Saturday, November 17, 2018

Thank the Pilgrims who began America’s quest for religious freedom

A version of this was publlished in the Sky Hi News, 11/20-21/2018
https://www.skyhinews.com/news/opinion/opinion-muftic-thank-the-pilgrims-who-began-americas-quest-for-religious-freedom/
Summary:
The Pilgrims got the ball rolling but it was only the beginning. They saw freedom of religion freedom from a government run religion that persecuted them. It was not freedom for others...but after the colonies provided a rocky start of hanging heretics and hunting witches, the Constitution gave all of us freedom of religion. Application of that First Amendment is still a work in progress.
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This Thanksgiving we should give our thanks to the Pilgrims who have become an icon of what made the New World so unique in the civilizations that preceded them.. They left England and the old world to seek freedom to practice their own religion, free from a government backed state religion that oppressed them.  It was a beginning.  There was a rocky road ahead to laws guaranteeing religious freedom for everyone, not just one group.
 Some colonies adopted laws with limited forms of freedom of religion while others established state sponsored religions, hung heretics, and launched witch hunts.  Pennsylvania and Virginia   had enacted their own laws effectively protecting freedom of religion. The Constitution authors adopted those concepts in the First Amendment, ““Congress shalll make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." Congress  later passed  civil rights and hate crimes legislation that protected religious practitioners and punished those who interfered with their practice.

So, disconcerting in 2018 is that many seem to have forgotten the lessons leaned from experience, traditions, and history. So heartening in the 2018 midterms is that many more Americans rejected an Oval Office leadership condoning and even promoting hate and fear of “others”, including Donald Trump's attempted immigration ban of anyone who was a Muslim, .
In 2016 this country had given the reins of power to Donald Trump whose soaring oratory appealed to the worst of human nature. He set the example. It was alright to be uncivil, no longer to be politically correct, to denigrate and disrespect’ others”, especially people of color and women, and to express such feelings publicly. His inflammatory words have continued in rallies and tweets to this day.
 While protected by the Constitution, words of hate have deadly consequences. That was brought home shortly before the 2018 midterms by the Pittsburgh Synagogue massacre. While Donald Trump did not target his hateful words toward the Jewish community, he tolerated and promoted intolerance. Our President opined about the neo-Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville in 2017 that there some were “fine people” among them. The tiki torch bearing marchers shouted anti-Semitic slogans in German while raising arms in the Nazi salute.  
 An atmosphere of permissive hatred does not confine itself to specific targets.  It is infectious and even if originally unintended, it can spread to harm other targets, including religious ones. In 2017, the year after the election of Trump, the FBI reported a 37% spike in anti-Jewish hate crimes over 2016, and the Anti-Defamation League found the number of anti-Semitic incidents, mostly vandalism, was nearly 60 percent higher in 2017 than 2016, the largest single-year increase on record.
 Alt- right conspiracy theorists and Trump friendly media inspired the Pittsburgh synagogue killer. The shooter posted on his social media that a Jewish immigration group was bringing in immigrants to kill “his people”. Reviving references to the international Jewish conspiracy theories, other alt right proponents claimed a wealthy liberal Jewish-American-immigrant philanthropist, George Soros, was funding the “caravans” of central Americans storming our southern border. Numerous fact checkers found that false. Others before had claimed Soros paid “mobs” of women protesting the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Fact checkers: Soros paid none of the demonstrators. Last week In Baltimore, attendees of the performance of Fiddler on the Roof, the musical about Russian persecution of Jews, were still on edge from the mass killing in Pittsburgh. They panicked when a man in the audience shouted, “Heil Hitler, Heil Trump”, fearing it signaled another anti-Semitic mass murder attack. Fortunately, no one was hurt running to the exits. The man apologized later, said he was trying to compare Trump to Hitler but said it the wrong way, and he had been drinking before the performance and claimed protection of free speech. Note: The Supreme Court ruled many years ago shouting fire in a crowded theater is not protected speech. (Schenck v United States: Oliver Wendell Holmes crowded theater reference)
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Recent rulings by the Supreme Court  concerning  freedom or religion set no precedents that altered the underlining intent of the First Amendment or related laws.
The “muslim ban”, halting practitioners of one of the world’s greatest religions from entering the US simply because of their religious affiliation, was rejected by the courts, requiring a total rewrite of rules to comply by those facing extreme vetting to enter the US, now based on selected countries that harbor terrorists and not all had a Muslim majority . It was even retitled as a "travel ban"
 https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/26/supreme-court-rules-in-trump-muslim-travel-ban-case.html

The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a cakemaker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because it violated his religious beliefs...however, the ruling set no precedent because it based it on the specific  hostility of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/04/politics/masterpiece-colorado-gay-marriage-cake-supreme-court/index.html
Kim Clark, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to a gay couple because of her religious beliefs, spent jail time over it in 2015 and was defeated in her attempt to be re-elected in 2018. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/26/supreme-court-rules-in-trump-muslim-travel-ban-case.html

A number of Evangelical Christian ministers have recently proclaimed that the US is a "Christian nation".  It is not a state one per the Constitution, nor is the Evangelical brand of Christianity (full disclosure..I am a Mainstream  Protestant Christian) even the majority of the population.  Per a recent Pew Research study, Evangelicals are 25% of the population.  http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/

Evangelicals have had an impact, though, in exemptions of  employers providing ACA coverage of reproductive rights based on religious beliefs, first in the Obama administration and more so   under the Trump administration. The battle yet to be fought is over further proposed  restrictions on  birth control  insurance accessibility coverage. https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/fact-sheet-religious-exemptions-and-accommodations-for-coverage.pdf     https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/17/us/politics/trump-birth-control.html
Roe v Wade will also face challenges in the very conservative tilt in the Supreme Court    As a public policy regardless of religious affiliation, 71% of Americans polled oppose overturning Roe v Wade, https://www.wsj.com/articles/record-71-of-voters-oppose-overturning-roe-v-wade-1532379600
and 72% support birth control as basic health issue    https://powertodecide.org/about-us/newsroom/new-polling-shows-strong-support-for-birth-control-basic-part-womens-health-care
The backlash to religious restrictions on reproductive rights was palapable in 2018. The womens' marches and demonstrations against  confirmation of pro life anti birth control Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the doubling of the women gender gap to 19% of the voters were certainly contributors to the Democrats turning the House blue.

Right wing attempts to get around the separation of church and state issue in the funding of education have not gotten far. Once again Colorado was the focus when the Douglas County School Board thought issuing vouchers to students to attend any school of their choice, including a faith based school, was rebuffed by the Colorado Supreme Court. https://www.denverpost.com/2015/06/29/colorado-supreme-court-rejects-douglas-county-voucher-program/   Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump's secretary of education has long been a supporter of tax payer money funding faith based schools through vouchers , and has set about issuing executive orders to chip away at the regulations forbidding public funds for religious schools. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/09/us/politics/betsy-devos-religious-christian-education-federal-aid.html

 Following US right wing efforts to alter the protection of freedom of religion,   in Europe and South America forces desiring to persecute and discriminate against  religious  minorities are raising their ugly heads. In Brazil, a fascist government was just elected, vowing to turn that country comprised of centuries of immigrants and native population, into a Christian nation.  In Europe a long list of countries electing very right wing, anti- Muslim immigrant governments are being elected to political leadership. http://www.pewresearch.org/topics/restrictions-on-religion/

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/28/us/gab-robert-bowers-pittsburgh-synagogue-shootings.html
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/documenting-hate-new-american-nazis/

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