Aug 2018 Do you value your religious freedom? – The Trump Administration doesn’t.
What ever happened to the separation of church and state? The First Amendment to the US Constitution clearly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” yet Attorney General Jeff Sessions referred to the Christian Bible as justification for separating children from their mothers. To quote Sessions “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” God has ordained them for the purpose of order? If the Christian God ordained Trump and his Cabinet for the purpose of order, why do we vote?
In an effort to further erode your religious freedom, Sessions formed a “Religious Liberty Task Force” this week specifically designed to grant religious privilege to fundamentalist Christians. Apparently, according to Sessions, religious freedom includes the freedom to act as one’s religion demands, even if such actions might curtail the civil rights of others, or run contrary to the law.
Fortunately the US Supreme Court reasoned in Reynolds vs United States (1878) that taking action based on one’s sincerely held religious beliefs is unconstitutional if those actions violate established laws. The Court ruled that “Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices”. The Court asked: “Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious worship; would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which he lived could not interfere to prevent a sacrifice?” To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”
Andrew L. Seidel, a lawyer and Director of Strategic Response for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, reasoned that the Department of Justice doesn’t need a Religious Liberty Task Force, it needs a State-Church Separation Task Force” and “Until we get a president and attorney general who understand the Constitution and are willing to defend it against religious privilege, the Freedom from Religion Foundation will continue to guard the wall of separation that is so vital to our secular republic.”
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor commented that “The creation of this so-called Religious Liberty Task Force is an affront to the secular heritage of the United States” and “It’s especially dangerous when combined with the Trump administration’s relentless packing of the judiciary with judges handpicked by the Federalist Society to legislate religious dogma into our laws and policies.”
We can expect more of the same from Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court who does not believe in the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. He argued in 2017 that the government should not “facilitate” an abortion for a 17-year-old illegal immigrant in federal custody despite the US Supreme Court’s long standing precedent that the government, her only resource, cannot place an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose. Kavanaugh argued that “the Government has permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor, and refraining from facilitating abortion”. Kavanaugh also supports teaching Christianity in public schools. In short, both Sessions and Kavanaugh support Christian religious privilege even if it violates another’s Constitutional right to freedom of religion.
I urge you to think about what your freedom of religion means to you. Keep in mind that religious freedom applies to all of us, no matter what religion or humanist values you follow. The freedoms you want for yourself must be granted to everyone. In truth, Sessions and Kavanaugh’s desire to turn fundamentalist Christians into a religiously privileged class is one step in the process of denying you your religious freedoms. In effect Sessions and Kavanaugh, if he gets confirmed, are giving you a choice: Become a Fundamentalist Christian and enjoy special government sanctioned religious privileges or let your conscience be your guide and become an outcast in society.
The First Amendment guarantees everyone the right to hold any religious beliefs they choose and also prohibits everyone from forcing their religious beliefs onto anyone else. This is the true meaning of having the freedom of and freedom from religion. We cannot have one without the other.
Tom Waddell is president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org