It Ain't Religious Freedom if You leave Someone Out...

This week religious freedom and politics had a wild ride together and I know it is not over.  We can start with the discovery of the Higgs Boson, the sub-atomic particle that has been nicknamed The God Particle for the last decade or so.  This discovery and the heavenly appellation could be the most misunderstood piece of physics since everyone bought  A Brief History of Time  for their coffee tables and decided they understood black holes.  I have actually seen religious people and atheists arguing against the use of God in the nickname of this important sub-atomic particle for a variety of reasons, leading to claims of stupidity of one group or another like somehow discovering the existence of the particle that gives matter mass would either bring down or secure a theology.  Oh well, it makes for sweet copy during a holiday week but all in all while this could be one of the greatest discoveries of the young century it changes not one thing about faith or no-faith in God.  If it did for you, please rethink your entire world view, you may have made an error somewhere in the calculations.

But if that were all the news about God this week I may have written about fireworks bans, downtown curfews and gun play in our streets, but people who swore to defend the Constitution of the United States of America and uphold its principles seem to have versions that edit out the 1st Amendment.  Let us start our meal of misery with a trip to the Bayou.

So Bobby Jindal, the Governor of Louisiana and someone destined to be in the Cabinet of the next Republican administration followed a common GOP approach to education pushing for school vouchers for parents who want to send their kids to private school.  This will provide scholarships from money collected through taxes for schools to those parents who opt out of public school.  One of the points made in the LA law was that sectarian religious schools can get participate in the voucher program.  One law maker Rep Valerie Hodges voted for the law to be passed but now has regrets.  Her regrets?  She didn't realize that when the bill said Religious Schools it didn't just mean Christian schools.  Children attending Muslim schools can also apply and should be given the same vouchers and children attending schools like Westlake's Eternity Christian Academy that uses the Loch Ness Monster as evidence that evolution is a hoax.  Apparently Rep. Hodges skipped some of the words of the Constitution she is so well known for defending and upholding as a member of the state legislature. Her words make me wonder if she is violating that oath, "I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” Hodges told the Livingston Parish News. The paper said Hodges “mistakenly assumed that ‘religious’ meant ‘Christian.’”

“Unfortunately [the voucher program] will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said. “…There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”  Someone should remain Ms. Hodges that many founders were good northern Unitarians.  

But Hodges is only the appetizer, the main course is ColoradoRepublicn state Senator Kevin Grantham, from Cañon City, this week  showed support for the controversial Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, a speaker at the Western Conservative Summit held recently in Denver, that lawmakers should prohibit the construction of mosques in the state.

“Mosques are not churches like we would think of churches,” Grantham told the Colorado Statesman. “They think of mosques more as a foothold into a society, as a foothold into a community, more in the cultural and in the nationalistic sense. Our churches– we don’t feel that way, they’re places of worship, and mosques are simply not that, and we need to take that into account when approving construction of those.”  While trying to look passed the mind-numbing ignorant bigotry of this statement I would like to remind Grantham that churches, in fact, often speak of providing a foothold in the community and in many cases immediately try to convert others to their faith.  No Muslim has ever knocked on my door to try to get me to read the Qu'ran but I have had it happen several times from evangelical Christians and Mormons.  I have, on occasion, invited them in and, well, let's just say, I think after talking to me about Bible have scratched me off the list.  I so do love when someone not of my faith tries to explain to me what is in my Holy Book.  But to Grantham, seriously, what do you think of synagogues?  Are we good?  I mean we call our places a Bet Knesset, like the Knesset in Israel, you know the Congress of Israel.  Maybe you can draw a connection and perhaps say something stupid about that too?  Anyway, another member of the Grand Old Party who can't seem to understand his Constitution.

And for dessert we have Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles of Rock Hill, SC who has included in his sentencing of Cassandra Tolley the assignment of reading through the Book of Job and then writing a summary on the Old Testament Scripture.   Tolley was convicted of drunk driving after she drove down the wrong side of the road and plowed into an oncoming car, seriously injuring two men.  Now I spend a lot of time with the Bible and writing a drash on the Book of Job would likely make me think twice about drinking and driving but in what universe does this judge feel it is okay to sentence someone to Religious study.  What if Ms. Tolley concludes in her summary that God is a big jerk who plays with people and her drinking and driving was less an act of will but that God was using her to teach the injured a lesson?  I think I could reach that conclusion.  Oh and what if my friend, a Muslim judge and Qu'ranic scholar were to assign a particular on point message from a Sura?  I imagine old Judge Nettles might be a bit upset.  

Religious freedom is something that I believe made this country great.  While the implementation of it over the  years has been met with some interesting twists and turns, we, as a country, have learned to find value in the diversity of belief and frankly disbelief.  It is a struggle, I know there are some churches that preach that my faith is of the devil and that all Jews are liars and Christ killers and  I know there are members of my faith that say horrible things about Muslims and at least some Christians.  I, and most people I know, want to change that, we want to live in a culture that doesn't make celebrities out of outrageous preaching.  But not through law.  The cost of being able to walk safely in and out of a synagogue and read the Bible the way I do is that we must also allow for the those that walk a different path.  These leaders of their communities should be shunned and made to understand that while they are allowed to have those beliefs, when you want to force them on others through law you are becoming the thing the founders were working so hard to get rid of when they founded this great nation.  I hope this is only ignorance.  That can be cured.  I am not as hopeful if it is stupidity combined with bigotry.    


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