It is the conventional wisdom that the Pilgrims came here to escape religious persecution. That is true, but they brought their own religious persecution and intolerance with them, ostracizing those who did not believe as they did.
It is conventional wisdom that the Founders wanted to make sure that anyone could practice their religion without interference from others (sort of). That is true, but the real drivers of the religious freedom clauses in the Constitution (prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, and there shall be no religious test for office) were by minority religions (some states actually had a state church) who did not want discrimination or disfranchisement because they were not the mainstream religions.
The point was that they saw religion in government as a really disruptive force that hundreds of years of religious wars in Europe had demonstrated. So what does religious freedom mean in terms of our Constitution? It simply means religion and government do not mix. The Constitution and laws passed through our constitutional processes take precedence. God’s law does not trump because the question then becomes whose God, and putting God in place of the Constitution and everything we believe about a constitutional democracy.
Oh, you can say well the Christian God of course, but there is the whole spectrum there. The whole point of our government and our Constitution was that you could believe almost anything and government should stay neutral unless those beliefs came in conflict with the other rights guaranteed by the Constitution. We could, and did, pass laws restricting abortion, but these are lawful laws of the land, whether on religious grounds or otherwise. But when we legalized abortion as a basic right, that trumped the religious beliefs of those who wanted you prevent others from having abortions.
So now in Kentucky we have a woman who is declaring that because of her deep and sincere religious beliefs, she cannot follow the law and issue marriage certificates. Somehow some people feel she is worthy of special treatment because it is a “deep and sincere” religious belief. So is the belief by ISIS that Shiites are a blasphemy on Islam and if they don’t convert, should be killed. There is no difference. They both believe what they believe in a religious and sincere way. Both have no more legitimacy than the other.
That is the basic problem with religious belief. It is based on faith and no amount of reason, logic, or legal argument can convince someone to abandon them. Our whole system of government is based upon arriving at the best solution through debate, reason, and logic. The Founders took religion out of the equation so that compromise was possible. What Kim Davis is doing is denying our whole system of government, well, because she is special. She is not special, just another religious fanatic who thinks her religion trumps Constitutional law. Worse instead of practicing her religion as the Constitution provides, and not marrying another woman, she is using government to force compliance with her beliefs on others.
What if a real estate agent won’t sell you a house because you are in a mixed marriage because of deep personal religious beliefs? What if a Muslim cab driver won’t pick up uncovered women? What if my religion does not believe in divorce and I refuse to recognized remarried people? The list could go on and on and the reasons can get more and more ridiculous, but could be based upon “sincere religious beliefs”. No, in this country there is no room for that, and the special treatment of religion in general is getting out of hand and putting our democracy at risk. See Hobby-Lobby. It is time to deal with it firmly and Ms. Davis (and her four marriages) should be punished accordingly for using government to push her personal religious beliefs.
Here is what religious freedom really means: You are free to believe anything you want and you may practice that belief unless you break our laws or deprive others of their rights. You are not free to use that belief to try to force others who do not agree with you to follow those beliefs, whether using government or your public market place interactions. No one is going to force you to marry a gay person, have an abortion, get a divorce, or any other thing you might believe. But you can not deny the rights of others to participate in these legal activities. It is simply that simple. Your beliefs are just one set of beliefs among many, and none gives you the right to violate the law of the land.