Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Treatment of Religion in Court - Special or Equal?

In a recent article on the Religion Dispatches site, there is proposal regarding whether religion should be treated as “special.” While the article looks to the Hosanna-Tabor decision as well as the Good News Club vs. Milford Central School decision, the basis of the argument is that according the the founding fathers, “religion certainly is special” (Stewart, Supreme Court Rules Religion Special...This Time). Stewart is arguing that Constitution eludes to the fact that religion is special and that it deserves to be treated separately, but Stewart points out that recent court decisions have been ruling that religion is like “everything else.” Through Stewarts examples she is trying to show that when the court rules for religion to be treated equally, that this action is ultimately discriminatory against religion. But in regards to the Hosanna-Tabor decision, while they ruled that religion was special, the religious institution was internally discriminating against employees, but that the government cannot intervene due to the religious group having power over their employees. Stewart believes that in the Constitution it clearly states that religion is special and separate and this is a “truth about the American system.” This calls into question much of what we discussed in the Reynolds court case.
In one of our first class sessions the question was proposed as to whether we should treat religion as something special and separate? Or if religion should be treated equally as everything else, further looking to what religious freedom entails; this being a recurring theme that we come back to each week. As we saw in the Reynolds case, one can believe what they want, but religious actions and practices can and will be regulated. This calls for questions as Stewart states as in some cases the court treats religion as special, but in others religion is treated equally. It seems to be that this battle between separation of church and state will continue to be performed due to the unclear meaning of the First Amendment stating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...” But if the exercise of such an action or practice of religion is in difference to the law, then the courts can decide how to rule such a decision? This brings forth the question that we looked to in the Bob Jones University case in which whether the biblical scripture that the institution was basing their policy over was true or not, the court withstood making truth claims, but rather decided whether the University was sincere and genuine in this belief and that they would not receive tax exemption. By treating religion as special or equal, there will be government interference. In essence, either way, religion is being treated as special because it causes such discordance within the judicial system. Recognizing one thing as a religious establishment, but constituting what is lawful actions or practices within a religion. It all comes back to the question of whether religious freedom is deemed by association or individual consciousness? I am perplexed to see what will arise over time regarding the issue and whether the judicial system actually identifies religious freedom by association or individual consciousness. With the continuous battle of such a definition, it seems clear that religion is being treated specially in the sense that the law tip toes around religion like one would around eggshells. 


Catherine S said...

I agree with your comment stating "By treating religion as special or equal, there will be government interference." If the government treats religion as something special, then atheist groups/practices are left out. If the government treats religion as equal, then that can lead to issues regarding religious law (or practice/tradition/ritual) vs secular law.

I disagree with the article author's comment that states "Under our Constitution, religion is something special, something that is and ought to be treated differently from every other kind of activity." Speech is also considered something special in the Constitution. Americans have the right to say what they want and how they want it. Americans have the right do act in ways that demonstrate that free speech. This makes speech special as well, in my opinion.

jacobr said...

This blog addresses issues the treatment of religion in the legal system in regards to actual or perceived preferential treatment. Government and religion share an UN-Holy alliance based on mutual benefits and other vested interested that conflicts with the intent of the founding fathers. In order for government to sustain its legitimacy and power, the national recognize religious establishment must ordain its existence. Given this arrangement religion and especially Anglo protestant institution in the United States leverages this arrangement in their favor by exploiting their importance to the detriment of other religious establishment.
This is not to say that Catholic and other organized religious don’t exploit the political system for selfish gain, especially on the state and local level. Religion is the oldest political system currently still relevant in modern civilization regardless of global or national affiliation. The courts must treat religious institution separately and with favor, because if the courts deviated from this course of action, the entire an American system will collapse in minor to major calamity.

Olivea M said...

I think that it could be argued that if religion is treated separately, that could be considered a form of an "establishment" of religion, which is strictly prohibited according to the Constitution. I think that religion in the court should be treated equally. In the Hosanna- Tabor decision, the court made it harder for people who worked with religious institutions to sue churches. In this specific case, I think that religious institutions should be treated as any other corporation and they should be sued if there is discrimination or any other malfeasance taking place.

crunchycheetos said...

"But if the exercise of such an action or practice of religion is in difference to the law, then the courts can decide how to rule such a decision?"--I really like the question you raised here. I think the "justice" system, however unjust it may be, has to play a balancing act of political gain versus mass appeal. The government must appeal to the people while remaining unbiased and "protectors" of the law.

Preston L.