I thought I would write about our 1st amendment right to exercise religion. So much has been written on this topic since the Kim Davis affair that it seems a little redundant at this point, but I’m going to try to attack it from a different angle. If you are unaware of what the Kim Davis affair is, in a nutshell, she is an elected official who, after the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling, refused to issue any marriage licenses on religious grounds. She didn’t want any gay people getting a marriage license under her watch. Christian conservatives are crying religious persecution, while everyone else, other conservatives included, are saying no, she should have quit her job if she found it at odds with her religion.
Kim Davis was obviously wrong, and the religious persecution argument has been busted by multitudes of other writers, most of whom can do it much better than I can. I thought I would take a slightly different approach. I would like to talk a little about the freedom of speech and religion and where and when we can exercise that right. “Don’t we live in America?” You ask. “Can’t we exercise our 1st amendment rights anytime, anywhere?” You ask. Well, actually no, no you can’t. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s start from the beginning and hopefully you will get what I mean.
When I say the beginning, I mean the very beginning. Let’s establish that you have the natural right of self-ownership. That means that you own yourself, your talents, and most importantly your time. This is important to establish because if you own something then you get to do with it whatever you choose. “If it’s my time,” you ask, “can’t I spend it revolting against gay marriage?” Yes, you most certainly can use your time revolting against anything you wish. You own your time. There is a catch though. You can’t go into a store and spend your time to get things you need. Store owners need more tangible things in the form of payment for their goods. Store owners need dollars. So how do you convert your time into dollars? You sell your time to someone who needs help performing a task. For the sake of argument, let’s say that you agree to let a bookstore owner buy 8 hours of your time each day so you can help her put books on a shelf. In the place of your lost time, she agrees to give you money. You are both happy with the arrangement. During these 8 hours every day, you have no freedom of speech and you have no freedom of religion. You are the tool of the person buying your time. Your speech is their speech. Your religion is their religion. During those 8 hours you represent that business owner’s speech and religion. When your shift is over, you can say and think whatever you want. Part of having a job is giving up your time and talent to another person in exchange for equal compensation in a different form.
Part of the process of agreeing to the terms of trading your time for money is the comparing of the task to your belief system. If someone is asking you to do something that goes against your belief system, you could either look for a different job, set a wage that would make you feel better about going against your beliefs, or suck it up and do it anyway at the asking price. Let’s say you are an actress in a movie and the director asks you to do topless scenes. If you have moral objections to such a request, you could quit the movie and let the director hire another actress, you could ask for more money to overcome the objections, or you could do the scenes at the agreed upon rate. Those are the choices whether it’s a job you’ve had for years or if it’s a job you are looking to get.
Those are the basics. Let’s add another dimension to this. The government. Whether you like it or not, America is a Christian nation of people, with a secular government. That is to say that as individuals, the vast majority of Americans are Christian. Virtually all of politicians, as individuals, claim to be Christian. The constitution that politicians swear to uphold is not a Christian document. As a matter of fact, the founders went out of their way to make it secular. The constitution adheres to no religion. When you are elected by vote to hold a government office, you swear to uphold the law and the constitution. You give up your freedom of speech, and your freedom of religion while you are serving in the capacity of your office. This is true even if you were not elected, but just hired to work for the government. Ask a soldier if he has the freedom to speak out against his commander in chief publicly without any repercussions. I’ll give you a hint, he or she doesn’t have that right. This is very important, because not only are you face and voice of the people to the state government, you are the face and voice of the government to the people. You are the government. The opinions you have while on the job are given to you by the law and the constitution. If you do not like the laws you are asked to enforce, your options are the same as a private sector worker.
To be honest, my first thought when Kim Davis was sent to jail for contempt of court after ignoring a judge’s request to resume issuing marriage licenses was that it was too harsh a punishment. After a second thought, I changed my mind. I think a big problem that we currently have is that there are way too many laws. There are so many laws, in fact, that it is impossible for anyone to know exactly what to enforce and what to ignore. It is said that an average citizen breaks 3 laws a day without knowing it. The main problem with all these unnecessary laws is that not only do we lose a little freedom every time a law is passed, but it make the laws that really matter meaningless. Laws should not be ceremonial in nature. There should be no gray area with our legal system. Laws should be there to protect people, not punish them. There should be no need for morality in a law. The constitution protects the citizens’ rights to life, liberty and property. Laws should only deal with those subjects. When I say no morality in law, I mean that a law has to be applied equally, no matter who you are protecting. There are 320 million Americans, who represent every conceivable religion, or lack of religion. In America, there hundreds if not thousands different sects of Christian churches. All with their own moral code and way of life. There are hundreds of non-Christian religions, each with their own moral code and teachings. The law should be able to serve every one of them equally and without controversy. If there is a law that anyone finds objectionable on moral grounds, it probably shouldn’t be a law. If your religion is contingent on murder, rape and the destruction of other peoples’ property, you are probably living in the wrong country. I’m not the government, so I can make that moral statement.
In the end, having a secular government and secular laws only strengthens your power to exercise your religion. The church and state were separated not only to protect the state from the church, but also to protect the church from the state. If you give the state the power to dictate moral authority, your church becomes less relevant and the state becomes more powerful. Once the state has the power, it rarely if ever gives it back. With respect to marriage and marriage licenses, it was the church’s influence that allowed the government to dictate who could get married, which benefitted the Christian morality at the time, (they didn’t like all the race mixing). Now 100 years later, the government has the power, but the morality has changed. The state will always come back to bite you in the butt.