1st Amendment Fallacies

   Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

America is the Land of the Free. And the free exercise of my religion means that if I believe an abortionist is a murderer or a homosexual is committing an abomination, then I have every right to “exercise” my religion on them in any way I see fit.

Right?

Well, no

I can shoot a murdering abortion doctor or beat any faggot I see bloody if I so choose. It’s all about being a real American.

Right?

Well, no

Besides. We all know that America was founded by believing Christians as a Christian nation. Anybody who brings a set of foreign ideas into this country is here on sufferance anyway. Christianity is America’s natural religion and it’s only logical that the more Christian you are, the more truly American you are.

Right?

Well, no.

When I was little, my mother used to quote a phrase that originally came (in a slightly different form) from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Your right to swing your fist stops at the end of my nose.”

For me, it has always defined the essence of American freedom. This is a free country…so long as your freedom doesn’t violate mine.

Sure, you’ve got a right to party…but not keep me up all night doing it. Sure, you’ve got a right to own a gun…but not endanger me with it. Sure, you’ve got a right to keep a pet…but not one that bites my kids.

And sure, you’ve got a right to believe abortion is morally wrong, even murder, but if the law says it’s legal, what you can do about is pretty severely circumscribed. You can demonstrate and try to convince, but assault and murder are not permitted. And as for homosexuality, you’ve got every right to believe it’s a perverse and sinful choice that only sick people make, but you don’t get to assault people you think have made that choice.

It may be delusional on my part, but it seems to me that that definition of American freedom was once the consensus. There are few things in the human psyche that stir more visceral reactions than differing ideas of patriotism. But if the American Nazis demonstrated in Skokie, our job, as patriots, was to counter-demonstrate and still be a bit proud that America was such a freedom-loving country that we even allowed assholes to display their unpleasant views. Even when America marched off to Iraq, we had demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, called each other rude names and arrested anybody who tried to get violent.

But today, there seems to be a growing movement among Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians to reinterpret both the Constitution and our history. Somehow our Founding Fathers have been transmuted into zealous believers in Christ as their personal Savior in ways that would have horrified them. Evangelical preachers teach that the raft of First Amendment decisions on separation of church and state and the free exercise clause are simply wrong and turn upside down the original intent of our Founders.

Personally, I think our Founders would be nauseated at the ideas these folks are putting in their mouths. Jefferson, it now seems, was really a devout Christian who believed religion should be incorporated into our public business. In this rewrite, he was not the man who said, “Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the Common Law.” Certainly he was not the man who assured the Danbury Baptists that the free exercise of their religion would be safe under the Constitution as that document included the First Amendment, “thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

James Madison, arguably the major architect of the Constitution, is being recreated so he never believed in the separation of Church and state, despite the fact that the real man said, “Religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.”

One could go on and on. There is now a virtual library of “histories” that pervert the record to try and make their religious beliefs the true religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers and the agreed consensus of the original Americans. Going even further, Tom DeLay was recently on TV saying “God wrote the Constitution.” Ideas like this lead some religious folks to believe they have a right to do some very un-American things:

Hobby Lobby, a privately held company, believes that because their owners believe certain forms of contraception are equivalent to abortion, they have a right to exclude those forms from the insurance they offer their employees. Naturally the insurance wouldn’t force people who agree with the Hobby Lobby owners to use contraception, but the owners object to it even being offered to any of their employees.

(Your right to swing your fist stops at the end of my nose.)

Recently there was a move by various Fundamentalist groups to boycott the NFL as punishment for drafting an openly gay player. While I may think these folks are idiots who misinterpret the Bible, I have to say their effort is solidly within the American tradition.

On the other hand, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, has argued that the First Amendment was originally intended to apply only to Christians. Not only that, but only to what he called “Orthodox Christians.” I presume that means Christians who agree with him. Believers of any other kind simply don’t have the same rights under his Constitution.

Interestingly one of the last acts of Benjamin Franklin’s life was to donate to the founding of a synagogue in Philadelphia. At his funeral, every Christian congregation (including some very un-Orthodox ones) joined the procession, as did the Jews.

Famously, President John Adams submitted a treaty with the Bey of Tripoli which contained the following words: “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” This treaty was read aloud in the Senate, ratified unanimously by that Senate, and signed by the President.

Nevertheless, a fair number of Christians are being taught, each and every day, that the founding father were devout, modern-style Christians and that any effort to re-Christianize all spheres of our public life is a pious act of returning America to Original Intent.

Point is, these people are trying to re-define my America into their version of a pious theocracy. And they are perverting my history in order to do it.

 

Sorry for the rant, but the end of my nose is getting darned sore.

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