passing, but, the other day, finally saw video of it. Honestly, I was shocked and appalled at the conduct of "Christians" in the Senate Gallery who were disrupting the prayer. The video below is from that day.

As prayers go, when the guest chaplain was finally able to finish it, that one was pretty innocuous. Hell, you could have summed up the content of that prayer in five words, "Hey God, how's it hanging?".

The disgusting thing is the comments made. "Lord Jesus, forgive us, Father, for allowing the prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight..." What the hell? That guy didn't seem wicked to me, nor are most Indian people I know. But, we all know how fond the Christian right is in calling people abominations...

It gets better... World Net Daily reports that the same guy made the same prayer to the California Senate, and now the fundamentalists are really up in arms. Tim Wildmon, of the American Family Association had the following comment, "We're not opposed to the ability of people to worship their own gods or god, but when it comes to our civil government … it's always been the recognition of the God of the Bible. Every religion is not equal. That's my belief. That's logic."

Tim, READ THE CONSTITUTION YOU FREAKING MORON! God is not the basis of civil government! The recognition of God is not the basis of civil government! Your beliefs are no more valid, under law, than his are. PERIOD!

"The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion." - President John Adams in the Treaty of Triploi

"Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law." - President Thomas Jefferson


There we have it folks, more fun and frivolity, and lawsuits, in the realm of religious liberty. Please feel free to comment and discuss the above. The more these cases are brought to the front, hopefully, the better people will understand how our founders intended the church and the state to interact. Maybe, just maybe, we can avoid some of these lawsuits from clogging up our already over burdened courts.

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