Christian Right’s attack on rights

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Barbara McGraw, co-editor (with Jo Renee Formicola) of Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously: Spiritual Politics on … Continued

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Barbara McGraw, co-editor (with Jo Renee Formicola) of Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously: Spiritual Politics on America’s Sacred Ground and author of Rediscovering America’s Sacred Ground: Public Religion and Pursuit of the Good in a Pluralistic America. She is also Director of the Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Recently, WallBuilders, Inc., whose founder David Barton has been a guest on Fox’s “Huckabee,” among other venues, filed an amicus brief in a case in the Ninth Circuit. The brief argues that the religion protections of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution should be limited to Christians or, at most, monotheists because, in the founding era, the word “religion” meant only Christianity or, at most, monotheism. Barton’s history is all wrong.

Although the context of the Ninth Circuit case is California’s prisons, the policy that is at the heart of the case is a California policy affecting not only prison inmates, but our military veterans, among others, by limiting employed state chaplains to adherents of five religions (Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American) without any non-discriminatory purpose. Wiccan/Pagan inmates and a volunteer chaplain seek reform of the policy.

In “The Meaning and End of Religion,” Wilfred Cantwell Smith proved that it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the word “religion” developed the meaning it has today: the institutions of religion (e.g., Buddh “ism”). Before then, “religion” meant “piety” or “a system of beliefs.” One can look up the word “religion” in founding era dictionaries and find that it had this broad meaning.

The Founders held this broad view, often turning to John Locke as their guide, who said:

“[I]f solemn assemblies, observations of festivals, public worship be permitted to any one sort of professors, all these things ought to be permitted to the Presbyterians, Independents, Anabaptists, Arminians, Quakers, and others, with the same liberty. Nay, if we may openly speak the truth, and as becomes one man to another, neither pagan, nor Mahometan, nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion.” (emphasis added)

Following Locke’s lead, Thomas Jefferson’s “Notes on Religion” stated: “Shall we suffer a Pagan to deal with us and not suffer him to pray to his god? . . . . It is the refusing toleration to those of different opinion which has produced all the bustles and wars on account of religion.” And Richard Henry Lee said: “I fully agree with the Presbyterians, that true freedom embraces the Mahomitan [Muslim] and the Gentoo [Hindu] as well as the Christian religion. Jefferson considered atheists when he said: “Locke denies tolerance to those who deny the existence of god . . . it was a great thing to go so far–but where he stopped short we may go on.”

But perhaps Richard Henry Lee put it best when he said in 1787: “It is true, we are not disposed to differ much, at present, about religion; but when we are making a constitution, it is to be hoped, for ages and millions yet unborn . . . .” In other words, those who differ about religion in ages and among millions yet unborn are included in the protections of the Constitution.

What is especially sad about the narrow way that Barton wants to interpret the founding era is that Barton’s approach obscures the real contribution of Christianity to America: support for a political system that protects the individual’s relationship with the Divine (however understood).

It is true that there were prominent founders who scoffed at Christianity. Jefferson famously said, “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.” But there were others who found in Christianity the source of the good will that led to liberty. Noah Webster wrote: “[T]he religion which has introduced civil liberty, is the religion of Christ and his apostles, which enjoins humility, piety and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free constitutions of government.”

In other words, genuine Christianity supports religious rights for all. Christianity was not at the founding, nor is it now a monolithic “ism” that justifies the domination and suppression of others–not even Wiccan/Pagans.

Ninth Circuit Briefs for McCollum, et al., v. the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation can be found here.

The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.

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  • Athena4

    Thanks for bringing this to everyone’s attention.

  • coloradodog

    The of the Fox News Huckabee Christian sect’s agenda of theocracy in action.Americans have obviously forgotten why the Pilgrims fled England.

  • APaganplace

    Thank you, Mr. Patel. Before the general storm of people being offended that Pagans exist, and that Muslims exist, rehash the same old arguments and defamations…This is what that is. And this is what America is *supposed* to be about.

  • APaganplace

    Make no mistake, though, it’s not *about* which religion, on the part of the ‘Christian Right,’ …it’s an attack on the very idea of unalienable rights. Of pluralism and even reason. An attack on our most sacred Liberty. Some will say that ‘We must destroy freedom in order to save it,’ …Ain’t so, and never was.

  • Carstonio

    Americans have obviously forgotten why the Pilgrims fled England.They first left England for Holland, and they had religious freedom there, but they came to America because they feared assimilation. They did not believe in religious freedom for everyone – their colony was a quasi-theocracy where one could be jailed for criticizing ministers.

  • razzl

    Have no fear, by bringing on cases guaranteed to lose these bigots are building an impenetrable wall of legal precedent against themselves. Within a couple of generations they will have painted themselves into a legal corner they can’t get out of…

  • APaganplace

    “”Americans have obviously forgotten why the Pilgrims fled England.”"Americans have also obviously forgotten that Pilgrims didn’t found America. Pilgrims came to the continent and went crazy. A couple centuries later, give or take, a nation was founded based on pluralism, the rights of man, the general welfare, and the rule of law.

  • mokey2

    Wow.. just.. WOW. I honestly didn’t expect anybody outside of the Pagan community to take notice of this. All of this started because Patrick McCollum wanted to be allowed to serve Pagan prison inmates as a chaplain but has not been allowed to do so. And the ‘best’ that California can come up with is that the founding fathers meant that monotheism is somehow ‘above’ other faiths.Thank you for this. I now have hope for the rest of the country.

  • APaganplace

    Actually, Mokey, it hardly *started* there, you know. Christian and ‘judeo-Christian’ exceptionalism has long been sneaking into more and more ‘government’/'privatized government’ places and agencies and on back for a long time. Patrick McCollum has been trying to go through ‘channels’ for a long time, …it’s the theocrats who decided to ‘defend’ their interests (and hegemonies) in the prison by filing an amicus brief as a third party in order to claim that the ‘five faiths’ (two of the five at least being Christian ones) policy really mans that all of America and our unalienable rights and freedoms only was ever ‘meant’ to apply to people the Christian Right approve of. Neither is this new, nor did ‘we’ start it. But I do echo the applause. It’s about *time* someone else took notice of the importance here.

  • garoth

    THANK YOU! So much for the garbage about the “Christian Nation” and the hisstoric revisionism that is so popular among the religious and political right. An article worth keeping!

  • YEAL9

    From IRS tax fillings, Mr. Barton pays himself a salary of $108,071 and his wife $14,770 per year from the approximately $1,000,000 of donations to Wallbuilders. As with Mr. Patel, it appears he also uses his non-profit organization it what appears to be an investment company e.g. in 2006, his investments (from donations?) netted him $102,000. Do non-profits pay capital gains??

  • mokey2

    “Christian and ‘judeo-Christian’ exceptionalism has long been sneaking into more and more ‘government’/'privatized government’ places and agencies and on back for a long time.”I know.. and it’s something that we in our little community have been keeping an eye on. What I meant was that THIS particular amicus brief came about as a result of Patrick’s efforts to serve as chaplain.

  • paarsurrey

    Hi friendsI agree with the following statement:”Christianity” is a misnomer; it was not founded by Jesus who was Monotheist undoubtedly.”Christianity” was founded by Paul; and since then it did not remain Monotheist; it became a religion of Trinity.Notwithstanding the above every religion has a right to present their case with reason, rationality and logical arguments to convince the human beings together by supporting with Revelation from the Creator- God Allah YHWH for fullfiling the Ethical, Moral and Spiritual needs of the man. Who wins I don’t mind. If the Atheists have anything useful in these faculties; the also have a right to serve humanity in these areas.Christians are no exception.ThanksI am an Ahmadi peaceful Muslim

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