Friday, June 9, 2017

My Statement in Support of Religious Liberty and Judge Wendell Griffen at Today's Rally in Little Rock

I was asked (along with a number of other guests) to make a brief statement at the religious liberty rally held in Little Rock today on the steps of the state capitol in support of Judge Wendell Griffen. As I have reported, the Arkansas state government, which is now totally controlled by right-wing Republicans most of whom strongly wish to impose their right-wing religious views on everyone in my state, is seeking to have Wendell impeached after he took part in a protest against capital punishment on Good Friday along with members of the Baptist church he pastors. The purpose of today's rally was to show support for Wendell as he exercises his right to religious liberty in a way that has never infringed on his role as a justice. I read a portion of the statement below at today's rally:

Religious liberty for me — but not for thee. This is not how the founders of the American republic envisaged religious liberty. It is, however, what religious freedom has come to mean to some people of faith, who want to stand religious liberty on its head and make it the basis for discriminating against others, including other people of faith. 

Religious liberty for me but not for thee: you may believe that same-sex couples should be allowed the marital rights that heterosexual couples enjoy. You may believe that women have a right to contraceptive coverage as part of their basic healthcare plan. You may believe that capital punishment is barbaric and immoral. But I intend to overrule you, and call that overruling "religious liberty" — for me. Not for thee.

The concept of religious liberty, which was precious to the founders of the American republic, is about something else. It's about protecting the right of religious groups, especially non-dominant ones, to hold their beliefs and principles in peace, without molestation, without coercion. It's about the right of religious bodies, on their side of the wall separating church and state, to hold their religious beliefs and live their religious lives freely, without interference from the state.

It is not about a presumed right of any religious group to dictate to the rest of society and to other religious bodies what it happens to believe as mandated policy for the entire nation. It is not about a presumed right of any religious group to silence members of other religious groups whose consciences and beliefs happen not to run in the channel dictated by the group appealing to religious liberty as a ground to coerce others — liberty for me. Not for thee. 

The founders of our republic must spin in their graves, I think, at this perversion of an idea they cherished because they knew what discord — bloodshed, even — developed in Europe when crown and altar united, and the power of the state was used to curb religious dissent and impose religious ideas. The founders of the republic built a wall to separate church and state both to protect the right of religious groups to believe and practice freely, in peace and without coercion, and the right of the state to pursue its work without dictation from any religious body claiming a mandate to control what happens in the secular sphere.

The concept of religious liberty that Judge Wendell Griffen is defending is foundational to American democracy. It is the concept of religious liberty cemented into the foundations of our republic by its founders. Without robust religious liberty protecting the rights of minority groups to hold their religious ideas freely, to speak freely what they believe, American democracy is diminished in the most radical way possible.

I stand with Judge Wendell Griffen in his defense of American democracy, against the perverted notion of religious liberty that stands religious liberty on its head by asserting a pseudo-right of dominant religious groups to silence dissenters and to use state power as a tool to impose their peculiar religious ideas on all citizens by coercion. This is not what democracy is about. Nor is it what the founders of the American democratic experiment envisaged for the republic they founded.   

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