Religious Right-to-Life, Meet Religious Right-to-Kill.

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.


15 responses to “Religious Right-to-Life, Meet Religious Right-to-Kill.

  1. Larry,

    Snake handling by some Christian denominations has been outlawed in Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Using Jones v. City of Opelika. precedent exists to outlaw certain religious practices.

    The Supreme Court’s majority opinion said:

    Courts, no more than Constitutions, can intrude into the consciences of men or compel them to believe contrary to their faith or think contrary to their convictions, but courts are competent to adjudge the acts men do under color of a constitutional right, such as that of freedom of speech or of the press or the free exercise of religion and to determine whether the claimed right is limited by other recognized powers, equally precious to mankind. So the mind and spirit of man remain forever free, while his actions rest subject to necessary accommodation to the competing needs of his fellows.

    So the only double standard I see is coming from the Obama administration. If a religious practice, whether Christian or Native American, is actively (keyword) detrimental to society then it can be outlawed. Proving that opposition to birth-control is detrimental will be a tall order indeed. Proving that shooting bald eagles is detrimental to society is simple, for it deprives humanity the chance to see, study, and enjoy the splendor of an already endangered species.

    I do agree that Christian opposition to Islam in general is absurd.

    • “Proving that shooting bald eagles is detrimental to society is simple, for it deprives humanity the chance to see, study, and enjoy the splendor of an already endangered species.”

      Actually the bald eagle is no longer on the endangered species list Terrance so if only two eagles a year are killed for genuine religious purposes I’m not sure humanity would lose the chance to see, study, and enjoy the splendor of this magnificent bird. It was I believe the white man that originally caused the near extinction of the bald eagle, not the native Americans. That being said though I think the killing of any animal for such things as sport or religious ceremony is inhumane.

      “the only double standard I see is coming from the Obama administration. …
      I do agree that Christian opposition to Islam in general is absurd”

      Whether you see it or not Terrance this Christian opposition to Islam is a very real double standard.

      On the contraception issue, no one was forcing those who believed against it to actually take the pill. It simply asked that if you are going to insure non-belivers for other health issues then let them choose if they want to be provided with coverage for contraception. Yes, there is the argument that some people were being asked to do something they thought violated a religious expectation. Essentially though, they were imposing their own religious views on this issue with those who worked for them that held no such views.

      Until this recent act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arapaho were penalized for their use of killed eagles in their religious ceremonies.

      One group (the Arapaho) was restricted by the government, the other one was being asked by the government NOT to be so restrictive. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

      • My understanding is that the bald eagle is still on the endangered species list in certain states. But it really doesn’t matter, since killing any animal for transient causes may lead to an endangered status that can deprive humanity the opportunity to expand its knowledge. It seems we are in half-agreement here.

        You’re right about Christian aversion to Islam being a double-standard. I’ll concede the point.

        I do think the point, however, is that government does not have the right to force religious institutions to violate their doctrine unless some aspect of the doctrine or practice is shown to be actively detrimental to society.

        To say that religious institutions are forcing anything on employees is a specious argument. Employees are not forced to work for religious institutions. You may not think that is a particularly useful distinction given the poor job market, but it’s a fact nonetheless. And employees are not forced to abide by the doctrine of their employer either. If a female employee wishes to use birth-control, she can; she just has to provide it for herself.

  2. “To say that religious institutions are forcing anything on employees is a specious argument.”

    I didn’t use the word “force” Terrance. I said they are imposing their beliefs on people by virtue of certain restrictions with their insurance policies. There really is a difference between the two terms.

    Check their meanings out here and here


    • Smartass…LOL.

      Either way, I don’t think it’s fair to say they’re forcing or imposing their beliefs. It is an extension of abiding by their own beliefs. They don’t want to be involved with birth-control or abortion – and I think that is there right.

      BTW, is there an e-mail address I could use to get in touch with you?

  3. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

    First line of the 1st amendment…….the pill thing is not keeping a person from their beliefs…it my fly in the face of the hierarchy of the religion but the people are still free to worship….the same cannot be said for the eagle thing……in full disclosure, my mother was an Apache and I am biased.

    • “in full disclosure, my mother was an Apache and I am biased.”

      Biased against the Arapaho or biased in favor of native american religious rights? 😉

      • Larry, a little of both…….the Arapaho and apapche have never been close…….but mostly the religious aspect to rights….sorry, it took so long to answer.

  4. It does seem to me that it matters whose ox is being gored. Now according to some Mormons, it’s part of their faith to have several wives. So some Muslims, Sharia law is the preferred law to settle disputes. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they have the right to deprive their children of normal health care that conflicts with their version of biblical interpretation. Certain Jews would prefer that all businesses be closed from sundown Friday through Saturday. Other Christians believe everything should be shut down on Sunday. Some believe no booze should be sold on Sunday. The list is interminable. Where we draw the line, speaks not so much about what we think of religious freedom as whose religious freedom is at stake.

  5. These are such interesting comments — almost as interesting as your post, LB! I just would like to make one last point on the coverage of birth control. What these institutions fail to take into account is that the evil birth control pill is prescribed for so much more than just birth control. To deny a woman coverage of the medicine for all reasons is discrimination and no church or church run institution has the right to do that. Everyone screams about religious freedom as long as it’s their religion enjoying that freedom. As soon as someone else’s freedoms impinges on their own, the hate talk begins. I don’t know about the bald eagle situation. I thought they were off the endangered list too, but I am truly at the point that not only do I believe in total separation of church and state, but I would like to see organized religion done away with. There are no institutions that have earned such little respect from me as religion. I think I am just venting so if I got off topic, I apologize.

    • You’re not off topic at all Donna. Though I believe most people need structure in their lives and something that supports their faith views, I too think that the institution of religion has made our religious life less spiritual. Rigid, dogmatic tenets that perhaps had meaning when they originated have not always carried over well as the social and cultural dynamics progress with mankind.

      In my spiritual experience, God found me, I didn’t find him through the church. This concept is covered in great story form in a book I just finished by a guy named Ira Wagler who wrote “Growing Up Amish”. He eventually left the Amish faith because of its rigid, moribund ways, as he saw them, but eventually found joy and release from his fear of being eternally damned as he connected with various individuals after leaving (and returning several times) from his Amish roots.

    • Donna,

      Sandra Fluke admitted in her testimony that Georgetown actually covers birth-control when necessary to treat disease. Even if someone could show that other Catholic institutions do not, that’s still no reason for the blanket regulation, as it is a violation of religious liberty any way you slice it.

      You’ll also note that we are guaranteed the freedom OF religion; not freedom FROM religion.

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