Saturday, April 23, 2005

Standing Alone

The Volokh Conspiracy alerts us to a Colorado school which switched "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to "one nation under your belief system." I'm inclined to agree with The Moderate Voice that it was somewhat ridiculous (though frankly, not much more so than saying "under God"). It doesn't even make much logical sense (and let's not go into it's poetic rhythm).

However, Kevin Drum made by far the most interesting observation.
And so the worm turns. After all, if it's OK for biology teachers to decline to teach evolution and for pharmacists to refuse to dispense certain medications, why shouldn't teachers have the right to modify the pledge for reasons of personal conscience?

It's quite a little rabbit hole we have here, don't we?

This is extremely thought provoking. After all, you and I both know that there is simply no prayer the "defenders of conscience" will stand up to protect this teacher. The reason is that her statements don't fall into accepted Christian patterns of thinking. This dovetails with a general hostility to non-Christian religions in free exercise jurisprudence.

It has been noted by University of Wyoming Law Professor Stephen M. Feldman that while Christians have a mixed record on free exercise challenges, non-Christians have never managed to win a single case with the exception of Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah. In Simpson v. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, for example, the court uphold the county's policy of only allowing Judeo-Christian(-Muslim) prayers before the board in the face of a first amendment challenge by a Wiccan. The court justified itself by saying:
In seeking to invalidate the Chesterfield system, Simpson effectively denies the ecumenical potential of legislative invocations, and ignores Marsh's insight that ministers of any given faith can appeal beyond their own adherents. Indeed, Marsh requires that a divine appeal be wide-ranging, tying its legitimacy to common religious ground. Invocations across our country have been capable of transcending denominational boundaries and appealing broadly to the aspirations of all citizens. As Marsh and other cases recognize, appropriately ecumenical invocations can be "solemnizing occasions" that highlight "beliefs widely held."

In other words, the Court argued that Judeo-Christian prayers have some sort of transcendental appeal that other religions do not. Wiccans and atheists are seen as "deviant," their beliefs particularistic and specific only to them as opposed to the universality of Christian-style prayer. The effect of this is to utterly close off the first amendment to minority religions. A cursory look at the opinion should reveal its logical inadequacy, as I wrote in my analysis of it:
The Court here is caught in a bind: Either Simpson's Wiccan faith shares...common ground with Judeo-Christian faiths, in which case she should be allowed to stake her claim to it same as any other religious person, or her faith doesn't share common ground, in which case it isn't common ground but sectarian ground "common" only to the religious majority.

Since Wiccans don't fit the religious norm we've set up for ourselves, any discrimination against them, even as blatant as it was in that case, is seen as permissible, even neutral.

Atheists have it particularly bad. Their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, are almost universally condemned (see Appendix I). There is no protest to politicians deeming atheists to be inherently unequal citizens, or accusing them of being more likely to be immoral. Such actions, if said about a Jew or a Muslim (though probably not a Wiccan) would be intolerable. The closer a religion can be related to Judeo-Christian norms, the more protection it gains. The farther away it is (and Atheists represent the absolute farthest distance away), the more tolerable discrimination becomes, a perverse inversion of what constitutional protections are supposed to guarantee.

The Colorado case is a case in point. For all one can say about the judgment of the teacher, the most one can say about her modification was it made the Pledge more inclusive. However, despite this, it will most likely be characterized as an "assault" on Christianity--despite the fact that Christianity is still a "belief system" and thus completely included under the change. The conscience of the teacher--whom, after observing Columbine, believed that inclusiveness was key to preventing the ostracization that leads to school violence--dictated to her that she not say "under God." If she was a pharmacist whose religion demanded she not give a birth control prescription, Christian groups would anoit her a hero. As it stands, she will undoubtedly become a devil. It appears that once again, "conscience" is something only Christians can have.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wiccan[ism], Athe[ism] are not religions,they are sins!So court rulings favoring Christianity over Sin is perfectly just & appropriate