Whenever a modern-day Republican talks about “religious freedom,” it’s likely that the Founding Fathers are doing a couple of spins in their graves. This is because, when a right winger talks about religion, it’s rarely in any sort of rational way. It usually has to do with something political, and it almost always reminds us why the Founders were geniuses when they enshrined church-state separation in our Constitution.
The use of the term “religious freedom” is code, and nothing more. It has nothing to do with either religion or freedom, and it has everything to do with political power. These people are not religious, they’re cynical.
According to our First Amendment, everyone in this country has the right to believe whatever he or she wants to believe, even if the rest of us think it’s nonsense. I mean, you’re not only free to be a Scientologist, you’re free to try to sell Scientology to other people. If that’s not a sign of religious freedom, what is? And even though I just made fun of them a little, if anyone was trying to suppress their right to believe that stuff, I would fight on their side, not against them. Isn’t freedom wonderful?
We can believe in a single God, or we can believe in multiple gods. We can believe in the devil, or we can believe in “mother nature” or the power of witchcraft. We can believe that all wisdom of the ages was contained in the words of a single Jewish carpenter, a chubby mystic, or even a descendant of a great warrior and philosopher. We can even believe that the Jewish carpenter was little more than a really good magician if we want. This is the United States of America, and religious freedom has been our hallmark since the founding. Even as we seem to worship money over everything else these days, we still get to attend church and pretend money isn’t a big deal for an hour a week, if we want. Or we can sleep in and watch cartoons or football and believe in absolutely nothing if we want. That is “religious freedom.” And we have it, mostly, in spades. Have you noticed how many places of worship exist here? It’s hard to walk three blocks in most cities without running into something of a religious nature.
When it comes to religion, the only limitation is in how we practice. We can’t do animal or human sacrifice, for example, and we don’t get to discriminate against people we decide are the “spawn of Satan” or “descendants of Cain,” or some other nonsense. We can’t claim our dog is God and kill people in the name of Fido. We can believe whatever nonsense we want, we just can’t act on it, if it violates the rights of others. It’s why I can’t stand on your front lawn and use a bullhorn to tell you why I think God is a scientist named Phineas, and we live in an experiment in his laboratory. It’s also why you must have a permit to hold a parade honoring the human fetus as the most sacred of God’s creatures.
Right wing Republicans who are always on about “religious freedom” couldn’t care less about anyone else’s religious freedom. I’m not even sure they care about their own, if they even believe in anything religious. Consider their constant whining about an alleged “war on Christmas” and/or a “war on Christianity.” Since only about seven percent of the population call themselves “atheist” or “agnostic,” and claim no belief in a deity, that means 93 percent consider themselves religious, and 84 percent call themselves Christian. Therefore, the logical question is, who’s fighting these “wars,” exactly?
The answer is, of course, no one. But they’re not using religion as a basis for making life better, they’re using it as a cudgel, to suppress debate. Look at a typical Republican politician for a clue. Do you find anything even remotely religious about most of them, really? I’d be shocked if most of them ever set foot in a church, except for an occasional wedding or a funeral. Do you really think Bill O’Reilly is a deacon at his church? Paul Ryan claims a strong Catholic belief, but where’s the evidence, except for a fanatical anti-choice stance? What about his Catholic faith instructs him to dismantle Medicare, cut veterans’ benefits and refuse to pay unemployment? Does a strong man of God condemn welfare for the poor, as he did this morning? No. Do you imagine that Rush Limbaugh doles out meals in Diocesan soup kitchens in between his Oxycontin binges and his Viagra-heavy excursions to the Dominican Republic? Of course not. And yet, Republicans invoke the name of God every chance they get, and they pretend to piety, even as they deny poor people access to health care.
We already have all the “religious freedom” we need, with a few pockets of religious discrimination here and there, mostly in red states. The few examples of religious discrimination people feel these days are not directed toward Christians. Imagine that. When a right wing Republican politician uses the term “religious freedom,” beware. What he or she really wants is to quash debate on an issue.
It’s really that simple.