A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Christian Politics and Religious Freedom

Let’s start this one with a party platform statement made in 2004:

The Republican Party of Texas affirms that the United States of America is a Christian nation….Our Party pledges to exert its influence to restore the original intent of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and dispel the myth of the separation of church and state….Congress should be urged to exercise its authority and should withhold appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in such cases involving religious freedom, and all rights guaranteed under the Bill of Rights….The Party supports the limitation of the jurisdiction of Federal law enforcement agencies to the high seas, federal installations, and counterfeiting operations…

What we call “religious freedom” in America is based simply and solely upon the federal court case law derived and deduced from the “establishment clause” of the Constitution. This clause in no way explicitly guarantees religious freedom to anyone. For comparison purposes, you might look at the very explicit guarantees of freedom of speech, assembly, and press in the same document.

It is the clear intent of the Republican Party of Texas to destroy the entire basis in federal case law for “religious freedom” in this country. For if the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is ended in these matters, there is simply no avenue of legal appeal for any individual who has been wronged by having his religious freedom denied.

Moreover, even if such case law remained intact, the Texas Republican Party would explicitly prevent the Federal Government from exercising any law enforcement powers whatsoever to enforce any of the provisions of that case law, or, indeed of the Bill of Rights as a whole, inside most of the United States.

The best that could be hoped from this is the sort of “religious toleration” which custom and practice has spread through much of the world over the years, but which is perfectly revocable, without notice, by any government that recognizes no legal basis for “religious freedom”.

But should the Texas Republican Party have its way, there would be absolutely nothing to prevent Texas from outlawing Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or even Catholicism. Except, of course, the goodwill and tolerance of the Texas Republican Party.

This would not, literally, be a “theocracy”, after all, a theocracy implies government by explicit religious dogma, making necessary some clarity of religious thought. It would be something far worse–government by the arbitrary and unchecked whim of a majority of Texans, without reference to the rule of law–which frankly implies nothing one way or the other about clarity of religious thought.

Then again we can always hope both for clarity of religious thought in Texas, as well as toleration of other religions by the Texas Republican Party. We can hope for it, but we certainly can’t count on it.

And since we can’t count on it, I, for one, think we should keep the strong legal and judicial basis for our “religious freedom”, as well as the power of the Federal goverment to enforce it, which is unique in the world.

Now if the United States is a Christian Nation with no real separation of Church and State, then undoubtedly the Texas Republican Party must be a Christian Party. And it is certainly a Party of mainstream sentiment, at least in in places like Waco and Lubbock.

So, if any conservative Christians wonder why their non-Christian fellow citizens are so disturbed by the interplay of Christianity and politics, perhaps they should look back over their shoulder at what some of their fellow Christians are advocating, at least in Texas.

I repeat, “religious toleration” depends solely upon the good will of your neighbors and the party who controls the government. “Religious freedom” depends upon the power of the rule of law to intervene to preserve it in the absence of such good will.

Without a Constitution, a Congress, AND a Federal court system to define the parameters of it–as well as Federal law enforcement to compel obedience to Congressional law and court decision–”religious freedom” simply does not exist. The Texas Republican Party proposes to eliminate two of these.

We have religious freedom now, we would not have it then. As a Christian, or at least as a Protestant Christian, anyone can generally be comfortable in America that their neighbors will tolerate them.

Others of us aren’t so lucky. I know what anti-Buddhist hostility among my neighbors is like. I have occasionally been the target of it–and this after 20 years of my neighbors knowing me, but not knowing I was a Buddhist. So I don't think it could be said that I was evangelizing anybody, or making a pest of myself with my religion in any other way. And anyone can find anti-Islamic hostility anywhere they like in America at the moment. It's quite fashionable, actually.

So I know the difference between religious toleration and religious freedom. And I don’t intend to give up religious freedom, for everybody, without a fight.

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