The First Amendment applies to you

I’d preface this with my usual “I hate politics” protest, but that’s getting a little stale.  I try to stay away from overtly political topics out of respect for my patients.  They cover all ends of the political spectrum, and I’m happy to sit and listen respectfully to their ideas and opinions without sharing mine.  When I do wade into politics I at least attempt to do so respectfully.

As a non-Christian, much of the blather about whether Mitt Romney is or is not a “Christian” is meaningless to me.  I figure, if he says he is, then he is, and anyone else’s comments on it are irrelevant.  I always suspect politicians of using religion like any other weapon in their armories, but as to what they claim to be, that’s their business.

So it was more with detached amusement that I watched a prominent Southern Baptist minister attack Mitt Romney about his religion.  But then another player in this drama said something that was less amusingly bigoted and just downright scary:

The First Amendment  was written by the Founders to protect the free exercise of Christianity.

Any rational reader of the Constitution and other founding documents knows that this is not right; it’s  not even wrong.  I wish it were simply completely ahistorical idiocy displayed by a random bigot on a crowded street corner arguing with no one in particular.  But the issue of Romney’s religion appears to be bringing this sort of idiot out of the woodwork to spread this nonsense.

Church leaders have every right (sort of, depending on what they think of their tax-exempt status) to say anything they want, even if it to wrongly try to deny others’ that same right.  But politicians cannot ignore such statements; they must deny them, and forcefully.  This is mainly a right-wing issue, and it is the Right who should “handle” it.  Each of the candidates should clearly state that the acts and statements, and ideas of their opponents are the issue, not their faiths, and that the First Amendment clearly protects people of all faiths in all contexts.

They helped create this mess, they have to clean it up.

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  1. DLC

     /  October 9, 2011

    I’m always amazed and sometimes even alarmed at the way people inject their religion into the constitution and the bill of rights. For the record, Mr AFA : The first amendment was intended to protect the minority religions from the tyranny of the majority.

  2. Chris

     /  October 9, 2011

    I’ve actually had someone tell me that the word “God” was in the constitution. It was very easy to see it online on a nice US Government website and prove him wrong. I never heard him say anything about it again. I suspect he confused the Declaration of Independence with the constitution, two completely different documents that were essentially written for two different governments (the first towards Great Britain, the second as part of the new USA).

    I don’t think many of these people have read it, and may not even know it is available online for everyone to read:

  3. Old Geezer

     /  October 9, 2011

    I can agree with, accept and support anyone who suggests that Romney does not believe in the same Christian principles that that person adheres to. Many “Christian” sects have differing beliefs. But to say that a member of The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints is any less Christian than, say, the church that follows the teachings of Martin Luther or The Weslyans just shows a startling depth of ignorance. Now to compound that with the belief that our Founding Fathers were some kind of “born again” Christians is simply simple-mindedness.

  4. Freedom From Religion Foundation has some great resources about what the founding documents actually say and the founders’ documented intentions to avoid just this sort of theocratic nonsense. Of course, the one time I argued (with references) that the constitution does not specifically establish Christianity as the official religion, the other party responded with graphic images of the Twin Towers in flames. Sigh…..

  5. Ria

     /  October 14, 2011

    Your patient was right. The first amendment WAS written by the founders to protect the free exercise of Christianity. And also the free exercise of every other religion (or lack of religion). Just because the patient didn’t continue the full thought to the inclusion of all other religions (or lack thereof) doesn’t mean that he was technically wrong in the strictness of what he said. The patient did not say, at least by the phrasing that you wrote in your blog, the word “only” prior to the word “Christianity” which would have made his statement false. You inferred that.

    • Not a patient. An official from a major religious organization making a point.

      • Ria

         /  October 17, 2011

        You’re right, I apologize. That’s what I get for commenting when I’ve got a migraine.

  6. Ria, if you click the link, paragraph 2 is this fucknuttery:

    “Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.”

  7. For future reference, let’s just review the two places in the Constitution where religion is mentioned. Here’s Article 6:

    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

    I’ve added emphasis to highlight the part about religion. Here’s the other part, the First Amendment:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Once again, the bit about religion is emphasized.

    In neither case does it mention Christianity, or any other religion. That’s not because they didn’t know about other religions back then. Among the people at the constitutional convention were deists and jews. While few were considered American citizens, they also knew that the indigenous people weren’t Christians, for the most part. Our leaders back then were well-informed and thoughtful people. The reason they wrote the Constitution that way was because they meant for it to apply to everyone.

    So there is everything there is to know about what the Constitution says about religion. Next time you argue with someone you can point out this comment, or read the same thing here.

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