I read a lot of British history on the kings and queens of medieval society. A common parallel I find between that time and ours is the misuse of religion and religious influence in the public sphere. At one time, priests placated the starving populations by telling them that God blessed the kings and blessed those that followed the king unquestioningly, even though many kings were highly immoral in how they behaved and used funds: hosting lush feasts while their citizens were starving, engaging in lewd and adulterous behaviours with various mistresses, and going to war on the people’s budget without reasonable cause. The medieval period was a bloody reminder that Christ’s name could be abused for a cause and we only need to remember the crusades, the inquisitions, and other events as reasons behind the legislation separating church and state in the US and various other countries.
Yet, I still see evidence of religions and religious leaders using similar tactics to impose their version of morality on general society.
Recently, President Obama passed a birth control rule that requires that health insurance companies pick up the cost of birth control as part of his Affordable Care Act. However, the catholic church and other religions have come out against it claiming it violates their religious freedom (even after the compromise). (I respect the complicated nature of this legislation and how some might see it as an infringement on their religious rights; however, the constitution says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” Obama’s rule does not state that a woman MUST take birth control, it is expanding access and decreasing the cost to birth control so that women everywhere might afford it.)
Which leads me to the other issue: homosexuality. Last week, California courts declared Proposition 8 illegal. A huge victory for the homosexual population. Yet, many religious groups came out crying “foul” and exclaiming that the people had spoken while the courts had unconstitutionally overturned it (funny because I thought it was the court’s place to determine constitutionality, or interpret the law). The campaigns against gay marriage call it a “sin” and a “threat to traditional marriage.” Legislating purely on religious beliefs without research that shows these claims as logical would be an infringement on first amendment rights–that religious organizations’ beliefs should not supersede popular opinion and natural rights.
In the past, religious leaders fought against woman’s suffrage and inter-racial marriage claiming the same moral issues. A woman is subject to her husband and shouldn’t be engaging in public discourse anyway, or so the bible says. And African-Americans, from the 1600’s-1970’s, were considered inferior to the white race–a doctrine taught in religious congregations all over the country. Yet we would all agree that these ideas are outdated and certainly not true; unfortunately, the same logic is used to hold women back by denying access to birth control and exclaiming disapproval over homosexuality–which is increasingly shown as a genetic variation not a choice as some would claim–by blocking their ability to marry.
I am very disappointed with religious organizations, who often claim to have first-hand knowledge of what our forefathers want, attempts to infringe on the very clear constitutional amendment that separates church and state. To claim moral superiority over the majority tears down important conversations on key issues in our country. Building a united and poverty/minority-minded nation requires compromise from all sides of the spectrum. I feel that caring for the poor of our country should be the most important issue and we shouldn’t allow religious beliefs or disbelief in the public sector to overshadow that goal.
I want to emphasize that I know many wonderful Christian (and other religious) folks who care for minorities and would disagree with the overt religious influence on certain policies. I just wish this respect would rise to the top of religious organizations.