Missouri Legislature v. Establishment Clause

Behold HCR13, which if passed would move Missouri towards establishing Christianity as the state’s official religion.

Ed Brayton has a good point-by-point analysis, but he misses one important if subtle point:

Whereas, as elected officials we should protect the majority’s right to express their religious beliefs while showing respect for those who object;

Besides fanning the religious right’s martyrdom complex, note how Christians have the “right” to express their beliefs but others merely should be “show[n] respect” for theirs. Clearly, those proclaiming how their religious beliefs are under attack are reluctant to extend the protection they demand to those who might think their beliefs are under attack by, I don’t know, the legislature wanting to establish an official state religion.

But since HCR13 would be such a blatant and egregious violation of the Establishment Clause, why would anybody even propose it in the first place? Joshua Holland has the right idea:

But people who write bills like this aren’t trying to make law. Their intent is to further the right’s narrative that Christians are a persecuted minority under siege. They want to guarantee that the good folks at the Anti-defamation league, the ACLU and Americans United fight to have their silly legislation overturned, proving that those civil rights groups have an anti-Christian agenda (and perhaps even a direct association with Satan). And bills like this — you couldn’t write a piece of legislation that more obviously violates the Establishment Clause –are meant to give those groups a victory in court, thereby proving the existence of out-of-control activist judges dedicated to stymieing the popular will of the Christian majority.

8 Responses

  1. Oh, Paul. Perhaps there are some that go along with the idea presented by Joshua Holland, but to blatantly support the idea that everyone on the right is in support of the law specifically for the purpose you quote above is stereotyping at best and an ill-supported, blind, attacking lie at worst.

    The “politio-centrism” of the parties drives me crazy; the idea that “our party is right and your party is wrong;” the idea that “everyone of the other party thinks this exact way and everyone in our party thinks this way.” After years and years of democracy, haven’t people realized that no matter which party you pick, one can find examples in history (but recent and long-past) where that very party has done something wrong?

    Personally, I try to be very careful in statements I make about groups in general. This is not to say that one can not generalize, for this is the only way we can really interact with our environment, but that using generalizations that stem from individuals as opposed to groups in order to define a group are ill-found. I’ve jumped through perhaps a million topics during this discussion I realize, but hopefully some of it made sense.

    I very much am against the idea of establishing a state religion, which I believe is the main point of your post; but the method of which you go into attacking those who are proposing HCR13 I disagree with.

  2. Sometimes I get lost in Paul’s discussions. I can’t say I have a huge personal interest in Missouri itself, being an Ohio Boiler. And furthermore, I truly dislike politics.

    That said, I definitely agree with Paul that there are serious threats to our current state of affairs with regards to separation of church and state, as well as “intelligent design”. I applaud your posts, and especially your letter writing, Paul.

  3. I never said everyone on the right behaves that way. However, it’s increasingly common for people to say things like “if you’re a true Christian you’ll support X” or “if you’re not for Y then you hate God” for arbitrary values of X and Y. And there’s enough people who will take such claims at face value without considering whether they’re true or even coherent.

    It’s sort of like spam, in a way. Many, if not most, people who hear things like that will see through them and ignore them. But enough people do fall for it to make it a worthwhile tactic to gain votes in the short term. And the fact that plenty of people will rush to the defense if they think their faith is under attack only helps things along.

    For example, in the 2004 election, some political mailings in the South warned voters that Democrats were going to ban the Bible if elected. Well, no. The actual action being referred to was getting rid of mandatory prayer in public schools or something along those lines, but that was hidden beneath all the breathless hyperbole.

    I can definitely see something like this being used in the run-up to the midterm elections. “So-and-so voted against your right to be a Christian” all over ads attacking anyone who rejected HCR13. It’s completely bogus spin, of course, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be effective. (And really, any statement in a politicial ad about what someone voted for or against is like to be misleading at best anyway.)

    Nor is this the first time this sort of tactic has been tried. For example, a few months back a Republican congressman proposed a bill to immediately end all operations in Iraq, and announced his intention to vote against it. Why? To caricature opposition to the way the administration was handling the war and to bait anti-war Democrats into voting for it.

    Since HCR13 is so clearly unconstitional under the First Amendment, and since it doesn’t actually do anything, it’s hard to see what other purpose it could have.

  4. And, as an addendum, since by design bills like this are a catch-22 (you obviously can’t vote for it, but you fall into the trap if you vote against it), the only way you can fight it is to expose it for what it really is.

  5. I see. Point taken. I very much dislike the nature of politics. For, as you know, this tactic is not a “Republican” or “Democrat” tactic; it is a “Political” tactic.

    My question is, couldn’t the opposition to this bill use it against those who favor it, just as much as they get it used against them? “Representative Smith voted for HCR13, a bill that establishes a state religion… Smith is against the first amendment. Don’t vote for Smith.”

    Either side can spin the results of a vote on the bill to benefit them. Surely the opposition to the bill should be able to just as easily advertise negatively against the supporters.

  6. Politics is indeed horrendous, especially these days, but unfortunately if you don’t follow it to some degree you’ll end up getting blindsided by it. So, um, the moral is pay attention to politics, but shower afterwards.

    And I certainly do hope that if this does turn out to be just a political tactic that its opponents will drive home the point that it flies in the face of the First Amendment (though calling it “establishing a state religion” is itself a bit of hyperbole). My worry is that it’ll be easier to rouse the masses with “they’re attacking Christianity” than with “they’re attacking your right to practice your religion”, especially in a predominantly Christian area where the “Christianity is under attack” meme seems (from my admittedly limited experience) to be propagating.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go shower.

  7. Again, jumping in late, just like usual… (do you have a comments feed that isn’t specific to one post?)

    Speaking as a Missouri Christian myself, I think Paul’s coverage of the issues related to these topics (ID vs. evolution, Establishment, etc.) has been fair. I’ve been reading for a while now, and he seems generally to be telling it like it is. In particular, he uses the phrase “religious right” to describe the parties behind many of these problems.

    Is that a fair phrase to use? I think so. While issues like abortion or stem cell research will pick off members of the religious left and middles, I just don’t see this happening here. I attend a variety of churches when I’m out and about, and even in the middle of the road Methodist chucrch smack in the middle of Missouri rails against this kind of thing. Why? Because it is idiocy to think the dominant religion in this nation is under attack, and using the law to prop it up is only going to make people pretty resistant to the Good News, with good reason.

    The only place I see this agenda pushed wholesale is in the very-right leaning churches I’ve stepped foot into, but the way it is presented almost universally in these churches, you’d think there was an 11th Commandment to embed every word of the Bible into our laws, our sciences, and our life.

    So yes, I think the religious right is a fitting phrase, and that Paul is correct in using it to describe the people behind these actions. It’s certainly not the religious as whole, and it also certainly isn’t the right as a whole (The AP (via Forbes) has an interesting example of this occuring right in Missouri at the moment).

    Now whether he implicitly blames the entire right by quoting Holland is a different question. The purpose of Paul’s quotation of the article was not to establish the identity of the people who proposed the bill; it was instead to argue their motive for doing so. If Paul has preceded the article with something like “And who is behind these propositions? …” then there’d be some basis (albeit very thin) for the argument that Paul was pushing the view that “the right” was behind this. But he didn’t, and so I think it’s an appropriate use.

  8. Scott’s right; by “religious right” I’m referring to the small but very vocal minority, primarily made of fundamentialist and evangelical Christians, that tries to hammer its particular conservative religious views into politics. Think the so-called “Moral Majority” rather than Christians who happen to lean to the right.

    The terminology’s less precise than I’d like; I’m open to suggestions.

    The religious right tends to have a rather fluid definition of Christianity, too. One minute, they’ll state that some 90% of Americans self-identify as Christian and claim that all of them therefore support the religious right’s cause. Then they’ll turn around and label anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their particular literal interpretation of the Bible as an atheist (as happened, for example, to a Sunday school teacher who opposed the Dover school board’s ID policy).

    And to answer your question, Scott, there is in fact an all-comments RSS feed which I probably ought to link to in the sidebar.

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