Freedom of Religion is Not a Suicide Pact

My worthy colleague George Handlery recently wrote a piece on how the enemies of freedom are using our constitutional protections and similar freedoms in other nations as a leverage to take over those governments and societies. Mr. Haldlery’s analysis is correct, raising the question of when one may restrict freedoms in the name of preserving freedom. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously stated, you cannot shout “Fire” in a crowded theater. No one in his or her right mind would disagree with him. There are other similar issues that have been raised in the courts regarding whether constitutional liberties can be restricted, and why. None may be so important to raise today than the First Amendment freedom of religion, and for several significant reasons.


If we read the plain and precise language of the Amendment we see that there are two elements to this freedom. The first is the Establishment Clause” and the second, the Free Exercise Clause. The meaning and purpose of these clauses was well understood at the time that they were written. The former was designed to prevent the establishment of an official national religion as might be seen in the nature of the Church of England, which at one time had the authority to tax the entire English population, including Catholics who, no doubt, would have preferred their money to go to their local parish. The power that they church wielded also led to the exodus of the Puritans and other groups who sought freedom of worship on their own terms, rather than on the official church’s terms.


But it is the Free Exercise Clause, which presents the center of controversy today because the courts and various government entities have brought the two into conflict, claiming that the Establishment Clause effectively prevents the application of the Free Exercise Clause when connected with government related activities or on government owned property. This clash of interests is moving gradually in the direction of virtually outlawing the practice of Christian, and in some cases, Jewish observances outside of the home and the house of worship. This conflict is ongoing, and will likely continue for years to come, short of an outright declaration covering the entire issue.


But the Free Exercise Clause has led to an even more important issue today as the US confronts the hostility of militant islam. As a general concept, one might define religion as a system of belief or philosophy that leads the one who practices it to become a better person within the moral tenets generally accepted in modern society. Thus, one might expect them to become more honest and charitable; they might give up drugs or other potentially negative habits possibly including potential for violent acts. All of this is generally a part of the Judeo-Christian system that was the foundation of American religious practice. However, that foundation is under attack, and the attack is coming from a source that treats violence toward non-members of their sect as a sacrament. This is precisely where the issue comes into sharp focus.


There are two questions that arise here; first, the definition of religion for the purpose of the constitutional protection, and second, whether a religion can merely be granted that status by virtue of its patina of antiquity, or is there something more that must be met as a standard, above and beyond the rules that have been applied in the courts, so far.

During the course of some legal research years ago this writer came across the question of what constituted a religion being litigated in the federal courts in connection with applications for tax-exempt status. The Universal Life Church; an organization with little in the way of financial assets with which to fund such litigation lost and was officially labeled an illegal tax dodge. The Church of Scientology, which was cooked up out of hot air by small time science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard achieved its status when the IRS eventually caved in on continuing to litigate the matter, which is one of the few instances when that outcome was achieved. But Scientology is one organization that might be better defined as a “kooky cult” than a religion. Despite this, one of my professional colleagues informed me that one of his acquaintances joined Scientology as a means to greater success in Hollywood, and did become a better person, thereby. Thus, one can claim that for all its controversy, it has done at least someone some good.


But what America faces today is not a threat from Scientology. The threat is posed by people who claim an absolute right to violence against those who disagree with them. And meanwhile, they press for rights not provided to others, in effect, creating a climate of special privilege for themselves, while subjugating others by means of the legal system.


This raises, again, the question of whether we are dealing with a religion, or with a political system cloaked in purported theocracy that enables certain people to exert authority over others by means of violence, once their power base is sufficiently established. Under our definition, above, religion is supposed to move people away from violence and toward better behavior. But that is not what is happening in this case. Thus, we again ask whether there is a valid criterion for granting islam the title of religion, other than its age.


If we examine it closely, we see a system that engages in systematic discrimination against various people, including, particularly women. It supports violence and warfare against those who disagree with it. It has a track record of doing this, which is over a thousand years old. It considers the ideal man that its members should emulate a murderer and pedophile who advocated violence as the solution to essentially everything he found objectionable and who also found scriptural bases for achieving his personal desires when there was no other way to do so. He, in short, was a con man and one of the worst examples of humanity ever to walk the face of the earth, but those who follow his twisted way of life venerate him as a god. If that isn’t enough, he advocated and his followers still advocate chattel slavery, which we Americans outlawed, but which they wish to re-establish. Make no mistake, those who ignore the fact that slavery still exists in non-Christian Africa and in other regions such as the Arabian Peninsula are deluding themselves.


In short, we must, eventually make the declaration the islam is no religion, but a political system that seeks to overthrow the government of the United States, and which must be prevented from doing so. To do otherwise would fly in the face of actions to surpress other organizations equally bent on anti-American activities outlawed in the past.


But this raises a second question as to whether or not such a decision could be used against other religions that fit the description of making people better citizens and better people? After all, one could arrest a person for shouting “fire” in a crowded theater who actually did nothing of the sort.


On the other hand, as Lincoln purportedly said, “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” Thus, we can also argue that the individual amendments are not either. At some point one must hope that saner heads prevail and the system of government and society is preserved from an enemy who refuses to acknowledge those basic protections behind which they hide to work their nefarious deeds. This was not anticipated in 1789, but it was also not something that would have been permitted. Thus, the problem is solved by a return to first principles. As would many other issues presenting themselves today.

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