Monday, February 8, 2010

What is Past is Prologue: Faith's Case for Conflict

Recently, a Federal law was enacted that elevated crimes committed due to the victim's sexual orientation onto a higher plane of justice. This law, officially titled The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is not legislation that one would normally assume to be controversial. After all, what law-abiding, respectful citizen could possibly take umbrage with a law designed to crack down on those who commit violent acts in the name of a self-righteous superiority complex?

The Christian Right, is who - or specifically, the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, MI.

This article explains that the Law Center has filed suit against US Attorney General Eric Holder and claims that the aforementioned act is both unconstitutional and unnecessary. Their argument? That a law designed to limit the group's open bias against alternative lifestyles infringes on their First Amendment rights to freely exercise their religion.

As the article points out, there are a few problems with this argument. First, and most importantly, the law specifically provides for the protection of religious viewpoints, no matter how divisive or biased they may be. It also prohibits " prosecution based solely upon an individual’s expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual’s membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs." Therefore, the actual letter of the law makes it rather clear that no basic religious beliefs are being infringed, persecuted, or prosecuted with this law.

There is an interesting caveat, however. The law's wording also explicitly points out that "the Constitution does not protect speech, conduct or activities consisting of planning for, conspiring to commit, or committing an act of violence."

This leads me to one of two conclusions. Either the Thomas More Law Center has filed a frivolous lawsuit against legislation that they have not actually taken the time to read - or that they endorse speech, conduct, or activities that promote violent acts against those of the homosexual persuasion.

I cannot help but feel that the Center would distance itself hastily away from a public perception that the group advocates violence against those it feels are in the wrong. Why then make all this fuss over a law that does nothing but advance peaceful coexistence between differing groups?

Perhaps also the old worldview that "religious freedom" means "freedom to be a Protestant" is again rearing its head. After all, critics of this legislation are claiming that they are being silenced (when in fact no such persecution is taking place), while demanding that those who claim a different point of view be silenced themselves. One can only hope that the judge hearing this case will see that plain irony on the face of the Law Center's argument. Perhaps then one more voice clamoring for division based on faith will be put in their proper place: the dusty realm of the past.

**To see the full case argued by the Law Center, click here.**


Christa L said...

Actually, it's not uncommon or unprecedented that the law explicitly does not protect speech or conduct "consisting of planning for, conspiring to commit, or committing an act of violence." Freedom of Speech is not unlimited.

This case actually seems to be similar to fears involved with gay marriage among such groups. That is, many groups opposed to gay marriage are afraid that they will eventually be forced to perform gay marriages against their will. In other words, if only beliefs are protected - if certain actions, perhaps motivated by beliefs, are punished even more because they are motivated by those beliefs - then who can stop the government from interfering with religion? If only belief is protected the government can tell religions what they can and cannot do. This Jeffersonian reading of the First Amendment has a strong precedent (as we see in the Reynolds v. US case).

Government, in this way, can tell religions what they can and cannot do. It appears that the Thomas More Law Center is afraid that the government will eventually tell them that they cannot have any hiring or admission restrictions based on sexual preference (similar to the Bob Jones University case), or even that the government may tell them that they have to marry gay couples. Sure, its a slippery slope argument, but the slippery slope has served well in the legal and political realm.

Shannon H. said...

It is interesting that these protesters want to ensure their freedom to practice their way of life by denigrating someone else’s lifestyle. I’ve been reading Ronald Dworkin’s Taking Rights Seriously, and he offers four criteria that exclude a belief from being a legally pertinent “moral position”: prejudice based on an unchosen characteristic, personal emotional reaction, rationalization of facts that are implausible, or parroting the beliefs of others. I feel that the arguments of the Thomas More Law Center really are only based in these criteria and not any truly defensible morals that should be applied to the country.

Caitlin said...

I have a couple of questions here. Does “Protestant” have to mean heterosexual? Is there any possible way that the passing of this would make the group look good to any point of view? Personally I think those are both “no”, but perhaps I am wrong. I think it will take many years for either side to win on this issue. As with the Mormon polygamy example (from The Mormon Question by Sarah Barringer Gordon) I think it will take many years for this to find any resolution. We have already seen gay rights come a long way thus far, but it had never fully and absolutely interfered with the Christian Scriptures. In a close reading, the Sodom and Gomorrah stuff can be more about wrath against rape than wrath against homosexuality. It does specifically say “man” and “woman” constitute marriage though. I do not know how this one is going to play out, but it seems that everyone should quit while they have not dug themselves holes yet. And maybe actually try the whole tolerance thing that our country was supposedly founded on….