Bells, Books, Candles and S.B. 192

Test PencilWhich of the following does not belong with the other three items?

(a)Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” U.S. Constitution, Amendment I

(b)Second. That perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured, and no inhabitant of said state shall ever be molested, in person or property, on account of his or her mode of religious worship.”  Nevada Constitution, Ordinance

(c)Sec:4. Liberty of conscience.  The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship without discrimination or preference shall forever be allowed in this State, and no person shall be rendered incompetent to be a witness on account of his opinions on matters of his religious belief, but the liberty of conscience hereby secured, shall not be so construed, as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the peace, or safety of this State.”  Nevada Constitution, Article I, Section 4

(d)Notwithstanding any provision of NRS 41.0305 to 41.039, 25 inclusive, but subject to the limitation on damages set forth in 26 NRS 41.035 when applicable, a person whose religious exercise has been substantially burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against the governmental entity.  The court shall award costs and attorney’s fees to a person who prevails in an action brought against a governmental entity pursuant to this section.”  S.B. 192  *Defines a political subdivision

(ANS: ) Why doesn’t item D (S.B. 192) fit with the others?  Because it really isn’t about religious liberty.

The Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus explains:

“SB192, the  Nevada Preservation of Religious Freedom Act (NPRFA), is currently being considered by the Judiciary committee. NPRFA is a “statified” version of the federal RFRA (Religion Freedom Restoration Act), which was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1997 because it overstepped Congress’ power to enforce the 14th Amendment (City of Boerne v Flores).  If enacted, it would “prohibit governmental entities from substantially burdening the exercise of religion.”

And what might those “burdens be?”  How about the “burden” of having to avoid asking about a person’s sexual orientation in a job interview?  Or, the “burden” of having to dispense a Morning After prescription to prevent an unwanted conception?  Or, the “burden” of having to include contraceptive prescriptions to an employee in a health insurance policy?  Or, the “burden” of having to have any health insurance coverage for any employee should the employer believe in faith healing alone?

Could it be the “burden” of having to interview a prospective employee who would need to have either Friday or Saturday off for religious services?   Could it be the “burden” of not discriminating against members of the LGBT community?  Or, might it be the “burden” of not discriminating against women in the workplace?  Against, unmarried women with children? Or, would the “burden” be that a young woman who had an abortion could not be summarily fired?

Time for Confession

There’s a problem shared by all confessional faiths.  And, in this instance “confessional” doesn’t refer to the Sacrament of Reconciliation — instead it is used more generally, and might be taken as synonymous with “creed.”

It might be the Nicene Creed, or the Apostles’ Creed, or in Protestant denominations the term ‘confession,’ like a creed but generally longer and more specific — The Augsburg Confession, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Savoy Declaration, or the Baptist Confession.  Be it creed or confession, the principles are essentially the same.  The profession constitutes orthodoxy as defined by some Christian religious denomination.

The first problem is the term “orthodoxy.”  The second problem is that the United States isn’t orthodox.

The last time Pew Research looked at religious affiliation in America, the numbers showed 51.3% were Protestants of various confessions; 23.9% were Catholics; 1.7% were members of the LDS Church.   1.7% of our population is Jewish, divided into Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and “other.” 0.7% of our population is Buddhist (also divided).  Another 0.6% is Muslim, divided into Shia, Sunni, and “other.”  Hindus add another 0.4% of the population.  Atheists are about 1.6% of the population, agnostics another 2.4%, and there’s a significant number, 12.1% of Americans, who described themselves as “nothing in particular.”

Here’s where the “orthodoxy problem” kicks in.  While 26.3% of American Protestants described themselves as “evangelical,” another 18.1% declared themselves to be members of “mainline” churches.   And, what to do with the other 4.7% of Americans who aren’t Christian in any form or confession? With the 16.1% of the Unaffiliated?  This is now; so why were the framers of the U.S. Constitution so adamant about preventing the establishment (read: preference) of any single creed or confession of orthodoxy in the newly forming United States of America?

First, there were practical matters — How does a new country reconcile the Congregationalism of John Adams with the Episcopal preferences of George Washington?  How do you keep a nation together with Presbyterians in the western portions, Baptists forming congregations in the midlands, Dutch Reformed Church members holding sway in New York, and Swedish Reformed Church members in Delaware?   Why were the framers so intent upon keeping religion off the table?  Secondly, there were memories of a dismal history in not so Jolly Old England.

Not one, but three civil wars

Most of the original colonists were English. England experienced three periods of civil war beginning in 1642 and not fully over until 1651.  Scholars are still mulling over whether the civil wars were religious or political, or some admixture thereof.   Let’s try “admixture” because some of the confusion between King and Countryside was related to the fact that there was the “High Church” (of England) considered entirely too Popish to be the “real” religion of God’s people; there were the Reformers (We’ll just adjust the Church of England a little bit and that should be enough); there were the Puritans (Get rid of the episcopal nature of the Church of England); there were the Presbyterians  who were at odds with the Independents.  Somewhere between and among the Royalists (usually Church of England) and the Puritans, and the Presbyterians, there was sufficient animosity to keep the fires of war burning and the battles raging.  This history wasn’t lost on the framers of the U.S. Constitution.  Granted, if we take 1646 as the end of the last English Civil War, then there were 143 years between the end of the war and the drafting of the U.S. Constitution — it’s been 148 since the end of our own Civil War, and “Lincoln” is a blockbuster movie… we’ve not forgotten ours either.

The point is that the framers were well aware that religious confessions and creeds were inextricably bound into the fabric of the political factions which caused not one but three civil wars in the Old Home Land.  This would be something to be avoided.

Uncomfortable Pluralism

There’s a trade off to be made between religious freedom and political rights.  Everyone has political rights, and everyone has religious freedom.  However, where does my right to freely practice my religion begin to impede your right to practice yours? Further, when does my right to practice any religion freely become perilously close to Theocracy as I impose my creed or confession on the behavior and beliefs of others?

If we take the dictionary definition of a theocracy (a form of government in which God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, the God’s or deity’s laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities,) at what point are those ecclesiastical authorities impinging upon political authority in a democracy?   No one promised pluralism was ever going to be comfortable.

Tyranny of the Majority or the Minority?

Our discomfort with pluralism is, happily, less obvious, and far less bloody, in 21st century American than in 17th century England.  That doesn’t mean it can’t be as obvious as the daily dose of confessional rhetoric emanating from religious leaders in the media.   Yes, about 75% of Americans claim Christianity in some form, but that covers everyone from those who still prefer the Tridentine Mass to the Unitarian-Universalists.  There’s no way to find any “orthodoxy” along that spectrum in terms of creeds, confessions, or the lack thereof.

So, what is S.B. 192 about?  If we were truly talking about religious freedom, then we’d be cognizant of the variations, of the pluralism, in American religious life and NOT trying to impose the confessionally based beliefs of some ecclesiastical authorities on those who don’t share in the creeds.  However, if we are talking about the imposition of confessionally based beliefs on the body politic then aren’t we essentially advocating the “right” of a minority to determine what the majority will or will not be allowed to do?

As uncomfortable as pluralism may be, it’s origins in the American colonies is well documented, and it’s implications for modern notions of the separation of church and state are the foundations of American tolerance and sense of community.   Just as I have no right to demand others who don’t share my basic religious precepts align their lives according to my lights, I would expect the same consideration from others.

I don’t expect others to put the same significance to bells as I might. I don’t expect a person to follow the Nicene Creed, or the Westminster Confession of Faith, or the Quran or Hadith, or the Torah, or Rig-Veda or Avesta, or the Book of Mormon … and I’d be pleased to have others allow me the same consideration.  It’s hard enough in difficult times to keep one’s own candle burning, we don’t need to try to blow each others’ out.

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