Monday, January 19, 2009

Liberal news blog article highlights mindset of liberals who support marginalizing and privatizing religious liberties over homosexual marriage.

Andy Birkey with the Minnesota Independent a left/liberal news blog, takes issue with my assertion that religious liberties will invariably be attacked once homosexual marriage is legalized. He takes issue specifically with my recent blog post analogizing attacks to come from legalizing homosexual marriage with a recent New Jersey state discrimination ruling against a Methodist church group which refused to allow it's facility to be used for a homosexual civil union ceremony.

Rather than rebutting my concerns Birkey actually confirms them and provides an excellent example of the liberal mindset regarding privatization of religious faith and belief.

He begins by saying that these doomsday scenarios don't jive with the facts and the issue with the Methodist group in New Jersey is simply about getting tax breaks and benefits from the state not religious freedom.

But what’s missing from the story is that the church in question, Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, got tax breaks from the state of New Jersey because it has for years allowed the public to use its Boardwalk Pavilion for secular and religious events. The church also received state funding to improve the infrastructure around the pavilion. Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster requested to have their civil union ceremony at that pavilion and paid taxes that went to the church to pay for the pavilion.

In other words, if the public endorses recognition of homosexual relationships, religious groups which operate in the public should recognize and endorse such relationships through the use of their facilities which are made available to the public. Yet that's the point concerning threats to religious liberties -- religious groups which operate in the public must sacrifice their religious beliefs and convictions in order to continue operating in the public.

He points to the decision by the New Jersey civil rights division which ruled that if a religious group wants to operate in public it has to sacrifice it's publicly expressed, religiously based convictions to do so.

But the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights was pretty clear when it handed down its ruling against the church on Dec. 29: “When it invites the public at large to use it, the Association is subject to the Law Against Discrimination, and enforcement of that law in this context does not affect the Association’s constitutionally protected right to free exercise of religion.”

Birkey concludes by saying:

It’s another case of the religious right’s wanting its cake (taxpayer funds) and eating it too (denying rights to gays and lesbians).

So if religious groups want to operate in public they should expect to sacrifice their religious convictions or accept being treated as second class citizens, e.g. don't expect to participate as a tax exempt organization. But that's an example of the loss of religious liberties I'm talking about. The choice is either shut up about your religious convictions and be involved publicly or withdraw from public life. And of course, one can expect to face punitive fines under discrimination laws to insure you toe the line.

A good analogy for what will happen if marriage is redefined can be drawn from the treatment of organizations which opposed inter-racial marriage. (It's a faulty comparison because both practices are in fact anti-marriage -- the interracial marriage ban because it artificially kept some men and women from marrying due to their skin color and homosexual marriage because it eliminated the need for a man and a woman. But just the same homosexual marriage advocates love to make.) In the 1980s the US Supreme Court revoked the tax exempt status of a group which banned interracial marriage because the practice violated public policy. Well, if homosexual marriage is recognized as the law of the land then we should similarly expect churches refusing to recognize homosexual marriages to lose their tax exempt status.

I suspect Mr. Birkey would say churches should lose their tax exemption, because they're taking part in a public tax benefit. However, the founders viewed the power to tax as the power to destroy and the impetus for tax exemption was in part to encourage the public benefit churches and other religious groups provide, but also because they didn't want the state encroaching upon or controlling religious groups through the power to tax. Under Birkey's line of thinking it would seem reasonable to also limit a religious groups use of police, fire, sewer, water and other public services if they oppose homosexual marriage. Aren't these public benefits going to organizations which discriminate against homosexuals? And most churches welcome all of the public to attend their religious services.

Thus religious groups will be forced to sacrifice their religious convictions if they want to stay clear of governmental control through taxation, being fined or ultimately having their activities completely shut down.

Mr. Birkey's thinking logically reflects the privatized view of religious exemplified by the former Soviet Union. They had a clause in Soviet Constitution guaranteeing the separation of church and state and thus ostensibly guaranteeing religious freedom. Russians were free to practice their faith as long as it was totally privatized -- religious services and praying in their heads. But if they dared to act on their religious beliefs then they were in trouble with the state.

So too, today, in Mr. Birkey's world, you can practice your religious beliefs as long as it's done in private. But if you seek to practice your faith by helping the public through building a Boardwalk pavilion which can be of service for not only religious events but for the broader public then you will likely run into trouble with the state for acting on your beliefs.

In essence, if you step outside your private, cloistered religious world, be sure to leave your religious beliefs about public issues behind. Of course, that's impossible for the Christian believer to do. Faith without works is dead. The believer knows there is a higher authority than the state to which he or she owes allegiance. Martin Luther King articulated this view in his letter written in his Birmingham, Alabama jail cell during the battle for black civil rights.

1 comment:

Andy Birkey said...

Interesting take. Let's say I run an atheist community service organization and the group I run takes taxpayer money -- money that many Christians generated with their taxes -- and said Christians cannot access those services or be hired or our organization produces marketing that says Christianity is the downfall of society. Wouldn't you be outraged that your tax money was supporting that?