17
Feb 17

IANAL*

Search back through previous entries and you will see that I have long maintained that there are a lot of activities that people engage in that have a religious component (there are more). However, to use one of the great cries of any student of philosophy or religion, "DEFINE YOUR TERMS!"

What is Religion? I mean in a legal and Protected-by-the-first-amendment-sense.
*I am not a lawyer.

Turns out that religion is a lot like pornography, you are supposed to know it when you see it.

In 1890 the US Supreme Court said "“[T]he term ‘religion’ has reference to one’s views of his relations to his Creator, and to the obligations they impose of reverence for his being and character, and of obedience to his will.” in Davis v. Benson. However, this definition would change in recognition of non-theistic faiths. In 1961 the Court said that goverment could not aid “those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.” In a footnote the Court clarified that this principle extended to “religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God … Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others.” In 1965 when deciding on a conscientious objector status the Court asked whether "a given belief that is sincere and meaningful occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God of one who clearly qualifies for the exemption. Where such beliefs have parallel positions in the lives of their respective holders we cannot say that one is ‘in relation to a Supreme Being’ and the other is not.” Five years later it said individuals could be denied exemption only if “those beliefs are not deeply held and those whose objection to war does not rest at all upon moral, ethical, or religious principle but instead rests solely upon consideration of policy, pragmatism, or expediency.”

However, those rulings were very expansive, making possible - it would seem - religions of one. Thus in 1972, the majority opinion in Wisconsin v. Yoder indicated that the free-exercise clause applied only to “a ‘religious’ belief or practice,” and “the very concept of ordered liberty precludes allowing every person to make his own standards on matters of conduct in which society as a whole has important interests.”

The 1981 case Thomas v. Review Board Chief Justice Warren Burger cautiously stated, “[o]nly beliefs rooted in religion are given special protection to the exercise of religion.”

That is just to name a few cases in which the definition of religion comes into play. Not very helpful. The IRS, on the other hand, has a very clear set of criteria for what constitutes a church.

The IRS criteria are:
a distinct legal existence,
a recognized creed and form of worship,
a definite and distinct ecclesiastical government,
a formal code of doctrine and discipline
a distinct religious history,
a membership not associated with any other church or denomination,
an organization of ordained ministers,
ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed studies,
a literature of its own,
established places of worship,
regular congregations,
regular religious services,
Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young,
school for the preparation of its ministers.

Those criteria can be destroyed by any one with the smallest bit of legal insight. For example the very Pilgrims we venerate in our Thanksgiving plays, the Plymouth Brethren, "oppose formalism in worship and have no liturgy." In fact I would argue that the definitions given here "favor large, well-established, high or formal churches and discriminate against small, new, unconventional, informal or low churches." To the point of being worthless.

This all comes up, of course, because of the so-called War on Religion that certain elements in the US claim is going on. When in reality they feel that there cultural definitions are being tested and they do not like it.

Government, law, and religion are poor bedfellows. Attempting to use the law to give your religious beliefs protection is a bad idea. Any definitions you give to protect yourself short of out right religious tests or oaths of allegiance can be circumvented to allow the very thing you are trying to prevent. Mandating religious tests and oaths of allegiance by a government gives it the power to define faith and its practice. Religion ceases to be about faith, spirituality, morality, or anything else and becomes merely a tool for control.

Then again, those who advocate such are often merely tools themselves.

3
Feb 17

1st Amendment and other Refugees

OK, so the First Amendment isn't dead yet, but it smells the way the wind is blowing and was looking to get out of the country for a while last time we talked. Maybe move to Canada. I asked it not to go, but it said it wasn't safe around here anymore. I had to agree it certainly seems that way.

Our friend the 1st says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Silly Founders, thinking that only the acts of congress might be considered the law of the land.

So what has our Friend First so upset? Lots. But given this is a blog about religion lets stick to that first clause.

There is the draft of a so-called "Religious Freedom" Executive Order. It essentially neuters anti-discrimination laws in the name of religious liberty. It does exactly the opposite. By allowing people to discriminate the White House is essentially allowing one perspective on religion to trump, no pun intended, all others. My religious belief that all people are equal, loved by God, and deserving of love and respect is being violated by an executive order that says "it is OK to hate." Hate is not OK and should not be protected, especially in the name of Religion.

There is the ban that is not a ban. The humanitarian and moral issues here are huge, no pun intended, but not what I want to get at. This is effectively a religious test for Muslims seeking to enter the country. Although, let's be clear, it is a ban on Muslims who do not give the President money. Not all Muslims, not even Muslims from countries whose citizens have actually committed terrorist acts in the US, just those from the poorest countries in the middle east. It is not a ban on Muslims, but it is intended to be seen as such to fulfill campaign promises. Which makes it just as bad or worse. It encourages the perception that Muslims are the enemy, while not actually doing anything to curtail terrorist activity. Quite the opposite in that it plays into the jihadist narrative that the US is at war with Islam. Something that I would once argue was not true.

There is the failure to recognize the plight of the Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day. How does that relate to the First Amendment? It is one step away from holocaust denial, a favorite of white supremacists and jihadists alike to deny Jewish identity, heritage, and legitimacy. It is away of minimizing the worst, let's not argue that point, persecution based on race and religion in history and in doing so helps to legitimize other persecution based on race and religion. If not an attack, it is clearly an insult to the free practice of religion.

Then we have the remarks by the POTUS at the National Prayer Breakfast. I'm not entirely sure a president should even go to a National Prayer Breakfast in a pluralist society, but that is beside the point. He used the occasion to plug Celebrity Apprentice. Denying the solemnity of the occasion. This even after 800 Christian leaders denounced his actions and called upon him to act upon the faith he professes ahead of the event.

Worst of all is Trump's plan to destroy the ban on political speech in churches. Something that would make churches subservient to politics and erode any possibility of separation of church and state. Political speech in churches is bad for churches. It is bad for faith. It ties religious identity to political identity, making idols of politics. It is the single most dangerous threat to religious freedom I can think of short of an out right ban on religion.

Let's not even get started on crazy pants Steve Bannon who is possibly the most dangerous man in the country and the Red Skull in disguise.

Maybe not everything here is an attack on the First Amendment. But it does cause those of us in the faith community to cringe and worry. Maybe you think I am being political.

To bad. This is God's Mote. I look for the mote in the eye of those who claim to speak for God. I try to explain the real meaning and context of religious issues. I will defend my faith and your faith, what ever it may or may not be, from threats both foreign and domestic.