One of the most grating habits picked up by the mainstream media and politicians is talking about a sort of universal “faith” as some sort of great good shared by all decent Americans. It’s grating because it was picked up from right wing sources that are trying to trick people that belong to the various faiths that aren’t stripes of socially conservative Christianity to believe they should align themselves with right wing Christians against atheists. Mitt Romney was poised to exploit this, delivering a speech that said just that when his Mormonism became an issue. I hate it, because it’s misleading. The natural allies to religious people not in the religious right are atheists, secular humanists, and the whole hodge-podge of disbelieving grumpypants who want the government to be scrupulously neutral on the subject of religion. Because if you aren’t in an approved religion, then guess what? The government isn’t going to respect your faith once they have license to put the religious over the non. Even if you’re religious, you’re getting grouped with us anyway, because having the “wrong” religion is just as bad as having no religion at all. (I highly recommend this recent podcast of Skepticality featuring a speech by Lori Lipman Brown for more thoughts on this one. She explains, interestingly, that the people to reach out to are Wiccans and Unitarians, who generally don’t get included in the “people of faith” wide net and are well aware that the net will get much smaller once the broad net has performed its job.)
Yesterday, the Supreme Court listened to arguments on a case that I suspect will be controversial no matter what happens, and will therefore demonstrate that the term “people of faith”—you know, real Americans instead of the fake atheist ones—only seemed to be broad.
If the Supreme Court requires the Utah city of Pleasant Grove to post a monument to a spiritual group’s Seven Aphorisms next to the Ten Commandments, what’s to stop someone from demanding their own obelisk next to the Washington Monument or the Jefferson Memorial?
That’s one of the questions the nation’s highest court posed Wednesday as justices heard arguments over whether the Salt Lake City-based Summum group could erect a monument of its own guiding principles next to the Judeo-Christian commandments already planted in Pleasant Grove’s Pioneer Park.
As the reader who sent me the story noted, “Now they have some lawyer from Pat Robertson’s organization arguing, in contradiction of what they argue when Christian religious displays are at issue, that if the town is forced to accept the Seven Aphorisms, it would be the equivalent of forcing the town to endorse the content.”
There’s little doubt where Chief Justice John Roberts will fall on this. Check out his questions:
“How far do you push that?” questioned Chief Justice John Roberts. “I mean, you have a Statue of Liberty; do we have to have a Statue of Despotism? Or do we have to put any president who wants to be on Mount Rushmore?”
The comparison is unbelievably weak. There is no constitutional amendment forbidding the establishment of government values, interests, or ideals. I won’t even spell out how stupid it is to suggest otherwise. But the Constitution does forbid establishing religion. Roberts is not a stupid man, so he should realize the difference between saying, “The American government values liberty,” and “The American government endorses Christianity as superior to other religions.” I wait eagerly for his nonsensical defense of Salt Lake City’s blatant religious discrimination. Let’s just hope that it’s a minority opinion.
I think it would be fucking awesome if every religious group of any sort got the right to put up a monument next to the Ten Commandments. If cities and states were faced with the pragmatic decision of having to choose no monuments over a hundred plus monuments, they would rethink their attempts to establish official religions in unofficial sorts of ways. I should sue to get a disco ball installed at the Texas state capitol. It has more of a right to be there than the Ten Commandments, because there’s a historical justification for it. After all, unlike Judaism or Christianity, Discoballmouseatarianism was founded right here in Texas.
These sorts of battles seem like a waste of time and energy, I know, but it’s important. If people who support religious freedom don’t push back on every encroachment, the theocrats will run wild. They haven’t made any bones about the end game, which is forcing your children to receive religious instruction in their religion in school, often in lieu of a proper education, especially in health and science, and probably if they get their way, you’ll see literature and art classes taken over, too. Already with these faith-based initiatives, you’re seeing the “proper” Christians get special treatment that the rest of us don’t get. Just imagine where they’d take this if we don’t push back hard.
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
Pandagon is the go-to zone for eye-rolling at conservative nonsense, feminist rants, election-watching, and obsessing over low-rated but critically acclaimed television. Jesse Taylor and Amanda Marcotte may take politics very seriously, but egos not so much.
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