Let’s put, for now, aside how religion in government has worked or not worked in other countries. We’re talking about this country. In America, the First Amendment (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html) states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
I’m no scholar, but let’s examine for a minute what that first part says. Congress (Representatives elected by the people) shall make no law (will not pass legislation) respecting an establishment of religion (favoring one faith over another) or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (or keep people from practicing their faith freely). To me, it seems pretty straight-forward. In essence, it is saying that an elected government which represents all people shall remain neutral in matters of faith. Despite what faith may have been practiced by our founding fathers, they are in a position to govern a free people and keep religious influence as far as possible from public policy.
In the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, approved by John Adams himself, Article 11 states the following:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
Again, and I am no authority on 18th Century treaties, it seems the me that they were saying the U.S. is a nation with no official allegiance to Christianity and that future business with Tripoli, or any other Muslim nation, shall be on a strictly professional level.
Moving from that, ask yourself about your place of employment. In many companies, mine included, there is a policy that prohibits people from using company time, materials, or speaking platforms as a means of proselytizing. Why? Business leaders and government leaders alike recognize that much blood has been spilled over the centuries over differences of belief in the Divine. When it comes to getting things done for the benefit of all people, whether they are clients of citizens, it is in the best interest of all parties to keep a completely neutral ground when conducting business.
BREAK TIME: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/05/08/3600527/abortion-becomes-a-tax-issue-in.html We’ll get to that later, or possibly in another post. Feel free to read anyway.
Let me put it another way. Religion, or lack of religion, is a very personal choice which must be made by all people in their own time on their own terms. It is not something that can be used as influence or coercion by a group of people over the population.
Thomas Jefferson, a man revered by many on the religious Right, was the first to publicly speak of separating matters of church and state in his letter to the Danbury Baptists (http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html). Jefferson knew the importance of keeping personal matters out of public affairs as a way of ensuring adequate representation of ALL Americans.
Back in February, Presidential candidate Rick Santorum commented on President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech regarding separation of church and state made him want to “throw up.” (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57385430-503544/santorum-church-state-separation-not-absolute/ )You remember Rick Santorum, right? If not, Google him. On second thought, don’t do that. What Rick Santorum was trying to suggest was that government had a system of values that trumps a person’s personal code of ethics and they were going to enforce it on you by keeping religion out of politics. Let’s explore…
Using the issue of prayer in public schools, there is a simple argument that can be made for keeping things secular in public settings. The problem for many people is not that children are not allowed to pray in public schools. In fact, I have never known a school to tell children that they can not have a prayer group, bible study group, etc… before and after school or during lunch. When I attended high school, we had several groups of the sort. They were all arranged and practiced by students in a non-official manner so as not to involve the school administration. Even today, I know of many such groups in our local school district. This is not, and never has been, a problem. As I said, people are not upset that they’re children can’t pray in school, because they, in fact, can.
What has bothered so many people is the fact that schools have not made prayer part of their official policy. Those that have, do so under direct violation of what our Constitution states. The school is part of the federal system. Therefore, they must act accordingly. The only way to do so, is to do as what I suppose President Jefferson was hinting at by removing religion from any official government business.
So, what exactly is Rick Santorum suggesting that is being enforced? Neutrality? A level playing field? Oh, that crazy JFK and his secular ways. Oh wait, he was Roman Catholic. Back to the blog…
Let’s say a school makes daily prayer a mandatory event. What prayer will the children recite? If you said anything other than, “Whichever one they choose”, you are wrong. What about the one kid in a school in Queens whose family practices Santeria? What about the kid in Miami who comes from a Rastafarian background? What about a kid who lives in The Big Easy whose family tradition involves voodoo? How about the Muslim kid in Dearborn, Michigan whose normal Dhurh prayer can take up to 15 minutes? Would communities really be okay with a student of such a radically different faith openly practicing their prayer, no matter what it included, in front of their children? Even the most generic Judeo-Christian prayer will not satisfy the spiritual needs of a student who does not belong to that faith. A Wiccan or a Satanist is not going to be a part of that prayer. They are going to hold their own private prayer, chant, candle ceremony. If a school refuses to allow it, they are violating their own policy. So, be careful what you wish for.
High school is horrifying enough as a teenager. By insisting that schools hold mandatory prayer places added and unnecessary pressure on kids to conform. It places them in an awkward situation to either pray with the rest of the kids, pray in your own way in front of other kids no matter how private it might be, or not pray at all and be excluded or face further alienation among their peers. School is a setting much like a job where children have work to do. That does not include division based on religious belief. That is not a choice children should have to make.
Fortunately for them, religious belief is not a “majority rules” scenario. It does not matter if your county is 80%, 90%, or even 100% devoted to a certain faith. The fact that you are excluding someone from possibly entering that community is a slap in the face to people who fought to protect personal religious freedom. That’s exactly what it is and should always be; Personal and private.
What does this have to do with Kansas? Luckily, we have not had much of an issue with school prayer. The worst we have are prayers at the beginnings of city council meetings, State Capitol meetings, and possibly some school board meetings. While this is still a direct violation of the First Amendment, people tolerate it. Mostly, because that’s just the way things have always been done. Also, because there is a time and a place to debate such things. Over time, as it is made more clear how exclusionary government-endorsed prayer is, the more people will rebuke such activities.
The larger problem, as I see it, is not one of public prayer, but rather religious influence on public policy (http://www.kansascity.com/2012/05/08/3600911/kansas-attorney-general-pays-almost.html). The hottest issue in Kansas is that of abortion. Should or should not women be allowed to get abortions? Despite the fact that abortion was legalized in 1973 after the Roe v. Wade case, people have stepped up their efforts to make it illegal. No matter how you argue, the stance of being Pro-Life is usually a religious-based argument. Typically, driven by the Catholic Church or evangelical ministries.
The efforts do not stop simply with abortion. Those on the Pro-Life side wish to do away with all forms of contraception. In essence, they are stepping between a woman (or man) and their doctor, which is someplace they have no business being. Sex is a private matter, just as religion, and must stay that way. We have to ask ourselves, “Do we really want to start worrying about how other people are having sex? How does their personal, physical relationship affect my life? Does it affect my life?”
Speaking of sexuality…
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons, to those who don’t know), were pivotal in California’s Prop 8 issue in (http://www.whatisprop8.com/) the 2008 election. Due to their own personal beliefs about what marriage should be, they spent upwards of $43 million convincing people that they knew what was best for all Californians. Many have argued that the LDS church should be stripped of its tax-exempt status for using its money and influence as a means of swaying a public vote.
No matter which way you feel about abortion, gay marriage, how people pray, etc… It is all a personal matter for those directly involved. Even if I were against same-sex marriage, I would have no authority to dictate how people spend their lives and with whom. Therefore, neither does anyone else.
What does this have to do with Kansas now? Not much. In the future, however, I can see it becoming a hot-button issue the same way Arizona’s recent decision to de-fund Planned Parenthood has many people talking. You can read more about some of the recent bills in the Kansas House and Senate in Diana’s (the blog moderator/administrator) post from this week. I feel she already covered it very well, so I’ll refrain from too many redundancies.
To sum it up, your religious beliefs are yours and yours alone. I have no say-so in what you believe. Nor, would I try to impose my beliefs on you. Likewise, I do not wish for someone to impose their religious beliefs on myself or any other person. If you look, this is what is being done covertly within the state. People in Kansas need to be aware of what is going on around them locally and state-wide. If you’re not careful, informed, and critical in your thinking, you are likely to end up putting people in positions of authority that have a tendency to overstep their bounds.
I hope this blog turns out to be a frequent stop. I also hope the discussions and comments can maintain civility. I am pretty thick-skinned and have been known to be abrasive at times. That doesn’t mean that I’m not human. It just means I’m concerned about my home state and what choices people are being left to make for themselves. I welcome alternative viewpoints and challenges to my own.
Let’s talk about a couple of bills that are causing much of the rest of the country to gawk at our state right now.
In March, the Kansas House of Representatives passed HB 2260, which they called the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. This bill, which is currently being tossed around congress as SB 142, would legally protect people who, under the cloak of religion, choose not to serve those whose sexual orientation does not mesh with their own religious tenets. Meanwhile, the House has just passed H Sub. SB 62, a vaguely worded bill concerning medical care facilities, abortion, and sterilization and a provider’s right, again under the cloak of religion, to not offer, refer, or discuss such medical issues or procedures with their patients.
What is interesting – and in a very sad way – is that non-Kansans watching this circus aren’t surprised that our elected officials are using what precious little money we have in our state’s coffers to introduce and pass these measures. They might be outraged, horrified, or amused, but they’re not surprised that our state could pass, with a majority, any legislation that could be perceived as anti-women or anti-civil liberties.
But these non-Kansans should be surprised. The should be astonished. Because Kansas has served as a platform for the kinds of leaps in civil liberties other states didn’t have the guts to pursue. The state was created in the middle of a bloody fight over slavery, and Kansas entered the Union as an antislavery state in 1861. In 1867, Kansas Governor Samuel Crawford, a Civil War general and a Republican (when being a Republican meant something completely different), campaigned to ratify an amendment that called for “impartial suffrage without regard to race or color.”
Though the amendment did not pass at that time, the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association did win the right for women to vote in local elections, and Kansas was in the international spotlight when Susanna Madora Salter became the very first woman in the nation to be elected to political office in 1887. She even gave birth during her term as mayor.
In 1912, Kansas women were granted equal voting rights to their male counterparts, joining the ranks of women in only seven other states.
Down the line, Kansans like Attorney General Charles Griffith and newspaperman William Allen White would battle the Ku Klux Klan, and teachers like Corinthian Nutter and a handful of parents in Topeka would fight for the educational rights of minority children.
None of these battles were easy. But, over time, the state of Kansas moved progressively toward greater and more equal civil liberties.
Which brings us back to HB 2260/SB 142 and H Sub. SB 62.
What bothers me most about both of these bills is that they weigh the rights of the person with power above the rights of the person being served, something that is completely contrary to Kansas’ historically progressive moment toward the civil liberties of those who might have a disadvantaged status. The religious rights of the landlord are protected, but what about the religious rights of the person trying to find safe, affordable housing? The medical doctor’s personal beliefs are protected, but what about the personal beliefs of the patient who is entrusting his or her (and let’s face it, in this bill, patients being impacted will primarily be female) health to that doctor?
Whose religious rights are more important?
As a woman, I’m appalled by the H Sub. SB 62, not because I don’t believe the provider’s religious rights matter, but because it such an easy leap to deny women the right to participate in their own healthcare decisions by not informing them of the pros and cons of all of their legally available choices. For many people, this is easily dismissed because it targets reproductive issues. Yet this bill could serve as a gateway to stronger legislation. Replace “abortion” and “sterilization” with “heart surgery” or “skin graft,” and contemplate what it would be like for your family to find out you were denied the option to get a new kidney because the surgeon at your small town’s only hospital is religiously opposed to interfering with the body’s natural healing process, and you begin to see how dangerous this law really is.
As a woman, I’m just as disgusted with HB 2260/SB 142 because one day, I might have a child, and that child might be gay, and it saddens me to think he or she might not be able to find a safe and affordable place to live because of that sexual orientation. From a purely practical point of view, it seems potentially self-defeating; heterosexuality isn’t necessarily a litmus test for being a quality tenant. Frankly, most landlords I know would rent to a pair of rabid gorillas if they kept the property tidy, mowed the lawn, and paid their rent on time.
As a woman who is a taxpayer, I am furious that our state, the state that I love, the state that has a history of moving toward expanding the rights of its citizens, is spending my money on these bills that are very anti-Kansas. Worse, I’m angry at the lack of transparency in the creation and the passage of these bills. Did my elected officials vote in favor of these bills? The Kansas Legislature web site is careful not to let anyone know.
It’s time to unearth our progressive roots. It’s time to stop wasting energy on these negative bills that degrade our sense of civil liberties and make us look as foolish and backward as much of the rest of the nation already perceives our state to be. If we’re going to make the rest of the country watch our state with open-mouthed awe, let’s do it for the right reasons.