—¦After reading your ‘Speaking the unspeakable’ piece, I find my self wondering if you are indeed that simpleminded…or just another one of dear ol’ Uncle Joe Stalin’s ‘useful idiots…;'”
In September, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I wrote my first Portsmouth Herald column. That column started out by criticizing the Herald — and ran uncut. A good start. Comment has generally been positive although, contrary to my narcissistic expectations, I’m not flooded with letters telling me that my revelations have resulted in epiphanies throughout the Seacoast.
I’m called Stalinist, Marxist, Leninist, anti-Semite, socialist, elitist, bigot and hater. I’m called a preacher, a poet and a lover. I read them all.
New Jersey: —¦Please keep writing — your thoughts and words are so laughable as to inspire fence sitters to reject such blithering stupidity. LOL…;”
NYC: “Your commentary on church and state is, as was noted by others, brilliant. And passionate. And, while I can’t use the word concise, so perfectly argued, and so beautifully phrased, that it’s nearly poetry, or a prayer. Nice work. I was listening to the opening chapter of Paradise Lost while I was jogging and was thinking of Rick Santorum when Satan was speaking.”
The West Coast: “Though I live far from New Hampshire, I can assure you, the essence of your message can be applied to every state in this Union…; I am reminded of an old quote which I will paraphrase, “May God save us from the things men do in the name of God…; —
Two columns generated the most heated responses, “Speaking the Unspeakable,” and “Concerns about Church State relations.”
I learned people don’t know a lot about religion or about government or civics. I learned they are driven more by emotion than by reason. I learned people are unreasonable when angry and that they are willing to sacrifice America on an altar of a new theocracy.
I learned that a predominantly male, white America, exceptionalist in world-view, myopic on issues of social justice and compassion, feels emasculated and threatened.
These self-privileged citizens, fearful of losing their patriarchy, are directing their anger and authority toward the weak and vulnerable, toward women, toward “the Other,” toward all those who cannot speak from privilege.
They demand dominion over all.
They feel threatened because America has a bi-racial president who identifies as African-American. They challenge his very birth. They know that Hispanics will soon become America’s dominant ethnicity, reducing whites to minority status for the first time since they landed in North America and started occupying, displacing and eliminating the indigenous peoples.
Fearing such loss of power and displacement they are attempting to fall back on tired discredited tropes of religious authority and misogyny. They yearn, like Pat Buchanan, for days of yore that will never return.
They have declared war on the president, on women and on minorities.
They demand dominion over all.
Today, they falsely accuse our president of waging war against religious freedom. Instead of recognizing the Blunt Amendment as a flagrant attempt to extend religious authority into the public square, they embrace it as a way to disenfranchise the president.
Conservatives, usually so quick to embrace Justice Scalia, ignore, “To permit this [exception] would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”
On either religious or moral grounds, each employer could enforce his own bias or prejudice. Racial supremacists could deny coverage based on skin color, Prius owners could deny coverage to gas guzzlers, Jews and Muslims could deny coverage to pork eaters, AA members could exempt drinkers, vegetarians and carnivores could deny each other, coverage could be by gender and orientation, or not, anorexics and the obese could deny each other — all on either moral or religious grounds.
They cannot recognize that the limits of religious liberty are defined by the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, not by individual religious parties.
There are many places where religious interests and civil society come into conflict: Smoking peyote, blue laws, religious displays on public lands, vaccinations, home-schooling, prayer in public schools, etc.
Consider, for example, that when Utah wanted to become a state, the federal government successfully insisted that a ban on polygamy, primarily practiced by Mormons in that state, be written into the state constitution.
Our Founding Fathers were men of the Enlightenment, and it is Enlightenment values, along with the endowments of the Creator, whoever or whatever that meant to them, that illuminates our values.
They did not struggle in order to create a nation ruled by religious exemptions.
Religion in America has sometimes been troubled. Forcible conversions of Native Americans and slaves to Christianity scar our history. The KKK and its perverted interpretation of Christianity thrived in some parts of the country for decades. Today, some evangelicals are still hesitant to elect a Mormon to the presidency, and nationally prejudice against Islam dims the glow from the beacon on the hill.
Think of our prophets.
What would Moses do?
What would Jesus do?
What would Muhammad do?
The prophets would not enfranchise the employers against the employees, the oppressors against the occupied and homeless, the insurers against the insured, the 1 percent against the 99 percent.
No employer, religious or otherwise, gives employees anything. Health insurance is generally part of an employee’s overall compensation, which the employee has earned — and paid for — with the employee’s money and labor. The employer doesn’t buy it and give it to the employee as a gift out of benevolence.
President Obama has given deference to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. He has reasonably accommodated churches, synagogues and mosques with exemptions while insisting on the equal protection of workers in the public marketplace.
The nation is the guarantor of all freedoms: To favor one party or another is to jeopardize all freedoms.
What would the prophets do?
You can stand with power, or you can stand with truth.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.