Friday, March 03, 2006

Rendering Unto God What Is Caesar's

The conservative Christian Right seems to have chosen the beginning of Lent as its mustering period for the next battles in the culture war. Abortion bans in South Dakota and Mississippi, gay marriage bans in Wisconsin, gay adoption bans being discussed in 16 states and now this, via David (Austin, TX) at The Supreme Irony of Life:

Missouri legislators in Jefferson City considered a bill that would name Christianity the state's official "majority" religion.

House Concurrent Resolution 13 has is pending in the state legislature.

Many Missouri residents had not heard about the bill until Thursday.

Karen Aroesty of the Anti-defamation league, along with other watch-groups, began a letter writing and email campaign to stop the resolution.

The resolution would recognize "a Christian god," and it would not protect minority religions, but "protect the majority's right to express their religious beliefs.

The resolution also recognizes that, "a greater power exists," and only Christianity receives what the resolution calls, "justified recognition."

State representative David Sater of Cassville in southwestern Missouri, sponsored the resolution, but he has refused to talk about it on camera or over the phone.

KMOV also contacted Gov. Matt Blunt's office to see where he stands on the resolution, but he has yet to respond.

I suspect that this resolution may have a tough time gaining passage, but it's a difficult call to make. Missouri is a conservative "red" state and this resolution likely agrees with the views of a big chunk of the electorate there. In this day, plurality is becoming a much tougher sell to many people.

I see this as a clear violation of the First Amendment, and I suspect that, should this resolution pass, the ACLU will have something to say about it. However, I recognize from conversations that I've had with conservative Christians that many of them believe the First Amendment does not limit the right of a given state to endorse a religious belief. They interpret the establishment clause of the First Amendment as being limited purely to the Congress being forbidden to enact a federal religion. Unfortunately for the conservatives, this view completely ignores Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which says:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Often referred to as the "equal protection" clause, what this has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to mean is that the states are bound by the Federal Constitution and cannot pass laws that restrict rights afforded to all U.S. citizens. Thus, the state of Missouri cannot pass a resolution establishing Christianity as the state religion because such an act is forbidden under the First Amendment and Missouri cannot pass a resolution that ignores that.

My belief is that, similar to the abortion bans, this is a conservative test of the new Roberts Court. If this resolution passes, it seems very likely to be immediately challenged in court; a challenge which will almost certainly make its way to the Supreme Court. The test here is to see if the Roberts court is willing to take a radically new approach to the question of state's rights under the Constitution, a conservative bellweather issue. I can't make any sort of prediction as to how the Supreme Court would rule, or if they'd even be willing to hear such a case, but I can say that if they did rule the Missouri resolution constitutional it would radically re-define our entire concept of a unified United States. Just try and imagine an America where each state can essentially pass its own Bill of Rights. Now imagine living in Kansas or Mississippi under such a system...

The social aspect of this would probably leave me outraged if there hadn't been so much of this sort of bad behavior by the Christian Right in recent years. I guess leading people to Jesus became too much work somewhere along the line. Getting the state to force people into a Christian life would be much easier, I suppose. Of course, at the end of the day this is all just wankery; an attempt to legislate the conservative Christian worldview into reality. It's an elevation of the symbols of faith over what they symbolize, which is what passes for piety in much of the country these days. Those of us who are not Christians today are not going to convert just because the state we live in passes some resolution saying we ought to recognize one faith over another. I have to wonder if David is correct: do conservative Christians really want to put an end to pluralism and drive other religions from our shores?

What a pitiable thing is a faith so weak that it requires government resolutions to bolster it. What a banal thing Christianity becomes when reduced to just another political tool used to chip away at our civil rights. Perhaps those conservative Christians who are so vocally opposed to the separation of church and state should take a good, long look at the damage being done to Christianity by these sorts of legislative initiatives.

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