Separation of church and state may indeed not be an absolute in American jurisprudence as Rick Santorum suggested recently. How we determine what is good and bad, right and wrong, has and will stem from religious teachings and has its place in American political discourse. This should be done however with the understanding that one set of religious tenants do not exclude all others.
The recent charges by many Christians that their religious freedoms were being attacked because the government sought to enforce a policy requiring some religious institutions like hospitals and charities to add contraception to their health insurance coverage for female employees raised a pretty big stink. Though never really brought to the forefront by the mainstream media and many on the right who railed against this policy, these charges against Christianity do not seem to carry the same weight when other religions seek to practice their faith in ways they deem are their constitutional rights.
Islam has been the primary victim of many Christian conservative religious groups who have protested at multiple locations the rights of Muslims to worship where they freely and legally choose. The Islamic Community Center in Manhattan near “ground zero” is but the most obvious example. America is primarily a country where Christianity is the largest faith orientation, with the greatest numbers of those in the Protestant denominations.
Wherever majorities tend to dominate they often make it difficult for “interlopers” to assimilate into the existing culture. It is no different in those countries where Christians are the minority. Because of our religious freedoms heritage that was established at the birth of this nation, the animus toward such outsiders has had little legal and moral ground to stand on. The Protestant majority staved off as best they could the Catholic immigrations back at the turn of the 20th century with the Italian and Irish influxes through tougher immigration laws and strong political majorities.
The anti-semitism toward Jews by all Christian sects was also very pronounced back then and well into the 20th century. There is even evidence that this prejudice continues unabated into the 21st century. A 2004 study by the AntiDefamation League found that “Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States have reached their highest level in nine years”.
But outside the mainline faith systems there are also those less familiar to us, especially those amongst native Americans whose religious views still reflect a communion with the earth and its creatures. One tribe, the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming, has recently made headlines to establish their right to use the feathers of a freshly killed bald eagle in religious ceremonies. Because there has been a long-standing law to preserve the bald eagle in America, the Northern Arapaho Tribes have found themselves on the other side of U.S. law for killing the bird for use in their religious ceremonies, until just recently.
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken the unusual step of issuing a permit allowing a Native American tribe to kill two bald eagles for religious purposes.
The agency’s decision comes after the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming filed a federal lawsuit last year contending the refusal to issue such permits violates tribal members’ religious freedom. – SOURCE
An on-line MSNBC poll related to this story found that nearly 4 out of 5 surveyed opposed the killing of bald eagles for any reason, even as a part of their religious beliefs while less than one in five apparently found the similarities between the Christian church’s right to restrict the use of contraception and the right of a small band of native Americans killing two bald eagles a year as a part of their faith beliefs.
Should the killing of bald eagles be allowed?
16 % Yes, but for religious purposes only.
79% No, there’s never a good reason to kill bald eagles.
5 % I don’t know.
This single question poll of course is unscientific and the numbers who side with the rights of the Arapaho’s religious freedom could be loaded with members of orthodox christianity while those who felt there’s never a good reason to kill bald eagles, may be heavily weighted by more liberal, “tree-huggers” types who also protest wars and the death penalty. I identify with this latter group at some levels. Ironically, I think, native American cultures, who view plants as the ‘hair of Mother Earth’ would likely feel a closer association with the liberal groups who seek to preserve the planet rather than exploit her natural resources for monetary gain.
The sacred medicine bundle is the most holy of holies among all the Native American First People … [and] contains a varied collection of objects and representations of spiritual significance, from animal skins and effigies to ceremonial pipes.
What the poll does indicate though is that there appears to be a double standard in our society that demands justice for a majority while failing to see that others who don’t share similar socio-religious values have similar needs. This is at odds it seems with that popular Tea Party sentiment that demands we protect our personal liberty against what they view as an over reaching government. Such a view coincides with what the British liberal political philosopher John Stuart Mill called the “tyranny of the majority“.
I raise this issue citing this example because in this election year the shouters who beat others over the head with ideological talking points drown out the more critical thinking that allows tolerance among our multi-culture society, showing that those who hold to a narrow and rigid application of one’s belief system can trip over their own words when they are put side by side by the circumstances of minorities; minorities that often find themselves ostracized by majorities.
Multi-culturalism itself is a whipping boy for many on the right who’ve labeled it as “collectivism”, which is code for that which does not reflect early 19th century populations. A cursory study of this population will show that they were almost exclusively white and Protestant and governed in large part by land owning males.
Democracy is indeed a messy process and as the preamble to the Constitution points out, we are still a work in process as we seek “to form a more perfect union”. The fact that the founding fathers intimated that change and growth would be a part of who we were to become cancels out any notion that we should remain what we started out as.
Adapting to those changes requires that we make room to accommodate that which doesn’t hurt us even though it may not be something we would practice. Religions are cultural expressions of man’s spiritual nature. Confining it to only one limited point of view is not only unhealthy, it suggests that those who restrict wider interpretations of the Constitution as it’s authors apparently intended, do so out of a certain level of ignorance and fear on where our future is headed.