by Ann Ivins
I’ve been thinking with increasing irritation about that perennial conundrum-within-an-enigma-which-actually-isn’t-that-difficult-at-all: the separation of church and state, this time in the context of gay marriage. The issue becomes more annoying the more headspace I give it, and it’s not the prejudice or the public protests or the proclamations of any group on either side. The question that makes my brain twitch is this: why is this even an issue?
I firmly believe that the followers of any given religion have the perfect right to include, exclude and/or vilify anyone they choose. I further believe that their right to express their group disapproval stops absolutely short of causing their chosen bugaboo any actual harm… as in, breaking the laws enacted by the larger secular state in order to protect all its citizens. Those laws, we hope, evolve in specificity and efficacy as our understanding of what constitutes demonstrable societal or individual harm evolves as well. The American legal system has always possessed the power to control, modify or ban religious practices on these grounds: for example, in direct contradiction of Biblical precedent and many current religious beliefs, women are no longer owned by their husbands, twelve-year-old girls are off limits and public stoning for adultery has been replaced by Facebook flaming.
Another example: the general population, excluding certain Louisiana JOP’s, has eventually come to understand that a union between two people of differing overall skin pigmentation does not lead to apocalyptic plagues or children with multiple heads (also, that allowing humans to own other humans is a damaging economic construct, not to mention leading to some rather hard feelings in general). Had the original Southern Baptist Conference (and by “original,” I mean the SBC from 1845 until 1995) been able to retain a state-sanctioned grasp on the laws of the Southern states, slavery would still be legal, “miscegenation” would still be a crime and hundreds of thousands of lawn jockeys would still be on proud display across the land of Dixie. The Southern Baptist Conference was created to support these ideas: in defiance of the views of other Baptist congregations, but with the full support of Messieurs Leviticus and Nehemiah, to name only two. The Old Testament is all for concubines, slaves and massacres, but not intermarriage among tribes. Is this our best authority on human relations?
And what about the endless variations on marriage sanctioned by religions just as legitimate as Decent Christians Everywhere Inc? Why aren’t we respecting their traditions? Why are we letting widows remarry, those whores (Hinduism)? Why aren’t we letting Islamic American men who can afford it collect the four wives to whom they’re entitled? Who’s in charge here? The Founding Fathers, those whacked-out Deists, should have left us some instructions about which religion is right so we would know whose tenets to make law… oh. Wait. They did mention it. NONE OF THEM.
In a democratically-based society, the general idea is that we don’t let small groups dictate to everyone, in the belief that time, evolving understanding and the collective better judgment of a larger group of citizens usually works out better for everyone. When small groups, or large groups, or individual states or Bible-beating rednecks do attempt to tar and feather someone, we can take their asses to courts which represent successively larger segments of the population and hope that somewhere along the line, better judgment and better education will prevail.
I don’t give a damn what happens in anyone’s church if the law isn’t being broken, if children aren’t being abused, if the Kool-Aid is untainted. And if a particular religious sect decided that I was by nature a lesser human being, I think I’d leave. Wait, make that I know I’d leave – that’s essentially why I don’t consider organized religion a tool that’s safe for most people to play with. Any system of thought which approves and allows the dehumanization of certain other humans is risky stuff.
No religion owns marriage: the concept, the reality or the word itself. Religions have their own variations on the theme and every right to them. Marry (or don’t) anyone that you like (or hate (or sadly but firmly condemn)). Your religious definition, Ms. Christian or Mr. Sikh (and you do NOT want to go to the dictionary on this), is yours to live by. But please try to understand: pair-bonding predates religion; stable, wealth-creating, ably-parenting households are the true and demonstrable societal benefit of such bonds; and there’s not one iota of real evidence that a pair of the same gender doesn’t work just as well… and your talking shrubbery or flaming cow, while inspirational and possibly entirely real, is no excuse for ignoring science, history and simple justice.
Great article! A lot of great points.
I guess I’m a little harder on religious groups though. I don’t think they should be allowed to exclude or villify or attempt to lay down any moral judgments on the whole so long as they’re enjoying tax exempt status from the U.S. of A.
I’ll go you a step further, fikshun. I’d be in favor of eliminating that tax exempt status for all religious organizations, period. If they want to set up charitable operations that becomes a different case, although tax exempt status would ALWAYS depend on keeping religion out of it, 100%. I know a lot of people engage in remarkable feats of interpretive histrionics when it comes to what the Constitution says, but I’ve always been something of a minimalist on that front. I believe that it pretty much means what it SAYS, and in cases where that is legitimately unclear, you start by examining what the people who wrote it say it means.
We can always argue about whether the ideas, as set forth, are good ones or whether they need changing, but that’s a different discussion. And as the 1st Amendment is constructed, I can fathom no possible reading of it that justifies a tax exempt status. Or that IMPLIES such a thing.
Silliness. Pure silliness.
You remain a brilliant writer, Ann, and wonderfully irritating to Those Who Say They’re Right About Everything.
And there’s a pretty good chance that they mentioned none of them because the deity a good many of them worshiped was Reason. She’s also gone by Wisdom and Sophia…sometimes Isis.
All excellent points, Ann.
Frank Zappa would respond to Sam, “Tax the churches. Tax the businesses owned by the churches.”
My partner of 16 years and I are in fact married. We stood before our church, our friends, most of our families and more to the point before God and swore our love for each other and our loyalty to each other against all comers. Every cracker in this state (Al) can get up every morning and pass another one of their bigoted anti-marriage statutes (There are three so far and even the state AG decried the last as utterly redundant.) and it will makes us no less married at all. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.
Tax everyone..just take it all.
Personally, the actual operation of a church and any charitable work done by the church should be tax exempt. I assume that’s what the founders thought too, partly because churches didn’t own media empires in the 18th century…or use them to run constant fund raising operations.
Or, churches could start acting like churches; stand behind (and for) the separation between them and the state and then they can do whatever the fuck they want for all i care. Especially if they stop trying to get me to accept Warrior Jesus as my personal lord and savior.
I think you are mistaken about several of your points
1) When you right a bout the separation of church and state and gay marriage, you ask “why is this even an issue?” This is a republic with democratic elements. This means people, like you and me, get to play a part in making laws. People get to disagree with you and sometime they get laws passed you do not like. Personally, I do not think much of speed limits, but others seem to like them. This is called majority rules. We vote and the most popular idea wins. I guess I lose on that one. (Did you know that separation of church and state is not in the Constitution, anyway? If you are thinking First Amendment, go read it. It only says that Congress cannot establish a religion. That’s all.)
2) I am glad we agree that groups can think and do as they wish. However laws do not evolve. We either pass new one or we don’t. “Congress shall make no law…” always means exactly that. Whether the Supreme Court stays within the guidelines of law is another issue.
3) What is a JOP?
4) The intermarriage between tribes you mention in the Bible is often taken out of context. Jews were forbidden from marrying non-Jews. It was for religious harmony and pure faith. For some it is still and issue. Catholics sometimes do not like marrying outside the faith. I have even known Church of Christ and Baptists who had at least minor concerns about it. This was never a racial situation and anyone who applies it that way is probably a racist.
5) Yes the Bible is our best authority on human relations? Check the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. Really good stuff about how we can live in harmony with one another. Proverbs has tons of good advice, also.
6) The reason other religion’s ideas are not given much consideration here in the good ol’ US of A is the majority rules thing we already discussed. Christian thought, in a general sense (think general civilized behavior), dominates the US and so voters’ votes often reflect that when electing representatives or passing laws.
7) You state “The Founding Fathers, those whacked-out Deists, should have left us some instructions about which religion is right so we would know whose tenets to make law… oh. Wait. They did mention it. NONE OF THEM.” The Founding Fathers never said all religions are wrong or no religion is right. I think you need to look deeper into the thoughts of the Founders.
8) You state “In a democratically-based society, the general idea is that we don’t let small groups dictate to everyone, in the belief that time, evolving understanding and the collective better judgment of a larger group of citizens usually works out better for everyone.” If you believe this than you think that it is right that homosexual marriage is outlawed. The small group of homosexuals does not get to dictate to the large group. Majority rules again. Does this mean we agree?
9) You said “…that why I don’t consider organized religion a tool that’s safe for most people to play with. Any system of thought which approves and allows the dehumanization of certain other humans is risky stuff.” You are right about dehumanization. That is always a warning sign that something is wrong. But the First Amendment lets people decide for themselves. The first sentence here reveals a bit of your tyrannical nature. Do you think you should decide what can and cannot be taught for all religions? That is truly scary.
10) You are right again: No religion owns marriage. It is now a function of the State. One for which you have to be licensed. Just like hunting, fishing or driving. The state makes the rules. So how does the state determine the rules? Go back and see point 1. It is called majority rules. And the majority of Americans are opposed to homosexual marriage. And that is ok. Because people get to think what they want and vote on those thoughts.
Have a nice day! Really!
I think a comprehensive reply to this could take days, but since I’m in a hurry let me note two things.
First, yes, we have majority rule. And we have a Constitution to prevent a tyranny of the majority.
Second, re: “separation of church and state” not being in the Constitution: clearly the Founders took much for granted. But when in doubt as to what they meant, we can always look to what they SAID they meant. Like here.
Your grasp of Constitutional law is tenuous, at best. Sadly, I fear your misapprehensions are the majority opinion. Which, of course, is why we need a hedge against tyranny by the majority.
Actually the seperation of church and state is in the main body of the constitution as it states that there shall be no religious test for any public office (Article II if memory serves, but it’s definitely in there.) It doesn’t have much of a plot but it is still worth actually reading.
Of course, there’s a HUGE religious litmus test for EVERY office, isn’t there? (See here and here.)
Danielle and Dr. Slammy,
1) You both still miss the point. The US Constitution does not ever use the words “wall of separation between church and state.” That concept is not really constitutional. I think we all know that those were Jefferson’s words in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association assuring those Christians that the state would not set up an official religion. So the government cannot establish a church and require you to pay tax dollars to it: see the First Amendment’s establishment clause. That is it. Everything else you are trying to twist the constitution to mean is beyond the scope of the intent of the Amendment. For example, posting the Ten Commandments does not violate the First Amendment. It does not establish a religion. Yes, this means the Supreme Court has ruled incorrectly as it has done in the past. Let us pray for a common sense reversal soon.
2) Not requiring a religious test means that the government cannot give one. But the voters can, Dr. Slammy. Voters can vote for any candidate they like who qualifies for office (age, residency, etc.) That is your real complaint, Dr. Slammy. You do not like democracy. Gay marriage gets voted down time and again. Christians run for office, tell people they are Christians and get elected. Continue reading the First Amendment and you will come across the Free Exercise clause. Yes, Christians and all other religious folks get to think and act upon their beliefs. Voting is part of the deal. I think it would be more productive for you to stop complaining and try to convert people to you view point. Or I guess you could just move to a place where the majority believes what you do. But whatever you do, stop trying to twist the Constitution. Christians are not your enemy. We actually try to love those who agree with us… and those who don’t.
PLEASE go do some more research prior to posting! Like a few others on here who’ve read your original post and immediately became intensely fatigued, I can’t do a point-by-point analysis either. But one or two things:
Yes, the First Amendment originally applied strictly to Congress. However, in Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925), the Supreme Court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies the First Amendment to each state, including any local government. That’s any government anywhere in this country, buddy. This government CANNOT BE SHOWN TO BE RESPECTING ANY ONE RELIGION OVER ANOTHER. It’s plain English.And it means any religion. It also can’t stop you from practicing any religion. Or not practicing one. Slapping up the Ten Commandments everywhere on government buildings is clearly a violation. It doesn’t get much less ambiguous. If the government does so, it has respected Christianity over other faiths. NO, NO, NO!! You don’t get to do that!!
And have you read your precious Ten Commandments lately? After they finally got whittled down from 21 or whatever, the first three or four (depending upon how you count) basically tell you nothing of any use to society. They simply sum up the Christian Don Corleone version of god with what many would perceive as a pretty threatening tone. The only useful bits in there are don’t kill, (oddly commanded by a god who seems to revel in slaughter) don’t steal, and don’t lie. (although we all know that lying constantly in dozens of ways is necessary to maintain a peaceful society) Let’s give that one the benefit of the doubt, and assume it only means lies for the sake of malice. No adultery? Well, okay for now, but societies change in weird ways. That one may end up being ridiculous a few decades down the road. Finally, you’ve got some stuff about not coveting. Any god who tries to tell me what I can and can’t think gets a big “Fuck you, buddy.” Them would be what you’d call them there “thought crimes”. Even if I were inclined toward any religion, it damn sure wouldn’t be one telling me what I could and could not THINK.
So aside from the thought crimes and godly chest-beating, you’ve got a document that forbids three actions that simply cannot occur on a widespread basis in any society, or the society will crumble. They didn’t even need to be written down, much less carried down from some damn mountain. They’re just the simplest possible rules for getting along in groups, which we’d figured out long since.
Practice your religion until you’re blue in the face, but you WILL keep it out of mine.
I almost did not bother responding to you since this is such an old argument; however, your misconceptions required me to give it a shot.
1) You said that Gitlow applies the First Amendment to the States. No argument there. Probably a fine application of the law as the 14th Amendment was passed by Republicans after the Civil War to keep Southern Democrats from denying Freedmen their rights of citizenship. But then you state “This government CANNOT BE SHOWN TO BE RESPECTING ANY ONE RELIGION OVER ANOTHER.” Really? The First Amendment does not say that! At All! Go look it up. I’ll wait. Here let me help: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” You should note that it says “establishment.” Notice nothing from your rant about “respecting any one religion over another” is in the Constitution. You should know that just because someone repeats a lie over and over again, it does not become the truth. Neither the Federal government nor State governments can make an official religion and force citizens to support it. Easy enough?
2) Next, you really do not like the Ten Commandments. You do not have to. I have studied them repeatedly. They convict me of my wrong doing. They show me the error of my ways. The drive me to seek mercy from God the Father Almighty. They make me so thankful to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He offers me and you, Bolo, grace, mercy and forgiveness. Yes, they are troubling because they show us all that we a sinners. They are basic law for all mankind. Hey, you want to vote and see if they can be posted?
2.5) You seem to think that the posting of the Ten Commandments somehow violates the First Amendment. How? Do the Ten Commandments establish a “religion?” I think a brief list of laws is a long way from an “establishment of religion.”
3) Finally, you have somehow got not coveting confused with some kind of crazy thought police. Again you seem to get far from what was written and you twist it into something else. Coveting is bad. Bad for you. How about envy? Is that a word you are familiar with? Envy is a negative emotion like lust, wrath or greed. Coveting and being envious gets you away from doing your best and focused on an angry thought that you need to get what someone else has. Christians do not tell you what to think, but we will tell you that some thoughts are not healthy for you. Surely you can see that? Are all thoughts good and beneficial to the thinker? Do not focus on what others have. Their possessions are not yours. Maximize yourself and earn for yourself. You will be happier.
Remember to read what the words say without trying to imply a lot of ideas that just are not there. Hey, be careful on your journey and fell free to respond. I will answer to the best of my ability.