Wednesday, August 25, 2010

That Double-Edged Sword

Tim Rutten has hit it out of the park with his latest column. After noting a Rasmussen Poll which notes that 85% of the respondents are following the mosque-at-ground-zero story closely and opining that part of the reason for the interest is that August is the perfect month for such a controversy (a traditionally slow news month unless there are missing white women or shark attacks), Mr. Rutten raises some very interesting possibilities that the opponents of the Muslim cultural center might not have considered.

One of the most distressing things is how rapidly this controversy has shifted from an ostensibly principled objection — the center's backers have a legal and constitutional right to build on the site, but it is "insensitive" to do so — to a blanket objection to Islam in America. Such a slide was entirely predictable, because the minute you impute collective responsibility for 9/11 to U.S. Muslims, generalized expressions of bigotry are rendered licit. Thus, we have organized campaigns opposing the construction of mosques in places as distant from ground zero as Wisconsin, Tennessee and Kentucky. In Santa Clara, a group objects to a mosque adding a minaret, while in Temecula, Pastor Bill Rench argues that his Muslim neighbors ought not be allowed to build a mosque on a site adjoining his Calvary Baptist Church.

Of all the dangerous nonsense being batted about, nothing quite tops a recent piece in the National Review Online in which Nina Shea, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, argues that the mosque has provoked "a heated debate" about the "limits" of religious freedom "in the age of Islamist terrorism." The federal government, she alleges, has a right to "defend itself" against those "promoting radical ideas in the context of Islam." To that end, "shutting down a particular religious establishment — or preventing it from being built — does not constitute barring a religion as a whole.... It could all depend on what the building is used for … [and] the impact of the preaching and instruction that takes place there."

Let's get this straight: The government is going to get into the business of evaluating what's going to be taught in a house of worship before issuing a building permit? Once a mosque, church or synagogue is constructed, government agents are going to enter, monitor the preaching and, if they deem it a threat to somebody's notion of security, shut the place down? (The smoke rising from such an event would issue from the ruin of the 1st Amendment.)
[Emphasis added]

It seems to me that what the Religious Reich has failed to take into consideration is that allowing government to determine what is acceptable in terms of theology, church governance, and worship just might wind up biting them in the backside. Rutten gives a couple of examples, and good ones, but I found another potential for governmental mischief.

A Presbyterian minister is currently being tried in an ecclesiastical court for performing marriage ceremonies for same sex couples during the brief window when they were legal in California, contrary to the denomination's constitution. Presbyterian clergy have been given permission to bless same-sex unions, but they are forbidden to perform ceremonies which mirror those ordained for man-woman couples. While I am saddened by the distinction made by the religion I was raised in, I do not dispute that it has the right to make it.

What happens, however, if Proposition 8 is declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court based on its denial of equal protection to gay couples, thereby making same-sex marriage once again legal in California? Should the state and federal government be able to force the denomination to perform the same marriage ceremony for gay couples as it does for straight couples? Remember the campaign for Prop 8? That was one of the arguments raised by concerned conservative clergy in support of the odious proposition.

The whole idea of the separation of church and state mandated by our founders was to avoid just such a governmental intrusion into the religious sphere. If, however, the door is opened even a little to squash a religion currently in disfavor, the door is open all the way for the government.

The Religious Reich might want to think about that a little.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how this ties into this post, but as I was reading it I immediately thought of the reason that Lutheran churches stopped using German for services during the First World War -- they were tired of having resident federal agents who monitored everything said in German inside the church and during services. As late as the 1980s there were Missouri Synod congregations who held special services in German for members who missed the feel and tone of German services.


3:41 AM  

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