Win Battles But Lose the War
May 12, 2014
Below is a link to an article in the NY Times about how a Christian legal group, Alliance Defending Freedom, has won some cases defending what they see as “religious freedom,” such as the recent case in which the Supreme Court said that the town of Greece, N.Y. can begin its public meetings with a public prayer. The article also points out that this group is hoping for a victory in the Hobby Lobby case, where it is being argued that forcing companies to provide birth control as part of its health insurance is a violation of “religious freedom.”
Well, this is correct: Forcing companies to do such a thing when it violates the religious principles of the owners is a violation of religious freedom. Hence, the Supreme Court might well side with the Alliance Defending Freedom. But that is a long, long way from getting us where the Alliance – and others – would like us to go, viz., to a nation that puts religion ahead of politics. And in my not so humble opinion, this nation will never go there because it is, fundamentally and deeply, committed to a secular view of religion, a view which is embedded in the very Constitution the Alliance appeals to in order to defend religious freedom.
What is labeled “the separation of church and state” is actually “the separation of religion and politics.” Moreover, this “separation” was created as a way of subordinating religion to politics or of religion to the secular. Evidence of this? Well, most simply put: It is the state, the government that decides how far the freedom of religion extends against the demands of the political, the secular. So, the government can decide that all will serve in the nation’s armed forces if that is what it thinks best. There is no constitutional right of “conscientious objection,” not even for Quakers. Moreover, the government decides if parents have the right not to treat their children medically when their lives are at stake. Again, there is no constitutional right to refuse medical treatment for one’s children. There is even no constitutional right not to send your children to public school, at least through the grades that precede high school, as decided in Yoder v. Wisconsin, where the Court did find that the Amish did not have to send their children to high school. But note: The case did not involve grade children nor did it involve young people of high school age who wanted to go to public high schools. As Justice Douglas reminded the court, it would be a horse of a different color were a case to arise where some Amish children wanted to go to public high school and their parents were, on religious grounds, objecting. It is difficult to conceive of a court decision in favor the parents’ freedom of religion at the expense of the children’s right to attend a public high school.
The point is this: There is a realm of religious freedom that exists under the Constitution by virtue of the first amendment. But the extent of that realm is decided by the government exercising its judgment about what the good of secular society requires. So it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be under this Constitution.